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Abdel Rahman al-Sharqawi: الأرض (Egyptian Earth)

This novel is set in a small village in Egypt in the 1930s during the British occupation of Egypt. A repressive monarchy has been restored, parliament has been dissolved and the Constitution suspended. Much of Egypt is ruled by a combination of the local omdas (village headmen) and the British-controlled police and armed forces. The village of this novel is no different. The fellahin (peasants) are at the mercy of the repressive Omda, who feels free to steal their land and imprison them, virtually without reason. A new road is to be built, which will take much of the peasants’ valuable farmland without compensation. Much of this novel is how the fellahin resist this oppression, told through the eyes of a schoolboy on holiday from his schooling in Cairo.

The initial story is concerned less with the land grab than with Waseefa, an attractive young woman, who does not conform to standard convention in her flirtations. The boys are naturally interested, particularly as she is very attractive. However, once the engineers come into the village, determined to restrict the amount of water the fellahin use for their irrigation, the problems really start. Al-Sharqawi tells the story with a mixture of humour and seriousness, as the fellahin squabble amongst themselves but, generally, work together to outsmart the Government forces and local authorities. The forces of evil are overcome – the Omda dies – and the villagers, more or less, win and our narrator heads back to school in Cairo to resume his education, having thoroughly enjoyed his summer.

Publishing history

First published in 1937 by Dar al-Hilal
First English translation in 1962 by Heinemann
Translated by Desmond Stewart