Edward al-Charrat was born in 1926 in Alexandria, Egypt. During his Law studies, which he completed in 1946, he worked in a British marine depot and immediately after that at the Egyptian National Bank. Because he participated in the activities of the anti-colonial movement he had to accept the punishment for this which was a two-year prison sentence (1948-1950). Following this, al-Charrat was active in many areas before he took his post in 1958 as Second General Secretary of the Organisation for the Solidarity of Afro-Asiatic Peoples and also of the Association of Afro-Asiatic Writers. These posts he held until 1983. Since then he has been living as a freelance author in Cairo.
Up to this point he had hardly published any literary works of his own, the sole exception being the first volume of stories, ´High Walls´ (1959). However, he was active as a literary critic, translator, editor and a representative of Egyptian literature on the international context. One of his most important jobs was and is to encourage new literary forms and styles of writing in Egypt for which he himself coined the concept ´New Sensibility´. When al-Charrat began writing in the early fifties he sought a literary path going beyond Realism which was the dominant idea up until then with its traditional concepts time and space. At the centre of his stories and novels there is the power of memory which often takes on autobiographical traits.
In al-Charrat’s fourth novel, ´Safranerde´ (1985), the world of Michael Kaldas’ memory constitutes the central theme. Like the author, Michael Kaldas is a Copt. In unconnected episodes and scraps of memory which follow no chronology, the aging narrator sees images of Alexandria in the thirties and forties, of the Alexandria of his childhood and adolescence. Experiences and influences which have determined the protagonist’s inner development are evoked: the discovery of the Muslim neighbours, for the Coptic boy an unknown world, the gradual awareness of the female body and of sexuality, the awakening of a political consciousness, penetrating into the secret world of literature. All these are woven together with poetic reflections on sensuality, love, death and loneliness.
Also, in his latest book to be translated into German, ´Die Steine des Bobello´, published in 1992, al-Charrat remains faithful to his writer’s creed of ´New Sensibility´ which he sums up as follows: "The story is not inevitably a report about events and deeds, no matter whether in straight or broken chronology. The story concerns also emotions and thoughts as they develop or it can take the form of a description – concrete, visual and sensuous – of things or stirrings of the soul. Only this type of description, in my opinion, makes genuine narrative. That is at least what I am aiming for."
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)