Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery
As the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin proved, the schisms within nations can be as dangerous as those between nations. It is in this realm of internal, individual conflicts that Taher, an Egyptian, sets his novel. Egypt in the years surrounding the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is a nation increasingly divided between Muslims and Coptic Christians, and between those who look to the past and those who look to the future. Championing the ancient practices of vendettas and blood feuds is Aunt Safyya, who swears that she will not rest until her son kills the man who murdered her husband. Opposing her and the old traditions are the narrator's father, a Muslim, and Bishai, a Coptic monk. Filled with details of village life inEgypt and smartly translated to integrate Arabic words that have no direct English equivalent, the style is clear, beautiful and exotic. As a humane story of individuals striving for tolerance against traditions of violence, it is one that should appeal not only to those interested in Egyptian history and literature, but also to those interested in the foundations and possibilities of peace.