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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Laziness in the Fertile Valley
(The Lazy Ones)

Albert Cossery

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To purchase Laziness in the Fertile Valley

Title: Laziness in the Fertile Valley
Author: Albert Cossery
Genre: Novel
Written: 1948 (Eng. 1952)
Length: 189 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Laziness in the Fertile Valley - US
Laziness in the Fertile Valley - UK
Laziness in the Fertile Valley - Canada
Les fainéants dans la vallée fertile - Canada
Laziness in the Fertile Valley - India
Les fainéants dans la vallée fertile - France
Los haraganes del valle fértil - España
  • French title: Les fainéants dans la vallée fertile
  • Originally published in English as The Lazy Ones; republished (2013) as Laziness in the Fertile Valley
  • Translated by William Goyen
  • With a Foreword by Henry Miller
  • With an Afterword by Anna Della Subin

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Our Assessment:

B : appealingly, absurdly languid

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/12/1952 John Nerber

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The complete review's Review:

       Laziness in the Fertile Valley is a novel of a dysfunctional Egyptian family that has fallen into almost complete torpor. It is a household of males. Old Hafez lives here with his three sons: Galal, who already: "had broken all records for sleep" and prefers never to rise from his bed for anything, if at all possible; Rafik, who still pines for his great love, the prostitute Imtissal; and young Serag, who threatens to bring dishonor to the family by going out and actually seeking ... work. The other members of the household are Uncle Mustapha, Hafez's brother, who: "had squandered his part of their inheritance in a marriage with a disreputable woman", and young Hoda, the household help who is in love with Serag.
       There is not much of a plot. Rafik, in particular, is concerned that their father will marry again, and finds his regular rest-schedule disrupted by his efforts to intercept the go-between arranging the marriage. Old Hafez has his eyes on the prize, but is worried that the enormous (really enormous) hernia he's lugging around may interfere with the deal. And Serag continues to worry that he will become mired in the pervasive -- and possibly inescapable -- inertia that envelops the house and his family.
       An acquaintance agrees with Serag's family, that he shouldn't be dissatisfied with his lot, seeing the family as one of artists and their dedication to sleep as something wonderful:

This strange idleness, in my opinion, is a supreme and distinguished art.
       Cossery seems out to prove -- with a wink to the reader -- as much, and he does a fairly good job of it.
       Parts of Cossery's work haven't weathered well -- the portrayal of the two women, in particular (they are both idealized and abused (in the sense of being extremely rudely treated)) -- but Cossery made a career out of extolling and indulging in languid attitudes, and he does so expertly here as well. Serag's attempts to break free -- including his visits to a factory that is (or was) under construction, where he envisions one day working -- are a great counterpart to the otherwise almost entirely domestic drama, and the characters' untiring somnolence makes for a great deal of amusement (and, in conclusion, even some poignancy).
       Though Hafez and his family's inertia may seem extreme, Cossery situates it in a world of idleness, where there is little advancement or change. This is a world that allows for such a laid-back attitude, too; tellingly, the only hyper-active character -- a child Serag meets -- has lost everything, even the box he called home. Meanwhile, Serag dreams of a world beyond but is obviously not very familiar with the actual ways of the world; it remains largely beyond even his imagination:
     Serag had heard that men worked, but these were only stories that one told. He never believed them completely. He himself had never seen a man work, outside of those futile and ridiculous employments which for him had absolutely no value.
       Laziness in the Fertile Valley is a small entertainment, but good fun (the misogyny aside), and offers the usual Cossery wit, elegance, and charm.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 November 2013

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Laziness in the Fertile Valley: Reviews: Albert Cossery: Other books by Albert Cossery under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       French-Egyptian writer Albert Cossery lived 1913 to 2008.

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© 2013-2014 the complete review

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