Nabil Naoum

Nabil Naoum was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1944.  He studied Engineering in Cairo and then went to the United States, where he worked as an engineer in New York for ten years. During this time he wrote his first short stories, some of which were published in Egyptian literary magazines.  In 1977 his first novel, ‘Al-bâb’ (Engl: The Door) came out, in Egypt.  In 1979 he returned to Cairo, where he opened a gallery for modern art and turned more seriously towards writing.  In the 1980’s he published a series of short story collections, among them for example the French-Arabic volume ‘Le Caire est petit’ (1985; Engl: Cairo is Small).  A collection of twenty stories came out in English translation under the title ‘The Slave’s Dream and Other Stories’ (1991).  Nabil Naoum’s narratives are infused with subtle and objective irony.  He foregoes detailed descriptions of landscapes, places and customs.  Thus events, even when Egypt is named, can only vaguely be located. Instead, his texts unfold largely detached from real clues, in their own space and time.  The characters too are only roughly sketched out and only over the course of a story does their distinct character emerge, all the same, the reader comes to know little about their emotional and mental worlds.  Most of Naoum’s stories are constructed via a linear narrative flow.  Without the moral appraisal of a higher entity, surprising turns take place which suddenly open up room for the horrible and nightmarish.  In the novel ‘Jasad Awal’ (1998) the architect and writer Fouad, upon his return from abroad reunites with his family, in particular the older relatives, who are again sharing life and housing. Being thus confronted with loss, old age and death, he searches for a fusion between the secular and the otherworldly.  The protagonists of his most recent novel ‘Hafat el wed’ (2000) are driven by their longing for love.  They are ensnarled in a web of seduction, power, and unfulfilled longing.  In addition to his prose, Nabil Naoum has published several essays on contemporary Arab art and photography.  Since 2000 he has been a member of the selection committee of the Biennale for Arabic Film at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.  Nabil Naoum has lived in Cairo and Paris since 1993.

© international literature festival berlin