Amr Ezzat, author of Room 304 Or: How I Hid from My Dear Father for 35 Years, Nadia Kamel, author of The Newborn and Bassam Mortada, who is currently working on a new feature documentary titled Abo Zaabal 1989, all discussed their respective works as well as their rich, complex relationships with their parents. In every session, the questions that arose were much more than the answers, and the perplexity of the speakers was at a level with the perplexity of the attendees. Perhaps it could be credited to the nature of the subject: the more personal it is, the more it confuses the artist attempting to address it.
Another challenge the writers and filmmaker discussed at length during the series was the choice between the documentary/nonfiction and fiction/autobiography formats in tackling the subject, as they shared bits and pieces of their creative process with the audience, turning each event into an evening rich with not only personal and political reflection, but also musings on art and its multitude of possibilities. We look forward to more events in the series, and more questions to probe and explore.
Our guest this week is Alaa Abdel Fattah, interviewed by Lina Attalah.
What do you write? And who do you write for?
I write for my chosen tribe, and I write what reaffirms and clarifies why we chose each other.
How do you see the future?
I can’t really see it that well, but I know it is coming. I make huge efforts so see it more clearly. I wish I could go back to picturing it, not seeing it as an inevitable fate.
What do you love the most?
Freedom, maybe. Although I don’t know if it’s what I love the most or what I miss the most. Or if freedom is even a thing to begin with.
What are you scared of the most?
Losing my mind — in the literal sense of the word; going crazy or losing faith in my cognitive abilities.
Is it true that the world never changes but we are the ones who do?
On the contrary, the world changes much more rapidly and fiercely than we can understand.
The past was over when …
When we acknowledged it was over.
Do we pass time? Or does time pass us by?
We created time, but since it is an ancestral construct we do not get to judge it — or rather our judgement of it is not absolute.
I don’t find myself feeling like a part of every novel that I enjoy. But I truly see myself and people I know in real life in My Sweet Orange Tree. I read this novel not in my own voice, but the voice of my three-year-old nephew, with his stuttered words and incomplete sentences — but that are still clear enough to understand.
The narrator of the book is a five-year-old boy named Zezé, who is referred to as the devil and a cursed street cat. He quarrels with just about everyone, and the frequent beatings he receives do not alter his ornery disposition. The novel centers around the lives of Brazil’s poor, especially the suffering of children, but the writer ensures that Zezé’s story will touch every reader of the book in some way or another. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of skipping school to do something else, even if it just means going home early? I have to admit that I personally did this more than once, even though I was caught one time, so I could really feel Zezé’s joy when he managed to flee before he was ultimately busted. Zezé’s dreams often resemble our own, even if it is a simple one like getting a new toy on a holiday.
My Sweet Orange Tree is at the same time an interesting and painful journey that dives into our childish but profound questions about the truths of life and death, despite the brutality of the novel. Despite Zezé’s delinquent acts, by the end of the book, we can only forgive him and laugh at all of his tricks. The book was translated into English by Alison Entrekin, while the Arabic version was translated by Ines al-Abbasy and published by Masciliana Editions.
The Romanoffs is a contemporary anthology series set in three separate continents, centering on the stories of eight different people who all claim to be descendants of the last Tsar of Russia. (You can find a list of music from the series in the Listen section.)
Written and directed by Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men and executive producer of The Sopranos, the series stars Isabelle Huppert, Diane Lane, Aaron Eckhart, Amanda Peet and Christina Hendricks.
Made with a budget of close to $80 million, the series revolves around the lives of aristocrats who fear to lose their privilege and identity. Although each episode has an independent narrative, the characters and stories sometimes overlap.
The show is produced by Amazon Prime and available to stream through its platform.
The Naked Director is a Japanese semi-autobiographical comedy-drama series that tells the story of a paradigm shift in Japan’s adult entertainment industry, beginning at a time when sex magazines were required to fully censor images of genital organs and pornographic films were only allowed to imply sexual acts rather than show them. The series depicts this transformation by telling the story of Japanese pornographic film director Toru Muranishi.
Viewers witness the transformation of an everyday salesman and father into the leader of a Japanese porn empire that challenged the strict rules around porn production at the time.
The Naked Director is produced by and available to stream on Netflix.
Fans of rap music will enjoy this short documentary about Marwan Pablo, a rising star in the Egyptian trap scene, produced by journalist Mohamed Tarek for Vice News Arabic.
Pablo is a young man from Alexandria creating music for a genre that has yet to become popular locally, yet he shows no desire to move to the capital. Despite the success he has achieved in recent months, the film shows us that his journey has been far from easy.
Tarek takes us on a journey with Pablo, who is trying to organize a small concert at a seaside cafe which falls through at the last minute due to a sudden downpour. The journalist also wrote an article about Pablo for Al-Manassa in June.
Palestinian trap group Shabjdeed recently released their 13-track debut album, Sindibad (or Sindibad El Ward), produced by Ramallah-based label BLTNM. You can listen to the album on SoundCloud or Spotify.
The music of Shabjdeed, and BLTNM’s releases in general, have been essential to the new wave of trap and hip-hop that’s been steadily growing in the Arab region over the past few years. Shabjdeed’s lyrics do not necessarily revolve around the Palestinian struggle and the Israeli occupation, nor are they overly concerned with the verbal sparring that’s usually central to most songs of the genre. Rather, Shabjdeed’s words, as well as their performance, are reflective of daily life in the West Bank, tinged with a bit of harmless sass.
Structurally, their music relies on modern trap rhythms, while the synth and the bass in their songs are reminiscent of old-school hip-hop. Their rendition, however, is no mere imitation of similar productions in the US, Europe, or even the Maghreb; it is purely theirs, in that it is directly informed by their own experience as young men living in today’s Ramallah.
We also recommend a playlist of 40 tracks featured in The Romanoffs. The music ranges from classical to jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop and Latin cumbia. You can also find this playlist on Spotify.
It’s hard to think that there could be an upside to the stifling heat of August in Egypt, but the rising temperature during this time of year actually means you could glimpse a flock of migrating white storks passing through Egyptian skies on their way from Europe in search of warmer climates.
Storks are characterized by their long necks, bright orange beaks and great white wings streaked with black. They fly in flocks as large as thousands, at heights up to 1500 meters. After mating in Europe, they travel south near the end of the summer. The best place to spot them in Egypt is along the coast of the Red Sea, particularly in South Sinai.
But while we’re lucky we get to see the majestic spectacle that is migrating storks in Egypt once a year, it isn’t really such good news for the birds. A few days ago, Nature Conservation Egypt announced that six white storks were found dead near Ras Shukeir airport, as a result of their collision with (and, most likely, electrocution by) a distribution power line. The NGO says it is working to make sure the safety of migratory birds is taken into consideration when planning the construction of power plants in the area. Meanwhile, we can take comfort in the fact that one stork only had a broken wing, and is currently being cared for at a veterinary facility in Hurghada, after which they will be set free to try and catch up with the rest of his migrating buddies.