Book Review: That Smell

Self-published in 1966 and immediately confiscated by the Egyptian authorities, this book didn’t see the light uncensored until 1986 when published in Lebanon. What made this book controversial, was probably not only the fact that (for Egyptian society of the time) it was sexually forward, with references to masturbation, prostitution and sex, but his the language broke with tradition. Ibrahim’s repetitive, mundane and simple language, structured in short unappealing sentences, completely breaks with Arabic literary standards. In a language that is very lyrical, flowery and just plain beautiful, writing in such a dull manner is a feat. An ininteligible experiment. A work of defiance. Its lack of concise plot and character development is baffling. But at the same time it completely conveys that feeling of numbness brought about by the regime’s crack down on dissent and the difficult balance between nationalism and consumerism while cozing up to the USSR. A very interesting novella. If you like political or prison fiction, you might want to give this very short work a try.

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