Introduction to Mahmoud Taymour’s Cleopatra in Khan al-Khalili

27 Mar

This is the introduction to the second edition of Mahmoud Taymour Bey’s novel “Cleopatra in Khan al-Khalili. The basic plot is the calling of a conference in Cairo to promote world peace. Taymour summons delegates from the world beyond to help accomplish this. They include Tamerlane, Buddha, and (of course) Cleopatra. The execution of the book is not actually as exciting as it sounds and it can drag a little bit.

In this introduction he talks about the mood of change that spread across the world after the Second World War and how by the time the second edition had come out he felt a little betrayed by the fact it did not accomplish anything.

Here it is: 

Cleopatra in Khan al-Khalili 1952 introduction

 

When I put pen to paper on this story, the world lay in the shadow of a destructive, global war and the great politicians in different countries were holding international conferences. In these they recognised human rights, affirmed the freedom of peoples, and raised the flags of peace across all corners of the globe.

 

I wasn’t aware how these exemplary, refined opinions, which general political consensus of the time agreed upon, almost subconsciously influenced me to portray the ideas of the whole world within the framework of this silly little thing that I called “Cleopatra in Khan al-Khalili.” When I submitted the story for publication in 1945 I timidly cast it out to the reading public. I expected that a day was coming when there would be conferences to promote freedom, justice, and peace and their effects would spread across the world. But it was my story’s fate to become a detested lie and my fate to become a symbol of ironic satire: a pariah and the model of a misanthrope. If only that was so… In fact, I would be happy for humanity to be blessed with a new age of stability and security, the victory of what is right, the triumph of freedom and the establishment of justice, if it came as a result of losing my Cleopatra in the ruins of the ancient Khan al-Khalili.

 

But woe … people have insisted on keeping Cleopatra alive for a while longer. Since the war ended the world has been and is still mired in these conferences of ‘human brotherhood’ and ‘international peace’.  And the exemplary principles on show in these conferences still appear in the scenes of farces that seem more like tragedies. Still the rights of the people are measured, from beginning to end, in the scales of power, by the law of the jungle.

 

In my story I didn’t mean to criticise any particular period of human history. I wasn’t being hostile to these international politicians who are plotting the course of this current generation. I sought out heroes from the spirit world, who were purified in the realms of light. They have not walked upon the earth to be dyed in the colours of the world and cast in its mold. So they were as they were before [in the spirit world] and might remove humanity’s age-old ways of acting.

 

I was very happy that Dar al-Hilal [publishing company] were kind enough to publish a second edition of this story in their series “Books of al-Hilal” which is an excellent example of how to literature more accessible and bring its sources closer to the general public in a very sophisticated way.

 

And those who read “Cleopatra” in the first edition know that I wanted them to be entertained and amused in the aftermath of this savage World War. Perhaps people now are more in need of this kind of entertainment and amusement as they suffer the tensions of the Cold War day after day, and hour after hour.

 

As I presented my book for the first time 7 years ago, timidly because of those model citizens who appeared in conferences of justice and peace, afraid that in my portrayal I might slander this. Thus, I present my book again today, timidly again. But this timidity is one of mourning and pity for these men who, even now, have not been able to become worthy of trusted seats in any peace conferences. 

   

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