Book Review: Next To A Man I Know (بجوار رجل أعرفه) by Mohamed Fathy: The winner of the 2009 Sawares Award for Best Short Story Collection, Next To A Man I Know by Mohamed Fathy, is one of the most surprising collections of Egyptian short fiction I've come across in a long while, mainly because of author Fathy's unique style of prose and his mastery of storytelling.
This isn't yet another collection of stories by an angry, young Egyptian writer out to scream and yell and protest. That's not to say that Fathy's stories don't touch upon hot-button topics like the rise of the Religious right in Egypt, unemployment, and repressed sexuality. Fathy's stories are sure to rouse some controversy; maybe even a lot of controversy. But Fathy, unlike many of his contemporaries, doesn't take the the easy way out. His stories are, first and foremost, polished, at times meticulously realised, pieces of storytelling, that almost always succeed at being hard-hitting and entertaining. Highlights include the title story, a shocking tale of child abuse, a topic that's rarely touched upon in Egyptian fiction, Playing with Beshoy, a touching portrayal of friendship, with a disturbing final revelation, the darkly humorous A Taxi and a Sacred Ride, a story about a man who rides a taxi with what he thinks is a prostitute, only to get much more than he bargained for, All that's left, a melancholy psychological drama about a regretful young man who works as a mascot at a children's amusement park, and who laments his lost love, and The Window, a story about masturbation and sexual repression.
This is an unmissable collection of stories by an Egyptian writer who is both daring and subtle, and who (with a few exceptions, like in Whiteness and Hussein Whom . . .) almost never relies on histrionics to get his ideas across. And he manages to achieve something that many Egyptian writers seem unable to: Tell a damn good story.