Publishers have already announced an expected considerable hike in the price of books, no less than 50 percent for some titles and much more for others, which they attribute to the tripling in paper prices in less than six months due to the currency devaluation.
“We want to maximise our reach to as many readers with limited budgets as possible,” said Yehiya Fekri of Al-Maraya. Bigger publishers, including Al-Shorouk, Al-Massraiya Al-Lebananiya and Al-Karma, have promised very big discounts on as many titles as possible and special packages for titles that were put out for the book fairs of the past two years.
However, the pricing issue is no less controversial than that of genre. The domination of fiction during over 20 years, which allowed for many new novelists to make an imprint on the contemporary Egyptian and Arab literature scene, is being challenged.
This year, publishers say there is a growing interest in non-fiction, old and new titles alike.
Abdallah Sakr, director of publishing at Al-Mahroussa argued that the limited number of new titles of some branches of non-fiction, “particularly theory,” and the parallel interest of readers prompted his publishing house to gather, revise and reprint the three volumes of prominent 20th century intellectual Louis Awad, Tarikh alfekr almasry (“History of Egyptian Intellect”).
“Those are three big volumes that we worked on for three consecutive years as they were originally published by different publishers with some considerable intervals,” Sakr said.
Sherif Bakr, of Al-Arabi, said that there is a “definite interest in philosophy.” This is why, he added, Al-Arabi decided to publish Arabic translations of titles like Philosophy and Football and Socrates on Sneakers, which he expects to do very well in this year’s book fair.
“Non-fiction, in general, is making a strong come-back; I think we saw a glimpse of this last year with the first post COVID-19 book fair; but clearly this year our list of publications was designed to allow for a considerable number of non-fiction titles,” said Nora Rashad, director of publishing at Al-Massriya Al-Lebenaniya Publishing House.
They had embraced the domination of fiction over the past two decades. However, she added, this year more than last year, non-fiction is gaining ground. “I am not sure where this is coming from because there has always been some really interesting titles coming up in the non-fiction space but it might be a post pandemic thing with people looking for titles that offers some answers to questions they thought about during the pandemic,” she said.
For this year’s book fair, Al-Massriyah Al-Lebnaniyah is offering several non-fiction titles including Ezzat Al-Kamhawi’s Al-Tahi Yaktol Walkateb Yantaher (“The Cook Kills and the Author Commits Suicide”) which is a literary reflection on life and the works of prominent authors and the legacy of some important cooks.
History is also getting a lot of attention this year. With an introduction from Khaled Azzab, a prominent researcher, Al-Massriyah Al-Lebenaniyah is putting out a new edition of Mohamed Farid’s late 19th century Tarikh Al-Dawla Alaliyah Alothmaniyah (“History of the Sublime Ottoman State”) and an Arabic translation of Stanley Lane Paul’s Saladin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
However, this passion for history is not just a new development that goes hand-in-hand with this year’s renewed interest in non-fiction. According to several publishing houses, this desire for alternative narratives of history has been going on for well over a decade.
Al-Karma has been on with several reprints of history books. For this year, it is putting out a new edition of Souliman Fayyad’s Al-Wagh Al-Akhar Llkhelafa Al-Islamiyah (“The Other Face of Islamic Khalifat”) that challenges the dominant incomplete narratives of almost strictly prosperous Islamic rule to shed light on the images of coercion and discrimination that some faced under the rule of Muslim Khalifas. Another walk in the history lane comes from Al-Karma with Helmy Al-Namnam’s title Yaom Honein – Qiraa Tarikhiya (A History Take on the Battle of Honein). This books promises to be controversial as it addresses an often marginalised battle that Muslims, under Prophet Muhammad, had to go through in a preemptive tactic.
Al-Shorouk, which had previously dedicated an entire series to modern and contemporary history, is also coming in with the most recent title of Mohamed Aboul-Ghar’s Al-Filaq Al-Masry (“The Egyptian Legion”). Typical of the history volumes written by Aboul-Ghar, this book offers a lengthy research work that documents the forced conscription of Egyptian men from villages all across the country to work with the British army during World War I. It details the incredible socio-economic and political consequences that contributed to the start of the 1919 Revolution that called for the independence of Egypt from the British occupation. In a sense, this book could well be part of the rich set of volumes that Al-Shorouk has been putting out for four consecutive years in a bid to re-visit the 1919 Revolution.
Al-Maraya, too, is going to this year’s book fair with several history titles including Nossous Wakirat Hawl Tarikh Al-Capt from the 10th to the 19th centuries (“Texts and Narratives from the History of Copts: 10th to 19th Centuries”) by Magdi Girgus, who was just awarded a prize from the Swairas Culture Foundation for his book Al-Moalem Ibrahim Al-Gohary (“Master Ibrahim Al-Gohary”) on the life and history of one of the most controversial Coptic figures, which was put out last year by Al-Maraya.
Al-Arabi, for its part, is putting out a series of history books under the title of “Papers from History.” “This project is the labour of years of hard work and it includes some translated titles and some titles written in Arabic,” said Bakr. Of these papers there is Mozakerat Aila Massiyhiya bayn Al-Qahira waRas Ghareb (“Memoires of a Christian Family Between Cairo and Ras Ghareb”) by Iliyah Mahfouz Bashir. The book tracks the history of the family of a man who was born to a Christian family in the 1930s in Ras Gharb, next to the Red Sea, where the father was working for an oil company before he retired and dragged the entire family to Cairo.
Also in history, there is also a wide range of memoires, biographies and letter collections. Al-Karma is putting out part two of its massively successful book Akhi Al-Aziz – Morassalat Hussein and Galal 1961-1989 (“Dear Brother – Correspondence of Hussein and Galal Amin – 1961-1989”). Like the first volume that shared parts of letters exchanged by the Amin brothers, a prominent diplomat and intellectual and a prominent economist and writer, the second volume shares reflections on life, politics and culture that were included in letters that they sent to one another as they lived in Egypt and abroad.
Al-Karma is also putting two books that offers alternative narratives on the lives of two key figures of Egypt’s contemporary non-classic poetry: Salah Jahine, the celebrated figure of this year’s book fair, and Ahmed Fouad Nigm. Mona Kattan – Soura Shakhessiya Lezawgat Shaar (“Mona Katta – A portrait of the Spouse of a Poet”) introduces the second wife of Jahine in a narrative that sheds a lot of light on the prominent poet/cartoonist. Meanwhile, Wenta Al-Sabab ya Baba” (“It is All Because of You, Dad”) is the narrative of Nigm’s daughter Nawara, who shares reflections on the father-daughter relationship and the impact thereof on the life of the daughter.
Meawhile, Al-Shorouk is putting out what promises to be one of the most interesting titles of the book fair, Albert Arie -Mozkerat Yahoudi Masry (“Albert Arie – the Memoires of an Egyptian Jew”). The memoires of Arie, who passed away in the spring of last year at the age of 92, offers an incredible insight on the history of Egyptian Jewry in Egypt before and after the 1948 War, including the national affinity that some, including Arie himself, held to the country. It also offers an image of life in Egypt, specifically in Cairo, where Aries was born and lived all his life.
On Cairo, Al-Shorouk is also putting out its Wassat Albald – Maware Elhekayat (“Downtown – Beyond the Stories”), an essential collection of photos that documents the architectural splendor of Cairo. Meanwhile, Al-Ain is putting out Al-Qahera Waomranha (“The urban History of Cairo”) by Nezar Al-Sayyad, a prominent Egyptian-American architectural historian.
Novels with historical inspirations have also been quite fashionable for the past few years. Following a very successful first novel, Yaacoub (“Jacob”) with Al-Shorouk last year, Afifi is putting out his second take with the same publisher at a historical novel Salam Ala Ibrahim (“Peace Be on Abraham”). Like Jacob – which tells a history mixed with fiction in the life of a prominent but highly controversial Egyptian Coptic figure during the French Expedition – Peace Be on Abraham applies the same technique in recalling the history of Mohamed Ali’s son Ibrahim. For its part, Al-Maraya is offering Magued Wahib’s Alam Yahouzah (“The Pains of Judas”) that mixes fiction with history in the account of Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.
Other fiction titles that are expected to get considerable attention at this year’s book fair include Ahmed Samir’s second novel Rassail Al-Ganna (“Letters of Heavens”), Mahmoud Abdel-Shakour’s Alwan Aghostos (“The Colours of August”) from Dawwen and Adel Essmat’s Ayyam Adiya (“Ordinary days”) from AlKotobKhan.
Classics still have a big space in the book fair. Al-Massriyah Al-Lebenaniyah is putting out more reprints of the titles by Ihssan Abdel-Koddous, who, according to Rashad, “did really very well in last year’s book fair.” Al-Diwan is also coming up with more of its Naguib Mahfouz editions, Al-Karma is on with its reprints of Khairy Shalaby and Al-Shorouk is on with its reprints of Tawfik Al-Hakim.
However, according to Bakr, the demand now is for very different types of fiction. So, he said, while novels recalling big political events or documenting certain historical eras or reflecting on personal experiences remain in demand, there is also “a firmly growing demand for criminal novels – including detective novels.” The fact that there is a bigger taste for translated books, “and for that matter better quality translations, allowed for many titles of this genre to be published to please the appetite of a considerable audience of readers in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.”
Meanwhile, according to Sakr, comic books are also “picking up really well.”
“In the past five years Al-Mahroussa has put out over 40 titles that have been essentially very well received by young people – aging from 15 to 30, but also younger and older.” For the book fair this year, Sakr said, Al-Mahroussa is putting out three new comics, including Magdi Al-Shafai’s Al-Gassous Al-Engelizi (“The English Spy”) that depicts early elements of the revolt of Egyptians against British Occupation.
There are over 1,000 publishers who are taking part in this year’s book fair, including 44 publishers from Jordan, this year’s guest of honour.