Leg over Leg recounts the life, from birth to middle age, of “the Fariyaq,” alter ego of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a pivotal figure in the intellectual and literary history of the modern Arab world. The always edifying and often hilarious adventures of the Fariyaq, as he moves from his native Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Tunis, England and France, provide the author with grist for wide-ranging discussion of the intellectual and social issues of his time, including the ignorance and corruption of the Lebanese religious and secular establishments,freedom of conscience, women’s rights, sexual relationships between men and women, the manners and customs of Europeans and Middle Easterners, and the differences between contemporary European ans Arabic literatures. Al-Shidyaq also explores and celebrates the genius and beauty of the classical Arabic language.
Akin to Sterne and Rabelais in his satirical outlook and technical inventiveness, al-Shidyaq produced in Leg over Leg a work that is unique and unclassifiable. It was initially widely condemned for its attacks on authority, its religious skepticism, and its “obscenity”, and later editions were often abridged. This is the first English translation of the work and reproduces the original Arab text, published under the author’s supervision in 1855.
Volume Two finds Fariyaq arriving in the burgeoning Egypt of Muhammad ‘Ali, detaching himself from the embrace of various eccentric foreign missionaries, taking employment with the Arab World’s first daily newspaper, suffering a number of diseases that (bizarrely) parallel his progress in the sciences of Arabic grammar, and pondering the pros and cons of marriage. It also sees the list – of locations in Hell, types of medieval glue, instruments of torture, stars, pre-Islamic idols, and much else – come into its own as a signature device of the work.