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A force of legend in Egypt.


Sonallah Ibrahim

Egyptian activist and writer

Sonallah Ibrahim was born in Cairo in 1937. He studied law at Cairo University and was imprisoned in 1959 for his political activities. While serving his five-year sentence he wrote Notes from Prison and composed That Smell shortly following his release. After several year abroad, he returned in 1974 to Cairo, where he has lived ever since, publishing many works of fiction. In 2004 he was awarded the Egyptian government’s prestigious Novelist of the Year prize. Ibrahim publicly declined the award, saying he could not accept a literary prize from "a government that, in my opinion, lacks the credibility to bestow it."


Fiction by Sonallah Ibrahim

translated by Hosam Aboul-Ela

Set in the turbulent years before the 1952 revolution that would overthrow King Farouk and bring Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, Stealth — by Sonallah Ibrahim, one of Egypt’s most respected and uncompromising novelists — is a gripping story seen through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy. A young Egyptian’s coming of age proves halting and uncertain as he fails to outgrow dependence on his aging father and tries to come to terms with the absence of his mother. Through the boy’s memories, fantasies, and blunt observations, we experience his attempts at furtively spying on the world of Egyptian adults. His adventures portray a Cairo full of movie stars, royalty, revolutionaries, and ordinary people trying to survive in the decaying city. 

That Smell & Notes from Prison

Fiction by Sonallah Ibrahim

translated by Robyn Creswell
Edited by Robyn Creswell

One of the most influential Arabic novels of recent times, That Smell is Sonallah Ibrahim’s modernist masterpiece. Composed in the wake of a five-year prison sentence, the semi-autobiographical story follows a recently released political prisoner as he wanders through Cairo, adrift in his native city. Published in 1966, the novel was immediately banned. For this edition, the translator Robyn Creswell has also included an annotated selection of Notes from Prison culled from Ibrahim’s prison diary — a personal archive comprising hundreds of handwritten notes scribbled on Bafra-brand cigarette papers. These writings shed unexpected light on Ibrahim’s groundbreaking novel.