Sonallah Ibrahim suggests at the opening of Zaat (1992), trans. Anthony Calderbank, that “We could begin Zaat’s story from its natural beginning, that is, from the moment she slid ino our world bespattered with blood, and the shock, the first of many she would endure, that followed as she was lifted feet first into the air and given a hefty slap on the backside (which gave no indication whatsoever at that point in time of the size it would eventually attain due to long hours sitting on the toilet seat).”
However, Ibrahim’s narrator does not begin at that point, as, “The critics, however, would hardly welcome such a beginning, for a straight line, in literature as in morals, rarely achieves significant results, and in our case here would certainly constitute nothing but a waste of time for the reader and writer alike.”
And then, amusingly: “Time which could be better spent in front of the television, for example, and which would benefit both of them far more than ploughing through hundreds of pages.”
The book proceeds to skip forward to Zaat’s courtship with Abdel Maguid Hassan Khamees in the mid-sixteies. But when the Ramadan-series TV adaptation of Zaat opens, it opens with Zaat’s birth, and she is indeed lifted feet first into the air and given a hefty slap on the backside.
The TV series echoes Ibrahim’s novel in that it interweaves Zaat’s story with history and news — newspaper clippings are sensibly replaced with film clips — but it also departs significantly from the book. However, as Matthew Specktor recently wrote on adapting novels to film, “The book is not the movie.” Reportedly, Ibrahim is pleased with the adaptation.
I never imagined Zaat like Nelly Karim, but never mind that.
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