Nights of Musk: Stories from Old Nubia

by Hassan Oddoul, Haggag

This collection of short stories, both poignant and skillfully crafted, bring to life the tragic demise of traditional Nubian life and culture. If the earlier dams that were built across the Nile during the first half of the twentieth century caused increasing numbers of the men-folk to migrate north to Cairo and Alexandria to work as servants, waiters, and doormen, the completion of the High Dam in 1964 sounded the death knell. While the temples of Abu Simbel were meticulously relocated at great expense, the drowning of the ancient heartland of the Nubian people along the banks of the Nile went largely unnoticed. Haggag Oddoul’s work, as well as documenting the personal tragedy of individuals caught up in massive social transformation, also casts a nostalgic light on the heritage and way of life of the Nubians: their rhythmic dancing, their beautiful women, the liveiy humor of their elders, and the enormous centrality of their traditions and the spirits with which they shared the environment. Two stories in this collection, “Zeinab Uburty” and “Nights of Musk,” offer a bucolic and dream-like insight into the world that has disappeared for ever under the water behind the dam.Meanwhile, two other stories, “Adila, Grandmother” and “The River People,” document the departure of the men, while the women are left behind to go fallow, and the second and third generations born in the cities of the north have only their grandmother’s tales and her pigeon Arabic to remind them of their heritage.