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Monday, September 19, 2005

أن تكون احمد العايدي

Being Ahmad Al Aidi
A young author shares a lot with his audience

By Leslie Boctor

Getting a hold of writer Ahmed Al Aidi is a somewhat surreal experience. Turn to chapter one of his novel An Takoun Abbas Al Abd, (Being Abbas Al Abd). The mobile number sprawled in red lipstick in bathrooms across Cairo in the story is the author�s own number. Much to your surprise, he answers, and you find yourself tongue-tied, unsure of who to ask for, in a confusing moment that occurs somewhere between fiction and reality.
A year and half after the book�s publication, Al Aidi is still baffled by phone calls from curious readers from as far as away as Spain, Yemen and France, calling to inquire on the whereabouts of Abbas Al Abd.
�I didn�t think anyone would call, because I wouldn�t dream of doing it myself. It would never occur to me to question whether a phone number in a book was real and actually try it,� says Al Aidi. Readers have called asking about the fate of the novel�s characters, the author�s own situation, and a host of other inquiries��things you wouldn�t imagine,� he says. The writer has done his best responding to the countless queries, sometimes indulging in tall tales to keep the caller entertained.
An Takoun Abbas Al Abd is the story of the humorous and twisted manifestations of various psychoses in the lives of a video rental sales clerk, his uncle, a psychiatrist, and a salesman named Abbas Al Abd, with ongoing commentary from the book�s narrator, who offers sarcastic insights such as: �We will only survive when we have turned all Egyptian museums into public washrooms.�
The novel, Al Aidi�s first, has been heralded as a refreshing voice in Arabic literature�a judgment seemingly confirmed by the public�s enthusiasm for the book. The novel�s first edition, published by Merit in November 2003, sold out a month and a half later. Since then, the book has barely remained on the shelf, with a pirated version appearing at Souq Al Ezbikaya between printings. Al Aidi himself had to borrow half a dozen copies from friends for a recent literary submission. Merit is releasing a third edition this month. An English translation by the Amerian University in Cairo Press is due out next fall.
Al Aidi, 31, is currently enrolled in a marketing program at the Open University. He has worked in various capacities as a writer and is currently the brains behind Al Dostour�s popular comic strip Booka wa Sokomonnous. He recently co-wrote a film with Mohammed Hefzi, Al Tourbini, which will be directed by Ahmed Medhat.
A conversation with Al Aidi is full of sparks, questions and speculations that come tumbling out together. His questioning mind is open to possibilities, all of which seem to originate from musings on �what if�?�
He describes the book�s themes as an exploration of �a triangle of mine: hallucination, schizophrenia, phobia.� He turned his questions on himself to examine his own phobia�giving out his phone number.
�Before writing this book, I never had a mobile. When you have one, the first thing someone asks is: �Where are you?� And that doesn�t sit well with me. I don�t like someone knowing where I am,� says Al Aidi. So he contemplated the worst-case scenario: �I asked myself, what would happen to my writing if I were exposed like this?�
Including his personal contact information wasn�t the only gamble Al Aidi took with his work. In recounting how the novel came to be, the author often refers to the delete function, an integral part of his writing process. �I actually enjoy deleting,� he says gleefully. �Not just the delete key, but delete shift especially, which makes the document bypass the recycle bin altogether�and poof! It�s gone forever!� The novel is his fifth version, but Al Aidi candidly admits his second version was his best, but alas, it was deleted. It�s the restless reader inside him who needs to be satisfied, he explains. �When I�m reading it, I�m not the writer anymore, I am the first person to read it. It�s the reader in me who is deleting. I want to satisfy the reader inside me, and if he�s not satisfied, I�ll change it to what he likes.�
For the sake of avoiding boredom, as he puts it, he toyed with the novel�s dialogue, interspersing keyboard idioms such as brackets, punctuation marks and emotion icons within the text. In one instance, a character is mentioned, but isn�t given a name. Instead the reader is asked to choose a name, and write it between two empty brackets. Depending on his frame of mind, Al Aidi reverted into an online chat style while he wrote. �Sometimes while I was writing, I felt like smiling, so I added a smiley face to the text,� he explains. �Sometimes I would be playing with the volume on my computer, so I put things in bold letters.�
Al Aidi says he mulled over every word in the novel. The result is sentences that deliver sharp, witty and sometimes scathing blows, such as: �You�re the computer engineer with a loosened tie and package of CD-Rs in your hand. A blip in the digital cosmos. An electronic slave for the Bill Gates colony.�
As for his characters, Al Aidi says they emerged as voices in his head, who were at times demanding companions to live with. �The novel was already written, I was just looking for it,� he explains. �And the characters spoke to me, they were the ones that knew what was going to happen, not me. I was just there to be a secretary. They�d wake me up in the middle of the night for a cup of coffee, or to make a phone call, or to tell me to �write this down.��
Al Aidi�s inclusion of his number in his story turned out to be a brilliant literary gamble with a personal twist�the writer managed to re-invent himself as a wholly accessible person. The only problem is his mobile is still ringing with calls from inquiring readers. Now the author feels the time has come to leave a voice mail message on his mobile explaining that Abbas Al Abd has disappeared. The pressure of the constantly ringing mobile has shifted his focus and energy. �It�s at the point where I can�t handle another phone call!� he says emphatically, but not without good humour.
Al Aidi is already thinking of his next novel. �I want to write whatever I really like, as if there would be no more novels to follow,� he says. �I should write every paragraph as if it was the last one people could read. I should write with this urgency.� But first things first�he�ll get a new mobile number.
Copyright © 2005 Cairo Magazine



Alaa said...

read baheyya's review of the book

بس كده كتير مش ممكن مش عارف أشتريه، حد يسلفني الكتاب يا جماعة

AZ said...

لو هتنزل فى ديوان هتبقى اول كتاب اشتريه فى حياتى من ديوان ويبقى العايدى دخل التاريخ من اوسع ابوابه..ز انا عايزه نسخه Signee ولو انى بقطع الصفحه الىل فيها الاهداء عشان بعتبر اكلتابه فى الروايه عدم اترام للكتاب بس هحاول امنع نفسى المره دى

hobe said...

احمد العايدى شخصية عبقرية بجد ، انا قعدت معاه مرتين وكان فيه فرصة للكلام وبالصراحة كنت ساكتة معظم الوقت لانى كنت بحاول اعرفه اكتر ، اول مرة كنت قريت الرواية بس لما اتكلمنا رجعت قرتها تانى وقدرت اشوف الحاجات بطريقة العايدى شوية . اللى عايزه اقوله ان العايدى شخصية خلوقه جداا وبيعرف يكتب حلو بعيد عن احمد ، انا بقدمله كل احترامى لانه ادانى الأمل بشكل جديد . وبحيي علاء وبرضه عايزه اقول عنه حاجه بعيدا عن الانطباع اللى يتاخده لما تشوفه بس هوه حد حلو(انسان)

Muhammad Aladdin said...

شكرا علي اللينك جدًأ، و لو كنت عندي النسخة بتاعتي كنت سلفتهلك --حد خدها مني و ضرب عليها

الأمر ده متروك لاحمد

متفق معاكي جدًا في كلامك عن احمد، و شاكرك علي كلامك عني و لاوني مش فاهم مسألة "بعدي عن الانطباع اللي بتاخده لما تشوفه".. يعني ايه يا استاذة؟
:p :p :P

mindonna said...

أنا برده قريته علي فكرة ، و لما اشتريت الكتاب لفت نظري حاجتين خلاني اشتريهم

أولا : اسمه عشان كان بيكتب في مجانين:)

ثانيا:عنوان الكتاب عجبني

و طبعا مضمون الكتاب عجبني أكتر بعد كده
موضوع القصة يمكن ميكونش جديد أوي ألا و هو هلاوس الإنسان المصاب بانفصام في الشخصية إلا انه عجبني جدا اسلوبه عموما في تناول القصة كانه فعلا جرّب قبل كده ازاي يكون مجنون عشان يكتب الحالة

علي فكرة أنا سألتك سؤال عندي في الكومينت ياريت ترد عليه مشكورا هنا

hobe said...

انا اسفة جداا لو كلامى اتفهم بشكل سيئ بس اكيد مش قصدى ، _واكيد طبعا كلامى انطباع شخصى _ لانى لما شفتك حسيت انك شخصية حاده ومستهزئة بس حاولت اشوف اللى ورى ده وانا اسفه جدااا على كلامى ده بس والله انا طريقتى كده ما بعرفش ازوق الكلام وياريت وانت بتقرى خد الجانب الحس على طول

Muhammad Aladdin said...

عادي جدًا يا استاذة.. و لا ىتاخدي في بالك، ده كان مجرد سؤال برئ

Anonymous said...


Alaa :
:) شكراً للوصلة يا عزيزي

Hobe :
:) أشكرك لكلامك العذب الذي لا أستحقه

mindonna :
:) ..شكراً جزيلاً

..أخي العزيز علاء
...مش عارف اقولك ايه
مهو مينفعش تشكر حد لأنه أخوك

أحمد العايدي

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