Mahmoud Abdel Shakour, another literary critic, thinks the past year was a “golden year” for dealing with historical material through narrative fiction based on archives and documents. “Any writing about the past starts from the heart of the present,” he said, “but history is too big to be left to historians only.”
“Historical material is artistically attractive, and the artist deals with history with greater insight,” Abdel Shakour said. “Therefore, turning to history is a healthy phenomenon according to art standards, if not academic standards.”
Afifi, the author of “Ya’coub” and a professor of contemporary history at Cairo University, said the phenomenon of reconsidering the past accompanies major transformations in society. “This happened in Europe after the youth revolutions of 1968. The process usually comes from outside academia, through the press, documentary filmmakers, novelists, and then extends to society.”
The Arab region witnessed “severe transformations” after 2011, Afifi said. “It is natural that the events which happened drive towards building narratives that contradict official history.”
Afifi considers writing new historical narratives to be a “completely positive phenomenon”.
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“It is natural for this phenomenon to come from outside academic institutions, because these institutions are conservative in nature,” he said. “But there are also new generations of historians writing with full freedom, apart from methodological rules.”
Writing that attempts to combine fiction and historical narrative “allows us to pass on things that the historian cannot,” he added.
A Way of Understanding the Present
Samia Mehrez also spoke about her experience in writing about her grandfather in “Ibrahim Nagy: An Intimate Visit That Was Long Overdue.” She expressed her support for authors trying to revisit history through facts or personalities.
“Many of those engaged in research in the humanities complain about the difficulty of examining the current reality and obtaining statements and information because the present is thorny and mined,” Mehrez said. “Consequently, going back to the past became a safe way, perhaps, to understand what is going on now.”