- Hardcover: 150 pages
- Publisher: Syracuse University Press (30 Nov. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0815608055
- ISBN-13: 978-0815608059
- Product Dimensions: 16 x 1.9 x 23.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,490,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A Child From the Village (Middle East Literature In Translation) Hardcover – 30 Nov 2004
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The child s eye, feelings, emotions, as well as the comments of a grown-up writer present valuable information for students who are interested in the modern history of Egypt as well as those who are interested in the history of Egyptian culture. In addition, the book provides scholars of Qutb s ideology with the texture of life that produced, and still produces, such an ideology, in which the cry for social and political justice is mixed with a utopian adherence to a divine law.--Nasr Abu-Zayd "author of Rethinking the Qur an: Towards a Humanistic Hermeneutics ""
About the Author
Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was a member of the Muslim Brotherood and prominent Islamist revivalist figure whose career spanned the middle decades of this century. John Calvert is assistant professor of history at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He has published several articles on Islamic movements and thinkers. William Shepard is professor emeritus of religious studies at the University Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is the author of The Faith of a Modern Muslim Intellectual: The Religious Aspects and Implications of the Writings of Ahmad Amin and Sayyid Qutb and Islamic Activism: A Translation and Critical Analysis of 'Social Justice in Islam.'
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This memoir tells of Qutb's childhood in the village of Musha in Upper Egypt. Qutb documents the era between 1912 and 1918, a time immensely influencial in the creation of modern Egypt. Written with much tenderness toward childhood memories, it has become a classic in modern Arabic autobiography. Qutb offers a clear picture of Egyptian village life in the early twentieth century, its customs and lore, educational system, religious festivals, relations with the central government, and the struggle to modernize and retain its identity. In their rendering of the work into English, translators John Calvert and William Shepard capture the beauty and intensity of Qutb's prose.
A Child from the Village was written just prior to Qutb's conversion to the Islamist cause and reflects his concerns for social justice. Interest in Qutb's writing has increased in the West since Islamism has emerged as a power on the world scene.
message. Despite its tone of nostalgia, A Child from the Village paints a picture of the Egyptian countryside that is not entirely happy. The specter of peasant indebtedness and loss of land haunts the pages of the autobiography, as does disease caused by unhygienic conditions and the peasants' recourse to folk remedies and barber-surgeons rather than scientifically trained physicians. The joys of Ramadan, birth ceremonies, and other festive occasions are juxtaposed to death, tragedy, and the laments of women whose families patiently endure hard lives. Captives of poverty and ignorance, the peasants of Qutb's autobiography toil endlessly in their fields with little expectation that their lives will improve. They are the victims of the few large landowners and politicians who controlled Egypt's wealth. According to Tetz Rooke, who examined a wide range of Arabic childhood autobiographies, the critical portrayal of rural life found A Child from the Village represents a "break with the tendency towards pastoral idealization which dominated much of the first Egyptian creative writing concerned with country life." lt may thus be seen as a "precursor of the later Egyptian novel that embraces the subject of the village with a true-to-life, descriptive intent such as al-Ard [The earth, 1953] by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi (1920-1987)."4 In the context of the mid-1940s, Qutb's book manifests a growing awareness among Egypt's intelligentsia of socioeconomic issues. It was during this period, for example, that dissident elements within the Wafd founded the Wafdist Vanguard in order to influence the party leadership in a leftist direction.
Implicitly and sometimes explicitly in the book, Qutb advocates the need for reform and modernization at the village level. Qutb believed that the introduction of modern schooling in Musha was a step in the right direction, but he also believed that there was need for many more improvements, especially in the areas of land reform and health care. In his view, the Egyptian government was the obvious agent to undertake the necessary reforms, but too often the state's ameliorative efforts were imposed with a heavy hand or else were ill conceived. Qutb provides a harrowing account of a government operation, probably staged shortly after World War I, to confiscate all weapons belonging to the villagers of Asyut Province as a precondition for its integration into the structure of the State on a more thorough basis. He describes how soldiers, having surrounded the village, brutally interrogated the peasants, at one point firing bullets over the heads of the assembled village elders. Events such as this reinforced the peasants' traditional distrust of a governmental authority that in the past periodically subjected them to corvée labor. Elsewhere in the book, Qutb documents, sometimes with humor, the unwelcome and often inexpert intrusions of various government officials into the affairs of the community. We are introduced to medical officials, coroners, judges, and others, all of whom attempt to order and police the countryside in ways that make sense to the State but not to the villagers. In much the same way as the Egyptian writer Tawfiq al-Hakim's novella Diary of a Country Prosecutor, A Child from the Village documents the gulf in understanding that existed between urban officialdom and the dwellers of the countryside, the difference being that in Qutb's book we are provided with the perspective of the peas-ants rather than that of a government official. Qutb appears to argue that if modernization in Egypt's countryside is to be effective, it must take into account the sensibilities and social and economic realities of its inhabitants.
Within two years of the publication of A Child from the Village, Qutb adopted the Islamist position upon which his fame rests. Whatever the exact reasons for his ideological change, the significant point is that Qutb's early Islamist writings display many of the same basic concerns for social justice and national community that figure in his secular writings, including A Child from the Village. A discussion of the ways in which Qutb grafted the symbols and doctrines of the Qur'an is beyond the scope of this introduction. What can be said is that A Child from the Village illuminates an important element of the context out of which Qutb's Islamism emerged.
But this book describing his childhood was written before he began his serious radical activities; and it shows no hint of his future negative influences.
It is a wonderful first-hand description of his childhood in a small Egyptian village. The village customs and personalities are described with affection. He describes the superstitions surrounding the mentally ill [they are holy and highly respected]; belief in afreet spirits; going to to school during the annual flood of the Nile; and many more details about life in a rural Egyptian village. He also describes how his family, more educated than most, did not believe all of the superstitions; and how his schoolteacher proved that the afreets in the shape of rabbits were, in fact, rabbits escaped from their cages.
Although the memoir primarily recounts what it was like to be a boy in that time and place, it also shows the value his family placed on education and some degree of modernization. I would not have predicted, from this memoir, that he would grow up to be a seminal thinker in Islamist extremist ideology.
The book is not only poignant and educational, it is funny. The tale where the village kids are given 30 minutes or so by the public health doctor to produce stool and urine samples -- something strange they had no experience of, and to do so for a doctor they only knew from his visits to perform autopsies -- is laugh out loud funny as the kids' instantly develop a trade and hunt system for
"samples" to be produced by those kinds who could not produce in time. The story and book are narrated with a constant dry wit embedded.
But something even better is done here and elsewhere: Qutb uses this and other stories as occasions to seamlessly introduce details of the less colorful and more academic parts of village life such as the town sewage systems, social relations, farming practices and so forth. It is as if Mark Twain had become an Egyptian anthropologist. And without the real Twain's condescension. (A Twain analogy for Qutb here in terms of wit, style, and content-- or better still to Yiddishist Sholom Aleichem -- is only slightly an exaggeration, if at all. Qutb is quite the cutup.)
Again, author Qutb's later descent into darkness is worthy of deep curiosity and puzzlement. His expressed sensitivity in this volume to the secondary and lonely place of women in traditional society is strong, and yet... later in life Qutb will reverse himself and fall back onto advocating a dark variation of this kind of tradition, and do so in a form that has become armed and extremely dangerous. But here, he is a voice crying for fairness to the lowly, to women and men, singing the praises of modern thought and education, and cursing the harshness of tradition, superstition, and the cruelties of government tyranny.
And he does so with a literary aim that effectively eviscerates the troubling traditions and the poverty but not the people who live under them.
An amazing and informative and enjoyable -- and eminently readable -- work by a paradoxical figure.
The book can be read as a response to Taha Husayn's "Days" to which it explicitly refers (I used it in classroom to let students explore these authors, initially without uncovering Sayyid Qutb's identity and background). A Child from the Village contains more details about the countryside, and is more empathic towards the villagers. The fact that Sayyid Qutb became an icon of Islamism afterwards adds a special flavor to reading this book. This book shows us an author with a great social concern (nothing is hidden) and love for those who are poor and ill-treated.
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