Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:32 pm (KSA) 17:32 pm (GMT)

Egyptian best-seller hits US bookshelves

Part of the Arabic book cover (File)
Part of the Arabic book cover (File)

The best-selling Arabic novel 'Taxi' by Egyptian author Khaled Al Khamissi will be released in English in the U.S. at the start of next month, the publisher said.

Taxi, which has been credited with reviving an interest in reading in Arabic-speaking markets, brings together short stories told by 58 fictional Cairo cabbies, based on the author's own experience of traveling in the Egyptian capital.

The cabbies include dreamers and philosophers, misogynists and fanatics, smugglers and bankrupts, mystics and comedians. All of them are men, struggling to make a living in a cruel, noisy, chaotic and unhealthy world.

Egyptian author Khaled Al Khamissi

Hemmed in by other cars, stifled by fumes and the summer heat, abused by corrupt policemen, overworked and underpaid, they talk about just about everything -- politics, women, films, travel abroad and most often their contempt for authority.

But Khamissi, a journalist, film director and producer, told Reuters in an interview last year that none of the drivers in "Taxi: Cabbie Talk" ever really existed.

"It's all stories I remembered and recovered when I was writing. In many cases someone would tell me one word and someone else would tell me something else and so on," he added.

Khamissi, who studied political science at the Sorbonne in Paris and has an interest in sociology and anthropology, said the 220-page work of fiction still had value as a vicarious record of people who usually have no voice.

"The monologues in my view are 100 percent realistic... If you went down and asked a taxi driver about any matter you would find that is exactly what he says," he said.

Together with the two recent light novels by Alaa El Aswani, it has helped revive the practice of reading in Egypt.

One secret of Khamissi's success could be that his monologues are all in Egypt's rich colloquial language, which differs greatly from the classical Arabic that most writers use.

Like Aswani's works, Taxi includes a strong dose of anti-government views, reflecting the gradual expansion of the margins for freedom of expression in Egypt.

But Khamissi said he had not tried to impose on his characters his own hostility toward the government.

"Personally I'm very much against (former president) Anwar Sadat but you will find one driver full of praise for him," he said.

The book, translated by Jonathan Wright, will be released in the USA on May 1 and distributed in North America by Independent Publishers Group, the publisher Aflame Books said in a statement.

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