Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha translated by Paul Starkey has been awarded the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Paul Starkey & Youssef Rakha will be in conversation with Gaby Wood @woodgaby on Thurs 18 February at 6.30 for 7pm Waterstone’s Piccadilly Bookstore, London W1J 9HD @WaterstonesPicc It is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing piccadilly@waterstones.com

Youssef Rakha is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the only child of a disillusioned communist and a woman who struggled against incredible odds to go to university. I speak English with a slight accent and Arabic like a native Egyptian. I can think of at least three separate people I’ve been since I went to university in Hull, returning to Cairo once I graduated. All three worked in journalism and wrote, and the last two took pictures as well. I’m interested in the meaning of people’s words and actions, individually and in groups, in my part of the world: how the disorder and duplicity of human behaviour can resolve into something meaningful and also presumably beautiful. I’m interested in the way language can reflect and alter reality. I have a French-speaking three-year-old daughter I’m utterly besotted with. I’ve been urged to stop smoking cigarettes, which I do voraciously, and I’m planning on it but I haven’t yet.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At a certain point I thought I was a prophet, a messenger of God. I must’ve fantasized about being a doctor and an architect and a spy, but all I consciously remember is wanting to be a writer. Continue reading Interview | Youssef Rakha | Author of the Week

Review | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha | Book of the Week

Rakha’s tale of a man’s “transformation during twenty-one days from a Europeanized intellectual to a semi-madman who believed he could perform magic deeds to resurrect the Islamic caliphate” is a very readable feast — taking in love, friendship, work and (in)sanity . . . identity, faith and the nationalist movement . . . Ottoman Turkey, neoliberalism, politics . . . digital photography, the internet and Cairo café life . . . Amgad Salah’s conversion from a lost hobo into an unarmed terrorist . . . laced with a smattering of zombies, camels, masturbation and ecstasy (chemical or otherwise). The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars is one helluva read.

Part confessional, part letter to a friend, part philosophical treatise and a journey of self-discovery: Mustafa Çorbaci’s stream of consciousness carries the reader along in a weird and wonderful coherent swirl of words that conveys his thoughts, impressions and emotions as his world is turned upside down. “My marriage had been a Greek tragedy, which begins and ends within twenty-four hours. Blink and it’s over.” A journalist for over a decade, “in the last seven years he hadn’t budged from in front of the screen.” He eventually leaves his job and travels, ending up in Beirut. Continue reading Review | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha | Book of the Week