Saturday 21 January witnessed the funeral service of the great writer, novelist,
short-story writer, and literary critic Youssef al-Sharouni who had passed away
two days earlier. The funeral was held at Qasr al-Dobara church in Cairo, and was
attended by figures from Cairo’s cultural scene as well as a host of Sharouni’s fans.
Youssef al-Sharouni was born in October 1924 to a family whose roots went to the
Upper Egyptian town of Sharouna, and earned a degree in philosophy from Cairo
University in 1945.
From 1980 – 1982 Sharouni was professor of Literary Criticism at Cairo
University’s Faculty of Media. From 1983 to 1990 he was cultural consultant to
the Sultanate of Oman.
Sharouni’s first short story collection was published in 1954 under the title Al-
Ushaq al-Khamsa (The Five Lovers), and his first poetry volume Al Masaa’ al-
Akheer (The Last Evening) saw light in 1963. Following the success of his first
collection of short stories, there were other writings, among them Risala ila
Imara’a (Letter to A Woman) in 1960, and al-Zahaam (The Crowd) in 1969. Many
other works followed: al-Umm wal-Wahsh (The Mother and The Beast), Akher al-
Anqoud (The Last Born), al-Karassi al-Musiqiya (Musical Chairs), Mutaradet
Muntasaf al-Lail (Midnight Chase), al-Dahk hatta al-Bukaa’ (Laughing Till You
Cry), Agdad wa Ahfad (Grandparents and Grandchildren), and a single novel al-
Gharaq (Drowning) in 2006.
Sharouni also wrote about Omani literature, as well as commentaries on historical
manuscripts such as Agaeb al-Hind (Wonders of India) by Buzurg Ibn Shahriyar,
and Akhbar al-Seen wal-Hind (News of China and India) by Suleiman al-Tajir and
Abu-Zayd Hassan Ibn-Yazid al-Sirafi.
Readers of Sharouni’s literature find it an encyclopaedia of good and evil, a
panorama of human patterns, a harsh criticism of society and a premonition of
events bound to occur. Some read his messages directly, but others only grasp
them when it is too late.
The literary input of this great giant continued till the last years in his life. In 2003
Sharouni wrote his autobiography Wamadat min al-Zakira (Flashes of Memory)
which was published by the Supreme Council of Culture. Many of his works were
translated into English, French, German, and Spanish.
Sharouni’s dynamism took him to the four corners of the earth where he
represented Egypt in literary forums and festivals. He lectured on contemporary
Arabic literature in several renowned establishments such as Oxford University,
the International Institute of Arab and Muslim Word Studies in Madrid and the
University of Berlin. He also taught Arabic at the universities of Leiden,
Amsterdam and Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
Sharouni has to his credit a long list of awards and medals. He won two State
Incentive Awards, the Short Story prize in 1970 for his collection al-Zahaam (The
Crowd) and another in 1979 in Literary and Critical Studies. In 2001 he was
awarded the State Appreciation Award in Literature for lifetime achievement. He
also received the Medal of Science and Arts, First Class in 1970; the Order of the
Republic, Second Class, in 1979; and the al-Owais award from the UAE in 2007.
In his autobiography Wamadat min al-Zakira, Sharouni talks of his wife of more
than 50 years, Nargis, and their family. After mentioning two failed romances in
his youth, he says: “I later realised these failed romances were just ‘theatrical
knocks’ before the curtain opened and Nargis came in to fill my life. She is the
mother of my children and my first reader and critic. If the fruit of my first failed
romance was The Last Evening and that of the second was Letter to A Woman, the
fruit of my third romance has been a daughter, a son, grandchildren, 40 books, and
above all a soul mate and life partner.”
To celebrate Sharouni’s 90th birthday, Watani in January 2015 posted an interview
with the great man:
http://en.wataninet.com/features/interviews/a-lifetime- of-giving- literary-
22 January 2017