Ibrahim Abdel Megid
Translated from the Arabic by Hosam Aboul-Ela
A first publication in English of major avant-garde work by
an important Egyptian writer.
"This sumptuous fable from Egyptian novelist Megid, winner of the prestigious Naguid Mahfouz award, is more a combination of interconnected stories than a single narrative, but its characters are united in their yearning for the ‘distant train’—at once real and metaphorical. The idle inhabitants of a remote train station settlement in Egypt’s western desert wait desperately for a train to arrive. Imbued with magical, and quasi-messianic qualities, as well as the promise of jobs, the train vexes in its absence—flaming balls fly through doorways; an enchanted golden sea bass jumps from the air; Zeidan, a village elder, is seduced by a jinn (genie, evocative of Arabian Nights); Suad, a young widow, bares her bosom, inspiring men to madness and murder. Desperate for truth and restitution, many flee. . . . Megid’s prose is lush, and possesses with Marquezesque charm, and the novel’s final message is hopeful: life must be seized, and cherished; salvation, whatever its form, will not come on its own."
"While the fading autumn sun sped toward the horizon, the young boys headed home—they were not used to trying to see at night without the moon’s glow." So begins this unconventional, hauntingly mythic novel. In the tradition of magical-realism, author Ibrahim Abdel Megid crafts a tale steeped in symbolism. Writing in a shimmering lyrical style he brings alive the dreams, customs, and everyday concerns of people living in historic obscurity on the fringe of the glitzy, petrodollar kingdoms of the Middle East.
The tale begins on a worksite in Egypt’s western desert. Here, in the middle of nowhere, railway men and locals wait in hope for the annual return of a "distant train." When last it came this vehicle brought with it foreigners, soldiers—and economic opportunity; then it stopped. Each of Abdel Megid’s characters is allegorical in nature. Each part of the novel is framed by memory and the way remembrance takes shape and affects the characters. The story’s main characters are time and place. Yet its dramatic thrust is the way in which place gives rise to history through the passage of time and the rise and fall of settlement. Distant Train reaffirms Abdel Megid’s status as a new, imaginative, and distinct voice in the field of narrative literature and the time-honored arena of storytelling.
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Ibrahim Abdel Megid is one of the most prolific writers of Egypt’s post-Naguib Mahfouz group. His awards include the Naguib Mahfouz Award and the Cairo International Book Fair Award. He has lectured on Middle Eastern fiction and culture in America and abroad.
Hosam Aboul-Ela is an assistant professor of English at the University of Houston. This is his second Arabic literary translation.
6 x 9, 216 pages