Today’s reading is from the first few pages of المولودة Al-Mawluda (the newborn) by Nadia Kamel, which was published in 2018 and written entirely in Egyptian ‘aammiya.

In this biography-memoir-novel, Nadia Kamel tells the story of her mother in her own words: Naela was born Mary Elia Rozenthal to a Jewish Turkish-Ukranian father and a Christian Italian mother. She eventually converted to Islam and changed her name to Naela when she met and married Nadia’s father, Saad Kamel. The story is written from the mother’s perspective, so the first person “I” which you’ll hear in the extract is Naela/ Mary herself.

Naela’s recollections, which are faithfully rendered by her daughter, deal with her childhood, family, friends, political activism, imprisonment and marriage, but they also paint a picture of the multicultural Egyptian society of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

As you might expect, because it was written entirely in عامية there was a backlash from those who feel that books should only ever be written in فصحى (with some exceptions allowed where dialogues are concerned), but Nadia Kamel was adamant that the colloquial is the language that we use to communicate our thoughts and feelings every day, so that it’s appropriate to use it in writing as well.

The reading was once again kindly provided to me by Amani Hassan (with whom I collaborated two episodes ago), who also proposed the questions I ask after the reading. And once again my contribution consists in providing the intro, the answers to the questions, as well as the فصحى version of the extract, which you’ll find in the downloadable document below (one row in مصري followed by a row in فصحى, followed by the questions). Hopefully we can make more episodes on this delightful book in the future!

You may also be interested in watching the film “Salata baladi” سَلَطة بلدي which Nadia Kamel made of her mother and her chats with her grandson, and their trips to Italy and Israel to visit relatives and reminisce about their past. The film is available on YouTube here.

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