Monday, September 28, 2015

Review of Ziedan, Azazeel

BOOK REVIEW IN THE JORDAN TIMES: ‘Storms we have stifled’ (Sally Bland).
Youssef Ziedan

Translated by Jonathan Wright

London: Atlantic Books, 2013

Pp. 312

Youssef Ziedan’s novel, “Azazeel”, has many layers, each of them fascinating in its own right. At the narrative level, it is the diary of a 5th century monk named Hypa, who undertakes a number of significant journeys, spiritual and temporal. Born in Upper Egypt along the Nile, the disintegration of his family leads him to migrate to Alexandria, then Jerusalem, Syria, north of Aleppo, and Antioch. Other layers of the story involve history, culture, philosophy, psychology, love, religion and spirituality.

Hypa’s descriptions of the people, landscapes, cities and customs he encounters weave a fascinating tapestry of life in a time which is largely forgotten. It is a multilingual and multicultural world peopled by Greeks, Arabs, Kurds and Turks, speaking Syriac (Aramaic), Greek, Arabic, Coptic, etc. It is also a world in transition and turmoil as Christianity advances at the expense of paganism, only to be embroiled in internal doctrinal squabbles.

This novel was first released in Egypt in Arabic in 2010 and was controversial. It was published in the English translation in 2012.

The title refers to a name of the devil, who is also a character in the story. His name comes from the Hebrew name Azazel, on which more here. I don't know where the extra "e" comes from, but perhaps this is just an Arabic form of the name?