Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Review

The Corruption Of Places (فساد الأمكنة) By Sabry Moussa: First published in 1973 and now re-issued as part of Dar El Shourok's "Special Spotlight" series, Sabry Moussa's The Corruption of Places (فساد الأمكنة) is a truly original book that defies categorization. Part fantasy, part historical novel, and part Greek-Tragedy, it is unlike any Arabic book I've ever read.

The plot revolves around Nicola, an European immigrant whose travails lead him to Egypt circa 1940's, where he becomes involved in a massive mining operation in the Eastern Desert. While there, he meets an array of strange characters, witnesses the injustice the poor locals are subjected to by the hands of the rich and powerful (both Egyptian and British), and experiences the tragedy of losing his daughter before his eyes.

But the plot isn't the book's strength, as the novel is mainly made up of loosely connected episodes that are high on atmosphere and texture, but low on plotting and characterization. And, basically, this is The Corruption of Places in a nutshell: It is a masterpiece of ambiance and visual poetry, but the plot is forced and the characterization pretty slapdash. Add to that Sabry Moussa's verbose style, and what you get is a book that is not an easy read. But that doesn't mean that it is not worth the effort, as within the book are moments of such beauty and power, that one forgives the story's shortcomings, and the story does pick up steam near the final third, when Moussa's stunning descriptive powers are fully showcased.

So, if you are looking for something different, original, and haunting, grab a copy of Sabry Moussa's The Corruption Of Places, a fine example of alternative Arabic literature.

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