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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Committee

Sun'allah Ibrahim

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Committee

Title: The Committee
Author: Sun'allah Ibrahim
Genre: Novel
Written: 1981 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 166 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Committee - US
The Committee - UK
The Committee - Canada
The Committee - India
Le comité - France
Der Prüfungsausschuss - Deutschland
  • Translated by Mary St. Germain and Charlene Constable
  • Afterword by Roger Allen

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Our Assessment:

B : well-written, but tries a bit too hard to be Kafkaesque

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/12/2001 Robert Irwin
World Literature Today . Spring/2002 Issa J. Boullata

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Committee, capably translated by Mary St. Germain and Charlene Constable, is primarily a crazy kind of allegory about the humiliation and intimidation of experiencing censorship. However, the book's second target is Sadat's policy, from 1974 onward, of infitah, or "opening'" -- that is, the policy of opening up Egypt to foreign investors and encouraging them by offering all sorts of tax and legal exemptions. (...) Although it is more picaresque than plotted, The Committee certainly has its moments, and the comedy sometimes achieves a Pinteresque flavor. But, like all of Ibrahim's novels (and at least three still await translation into English), it is a very political text." - Robert Irwin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Woven into the fabric of the novel, such criticism demonstrates not only Ibrahim's subtle disapproval of globalization and his distaste for Egypt's totalitarian regime and police state, but also his innovative craftsmanship as a modern fiction writer. He continues here with his experiments in novelistic style: taking the contemporary Arabic novel farther and farther from traditional forms, ignoring old concepts of plot and characterization, and highlighting interiority to portray the fears and the forcible effacement of the individual.The English translation of The Committee preserves the original's terse, simple style and conveys to the reader a view -- rarely understood and appreciated in the West -- of the effects of Western policies on the culture and tradition of another part of the world." - Issa J. Boullata, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Committee practically begs to be compared to Kafka's The Trial (and the other worlds Kafka imagined, more generally), and that's a big burden for any book to bear.
       The novel begins with the narrator facing 'the Committee'. He goes willingly -- eagerly, even: the Committee wields great power, and so this is a great opportunity for him -- even though he doesn't know quite for what.
       The narrator has spent the entire last year preparing for this audience, but he still doesn't know quite what to expect, and once things get started the ways of the Committee continue to prove to be mysterious. Their questions are ambiguous, their demands often seem arbitrary and pointless -- except, of course, that he knows there must be meaning to everything, and he racks his brains to try to figure it out.
       The setting of this 1981 novel is apparently Egypt in the late 1970s (Carter is still president, and most of the references are to then-contemporary Egypt), but there's also a universality to the Committee: it represents more than just a national body. So, for example, the working language of the Committee is not Arabic .....
       After the interview in front of the Committee the narrator waits to hear back from them, and after several months receives a telegram stating:

We await a study on the greatest contemporary Arab luminary.
       These aren't the usual ways of the Committee -- as far as the narrator knows. Historically, there has always only been the one audience, and then a decision. But he's eager to grab this chance they seem to be giving him, and sets out to fulfill this demand.
       There's no additional guidance, so his first problem is trying to determine who he should present the study on. Eventually he decides on a shadowy but important figure known as 'the Doctor', a man who seems to have been involved in all sorts of political and business dealings. Trying to find information about this figure also proves difficult, as the records are sparse -- or impossible to gain access to. Still, the narrator does find out a lot -- all the way to a grand conspiracy involving what is presented as the ultimate capitalist symbol, Coca Cola.
       The narrator's choice leads to a different sort of confrontation with the still dissatisfied Committee, and ultimately to a decisive act on his part when the shadowing of the Committee comes too close.
       Unlike Kafka with his heroes, Ibrahim lets his act against the powers that be. It is an almost futile swipe, but does hit the Committee at at least part of its core. But the narrator must pay, too, the sentence for his act an appropriately Kafkaesque one (and nicely done).
       The Committee is an odd, broad sort of allegory, with some very effective touches. There's a sense of too many targets, however: Kafka, too, worked with vague, undefinable menace, but Ibrahim offers up too much of this (and sometimes its not quite vague enough) to be as powerful. Still, an effective short novel, with quite a few very good parts to it.

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The Committee: Reviews: Sonallah Ibrahim: Other books by Sonallah Ibrahim under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Sonallah Ibrahim (صنع الله إبراهيم) was born in 1937.

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© 2007-2012 the complete review

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