Friday, December 3, 2010

The Human and Intimate in Maguid Tobia's Short Stories

Maguid Tobia  (1938- ) is an Egyptian novelist, short story writer and journalist, born in Menya in Upper Egypt . His passion for writing began with a passion for reading which started at the age of 14. Coming to Cairo for his university education, he fell in love with cinema and theatre and began his first attempts at writing in the form of radio dramas. This was followed by his first short stories appearing in the 1960s where his first collection "Fustuk Arrives to the Moon" was published in 1967, followed by "Five Unread Newspapers" in 1970 "Khamas Gara'ed lam Tuqra'" and "The Following Days" "Al Ayam Al Talya" in 1972 with other collections to follow over the years. He also published a number of novels among which was Taghrebet Bani Hathout which has been listed by the Union of Arab Writers as one of  the 100 best Arabic novels of all time. Moreover, a number of his short stories have been turned into film such as Sons of Silence (Abna' al-Samt).

Many of his short stories focus on the social and political issues of the time, touching on Egypt 's wars with Israel , corruption and oppression as well as the changes and transformations that swept Egypt after the open door policy in the 1970s. Other stories are of a more intimate and universal nature, depicting childhood, parenthood, aging, and love in all its forms and diversity.

One of his very moving stories is "His Handkerchief " or "Mandeluh" a story about a soldier returning home and agonizing on how to tell his best friend's mother that her son had died at the front. This agony is embodied in his own handkerchief which he uses in a attempt to hide his tears, and which the mother, believing that he is using it to wipe his sweat from the road,  takes it to wash, giving him instead her son's handkerchief, which in turn causes the soldier even more distress. As the young soldier attempts to hide the dreaded news from the mother, she finally realizes what she has been sensing and  fearing in her heart - but trying to deny- in the eyes and behavior of her son's friend as she stands in the balcony pressing and hanging his handkerchief to dry.

In his story "If You Love Me" or "Law Kunt Tuhebeni" he touches on how love –and life - feed on the imagination and our attitude towards life. The ability to "feel" the warmth of spring in the cold of winter, to "see" the magnificent in the mundane, to find great pleasure in simple endeavors and to create and re-create the extraordinary from the ordinary…is what  the fire of life – and love – is all about.

Tobia often uses fantasy and animals in his stories to depict moral and social issues. In his story "The Incident that Took Place" "Al Hadetha Alati Garat" he tells us a story of a young bird, angered by how corrupt human officials put the blame on birds for the wheat they steal, decides to bravely confront the truck carrying the stolen wheat, only to be killed in his attempt. His heroic act is sung by the birds like the story of Adham El Sharkawy, the Egyptian Robin Hood-like hero, symbolizing how the small and weak…but free and proud…can always challenge and resist injustice and wrongdoing and be an inspiration to others.

Finally I leave you with a quote from one of his stories "Those Small Gestures""Telka al- Lamasat al-Saghera" where a man celebrating his 40th birthday is overwhelmed with negative thoughts and regrets of how life has passed him by without much to show for, only to be inspired and rejuvenated by the smile of a little girl, showing that happiness and satisfaction can often be found in the little moments and details of life and that regardless of everything, life is worth living. 

"He walked briskly towards his home, feeling refreshed and happy by the girl's welcoming gaze and her waving at him. He entered the apartment, still struck by the girl's sweetness and innocence. He found himself wishing her and her parents happiness and health. He undressed and wore his pajamas and got into bed feeling relaxed and at peace with himself. He turned off the light and quickly fell asleep without the aid of a sleeping pill... but he dreamt of a child that looked just like him, a child who sneaked from behind his mother in Upper Egypt, and headed towards the ruins of the ancient temple. There he saw the goats of the gypsies and began playing with them. Whenever they pushed him down he quickly got up again, and went on playing and jumping."   


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