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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Rites of Assent

Abd al-Hakim Qasim

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To purchase Rites of Assent

Title: Rites of Assent
Author: Abd al-Hakim Qasim
Genre: Novellas
Written: (1984) (Eng. 1995)
Length: 184 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Rites of Assent - US
Rites of Assent - UK
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Vom Diesseits und vom Jenseits - Deutschland
  • Contains two novellas: 'Al-Mahdi' (written in 1977, first published in 1984) and 'Good News from the Afterlife' (written in 1981, first published in 1984)
  • Translated by Peter Theroux
  • With an Introduction by Samia Mehrez

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting style and presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Spring/1996 M.D.Allen

  From the Reviews:
  • "Good News from the Afterlife is more ambitious and less successful. Here we have not a more or less objective account of political and religious stresses in an Egyptian village but rather the ruminations of a bookish and sensitive boy combined with the next-worldly experiences of one of his neighbors, just placed in his grave. (...) Unfortunately, the angels do not have the gift of light disquisition. (..) Moreover, the reader's -- or this reader's -- inability to decide what actually happens and what are the boy's sun-struck hallucinations does not detract from a final impression of irritating pretentiousness." - M.D.Allen, 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:

       Rites of Assent contains two novellas Al-Mahdi focusses on Awadallah Awadallah, a Coptic umbrella-maker who is having trouble making ends meet. He once again has to move on with his family after not being able to pay the rent, but this time the gregarious Ali Effendi comes across the family and takes them in. Awadallah is reluctant to accept all the offered hospitality, but can't get out of it; still, rather than feeling like he has found a benefactor he: "felt that he had fallen into a pit."
       It is a sort of trap he finds himself ensnared in: Ali Effendi's Muslim Brotherhood chums take him on as a cause: they want to show the family the right way, and: "incline their hearts to Islam". They're generous -- making sure Awadallah's business does well, finding him a place to live -- but also single-minded. And, as Sheikh Sayid al-Hasari notes as they celebrate the triumph of preparing Awadallah for his conversion to Islam, this spectacle: "has the savor of coercion". Qasim nicely captures Awadallah's helplessness here, and the novella effectively culminates in the tragic procession to the mosque, a veritable sacrifice -- with echoes of Christ's own last steps.
       Good News from the Afterlife is a fairly ambitious attempt to convey the after-death journey, itself presented on two paths: that of a young boy in the world of the living, and a neighbour who has died. Effectively evocative, the first two parts -- 'Death' and 'The Grave' -- nicely overlap the journeys these two characters take and their initiations, passive and active, into death. "So this is death" the one character observes. "Isn't the essence of it overwhelming ?"
       The next two sections are in dialogue-form, the Dead Man appearing before Naker and Nakeer, "the two Angels of Death who question the dead in their graves on matters of faith" (as a footnote explains). This philosophical-theological speculation is of some interest, but certainly not entirely accessible to those outside the faith and tradition. And while some of the historical-political commentary and criticism is general enough --

They turn the law into a system of oppression, when it had been a system of thought. The legislative institution was distorted into a legal code, and prophecy was distorted into government.
       -- one suspects that there are also specifically Egyptian issues being addressed here. Nevertheless, much is also general enough, and it's interesting to follow how the Dead Man is guided through his own life, and how his actions are see -- so, for example, his turning to Sufism:
You entered the Sufi path without faith, to flee a reality you could not face. The whole time you were trying to defeat your doubt, but you could not.
       The Introduction by Samia Mehrez helps with some context for the stories, as well as a brief introduction to the author, but really isn't sufficient for what is being presented here. The stories do stand on their own, with some fine scenes and passages, but they would certainly have benefitted from more supporting material.
       Rites of Assent is of interest, as is, but one suspects there's more to the stories than is revealed in this presentation.

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Rites of Assent: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Abd al-Hakim Qasim (Abdalhakim Kassem) lived 1935 to 1990.

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© 2008-2009 the complete review

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