The latest collection of short stories by Tareq Imam, A Tale of an Old Man who dies in the cities he Visits in his Dreams, and Other Stories was published in January this year, by Nahdet Misr Publishing House.
The book contains 17 stories, the shortest being just one page long and the longest running only to three. Imam has created a mesh of reality and imagination and shows us a collection of snapshots of a cast of characters suffering from despair, delusion, darkness and fear of the unknown.
Most stories portray lost and strange characters; a photographer who has lost his eyesight, the soul of dead poet who haunts his readers and turns them into lifeless sheets of blank paper, and a small child swept away by the mystery and cruelty of the sea. Some of the storiescould be material for a horror movie, for example The City of Drowned Ghosts in which the inhabitants of a coastal city wake up to find their city submerged by the sea and overtaken the skeletons of dead pirates.
The language used is eloquent but sometimes hard to grasp–I was strongly reminded of the Arabic saying alma’ana fe batn el-sha’er, which translates as “the meaning can only be found in the belly of the poet”. At some points, the somberness of the writing is almost suffocating, lost in a sea of ideas that are too obscure, depressing and incomprehensible.
The combination of reality and imagination is well done linguistically but unfortunately fails to send the message of the book across. This book is about a group of dark humans who are either lost, blind, delusional or dead.
The book is available at Kotob Khan in Maadi.
On another note, the High Council of Culture has recently denied Imam the State Incentive Award for his latest novel Hodo’ el-Qatala as he has already received a prize for the same novel. The incident has stirred waves of angry criticism from the community of young writers within Egypt.