by Abu Rayya, Yusuf
In a small town in the Nile Delta, where two wars and sweeping political change have dramatically altered the economic, social, and power structures of the small community, lives Houda the deaf and mute butcher’s apprentice. His voicelessness is compensated for by two all-seeing eyes that pierce the most intimate and secret details of the lives of the town dwellers, his marginal status affording him unparalleled freedom of circulation, observation, and subversion. Revealing the town’s private stories through public sign language, he articulates the unspoken and the forbidden, to unsettle the apparent quietude of rural society. But Houda’s own unrestrained desire and his uninhibited sexual exploits scandalize the town and rock its codes of public behaviour. When it is reported that he has violated the sanctity of his employer’s own house by pinching the breast of the butcher’s beautiful wife, the whole town, with the butcher and Shaykh Saadoun, the pretending Sufi, in the lead, rises to avenge itself and publicly humiliate and ridicule Houda. The elaborate ruse planned by the butcher and the shaykh, playing on Houda ‘s hopes, dreams, and fantasies, is foolproof he is certainly no fool. This original satiric novel, introducing the reader to every public and private corner in the life of a small town, is both a daring critique of contemporary Egyptian reality and a thoroughly good read, a remarkable novel of sustained carnivalesque suspense and wicked black humour that marks the arrival of a true literary talent.