Youssef al-Sharouni (1924 – 2017): a great writer and critic passes away

22-01-2017 09:00 PM

Injy Samy

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:

3 of-giving- literary-



Youssef al-Sharoun1

Youssef al-Sharoun

Watani International

22 January 2017

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