Cossery days


Though he left Cairo at twenty-one, Albert Cossery never forgot its condition, even as he sat daily at Brasserie Lipp, a dandy to the outside world. Henry Miller, who helped get Cossery’s first book published in the United States, confirms this preoccupation, writing in a 1945 essay, “Despite the seemingly unrelieved gloom and futility in which his figures move, [Cossery] nevertheless expresses in every work his indomitable faith in the power of the people to throw off the yoke.” It’s a message that also finds affirmation in the work of Sonallah Ibrahim, the political prisoner turned Cairene slacker-novelist whose debut work, That Smell, was published in translation by New Directions two weeks ago (and happens to have been translated by Robyn Creswell, this magazine’s poetry editor). This darkly biting take on politics is finally seeing the light of day as a global literature, though its origins are in the tragic failures of Egypt’s mid-century political transition. Today’s rise of a suppressive Brotherhood in the face of Tahrir’s youthful spark has bred a new, mordant pranksterism, reminiscent of Albert Cossery yet unencumbered by the weight of history. With the “Satiric Revolutionary Struggle,” this strategy may have finally found its rightful place in Egypt’s opposition politics.

more from Mostafa Heddaya at Paris Review here.