On never being absent

by HRM on May 8, 2011

An interview with Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid

Photograph by Harriet Alida Lye


At the Literary Conference in Agadir, I discussed mathematics and the revolution with renowned Egyptian novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid. Instead of saying at that time, or long ago, Abdel-Meguid says “once a day.” As we were walking along La Corniche with the group, he said to me “once a day, I fell in love.”

Interview by Harriet Alida Lye

HRM: Did you always want to be a writer?

Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid: I wrote my first short story at 15 and ever since then, yes, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Before that though, and even at times since, I’ve wanted to be a mathematician.

HRM: Being a writer with a background in mathematics probably leads to excellent craftsmanship and a strong sense of balance. Does math play any role in your writing?

IAM: Yes, definitely. When I was young I read some books about the history and philosophy of science, and that took me to philosophy itself, which is inextricable from mathematics. Also, I feel that writing is something that has to be built according to specific measures: the story is a building that can not be distorted and I try to stick to these measures as much as I can.

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, photo by Harriet Alida Lye

HRM: How do you think the revolution in Egypt will affect contemporary literature?

IAM: Our revolution means a great turning point in the history of the nation, so it will come with new writers and artists as well as new visions of the world and from previously unconsidered perspectives. How that will be? It will take some time to fully answer that question, but now, for example we see more books in Egypt about the revolution itself, socially, politically, and so on. Everyone has something to say, people talk about politics on the street; people are invested now, and everyone has an opinion. There will be new novels, new poetry, new content and forms, but this will take time.

HRM: What are you currently working on?

IAM: I just published a short story in an Egyptian magazine about love. I have been writing for such a long time, usually I am no longer nervous or precious about my work, but with this piece I feel like a nervous young boy! The story is called “Why didn’t you come yesterday” and it’s about a mismatched couple who meet in a garden. They fall in love immediately but remain strangers to one another. He is a middle-aged man, she is a young girl. She is suffering loneliness. She usually likes to go outside of the city, to a beach in winter. Before, when she was younger, she had met a man on the beach. She was sad, and he kissed her, and then he disappeared. There was nobody there, only clouds and waves, which don’t count. She could not catch his features. He was like something magic. When she got older, she forgot the whole story. Then, in this garden, she meets this middle-aged man, and both of them are also alone. She does not to reply to him when he calls out to her, but they still see each other regularly, their routines overlap.

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, photo by Harriet Alida Lye

One day, he gives her a command: Come to the garden on Friday. She does not come to the garden on Friday. On Saturday, she comes, and she finds an old man, very old, much older than the other man, and he asks her: Why did you not come yesterday, why were you absent. This time, his daughter is with him and she tells her father that he is acting very strangely. One time, a long time a go, the man says how he went to the beach in winter. He was ill, he was sad. When he returned from the beach, he was a young man and when he came to the garden he was happy and stronger, but then, all of a sudden, his age catches up with him. As he is telling this story, the girl remembers the man on the beach for the first time in years, and she takes the man before her to her chest, deciding never to be absent again.

People are asking me to write about the revolution but I wanted to write about this. The story of the revolution is still happening and will take some more time to get right. Now, I am preparing a book about the days in Tahrir square. I was there with the people for fourteen days, day and night, and I saw how Egypt returned to its real history. What glorious days! The book will be published soon.

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid was born in Alexandria in 1946. He is one of Egypt’s most respected and well-known authors. He published his first novel soon after completing a BA in philosophy at Alexandria. All of his novels and short stories are set in Egypt during particular historical periods and many translated into French and English. Among his best known are No One Sleeps in Alexandria, The Other Place and Birds of Amber. In 2009, he was awarded the Taqdireya prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in Egypt, recognizing the collection of his work.

Previous post:

Next post:

ISSN: 2116 34X