KHALATI SAFIYYA WA-AD-DAIR

A rumour can turn into a small seed of division and destruction. 

This is what I read in this little book by the Egyptian writer Bahaa Taher (1935). The story is set in a small village in close to the southern town of Luxor, Egypt. The story is told from the perspective of a young boy, who is part of what happens in his extended family and most of the villagers belong to this extended family.

Close to the village is a monastery, a Coptic monastery. One of the people who live and work in the monastery is Mikkadis Bisjaai. He works in the large garden. He is not a monk, but a gardener, a man who is welcoming others, who come to the monastery.

There are others who are central to this story. Take Safiyya, the beautiful girl of the village. She is an orphan and the father and mother of the narrator take care of her. Take Harbi, the beautiful man in the village, who works at the estate of the rich and influential consul bey, who lives in the nearby city of Luxor.

The expectation of the villagers is that sooner or later Harbi will ask to marry Safiyya. When Safiyya reaches the age of fourteen, her stepfather thinks she is ready to get married. But Harbi does not take any action. The next year is a repeat year. Then a surprise: the consul bey, through his nephew Harbi, asks to get permission to marry Safiyya, he is much older, he is twice widowed and Safiyya agrees. 

After some time Safiyya gets pregnant. Is this due to the bey or to Harbi? The bey gets angry with Harbi. He wants to get rid of Harbi. A confrontation follows at the estate. Harbi is tortured by crooks that accompany the consul bey, but they do not want to kill Harbi. In the end Harbi gets hold of a gun and kills the consul bey.

The seed of division and destruction gives life. Safiyya wants revenge for the death of her husband. She raises her son in this spirit of revenge. Harbi spends time in prison. Safiyya bides her time and pours revenge in the life of her young son.

I will not give away the way the story evolves. I can recommend you to read this book, to follow the way the seed of rumour and revenge is watered and gives life and death. 

Bahaa Taher has written a very good book, a book that shows the attitudes of people, how people get chained by revenge and hatred. But also we see people who strive to see justice.

Bahaa Taher – Khalatsi Safiyya wa-ad-dair – 1991 (“Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery”)

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