The worst of times

Published May 20, 2012 12:03am

The author of Wedding Song, Naguib Mahfouz, and the book’s translator in Urdu, Fahmida Riaz, need no formal introduction. The book, called Shadiyane  in Urdu, is based on tragedies inflicted upon helpless people by circumstances who become victims of their fate.

The novel is set in Egyptian president Gamal Nasser’s era who we know as a fighter against imperialism. Naguib does not dwell on politics; he exposes the social and moral deterioration of the period when society has sunk to its lowest.

The four main characters of the novel — Tariq Ramazan, Karam Younis, Halima Alkabash and Abbas Akram Younis — are the narrators who tell us their part of the story while introducing other characters closely related to the plot. Naguib, through these characters, exposes a rotten society, economic deprivations and an exploiter’s world which forces women into prostitution.

Abbas, the protagonist, is the only ray of hope in this darkness. He is witness to all the ugliness that has seeped into his ancestor’s house by being turned into a brothel.

He is deeply hurt when he finds his own mother, whom he loves dearly, running such a business.

Abbas, thrown into solitude, writes a screenplay with his house as the backdrop. The script is turned down by the producer as there is no “dramatic element” in it. A drama should be larger than life and so Abbas dramatises his life story. He presents himself as the murderer of his wife and son and vanishes from the town giving room to wild speculations.

Abbas, before vanishing, leaves a note in his room stating that he plans to commit suicide. Whether he does really do so is a question left unanswered ~and the readers are kept in suspense till the last pages.

Fahmida Riaz, in her introductory note, writes that she could not complete the translation for a very long time as it was an ordeal due to the sensivities the novel unearths.

The translation is exceptional and a must read.

Shadiyane (Wedding Song) (NOVEL) by Naguib Mahfouz Translated by Fahmida Riaz Scheherzade, Karachi ISBN: 978-969-568-037-3 166pp. Rs.180

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