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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for The Crocodiles
Book cover for The CrocodilesBook cover for The Crocodiles

Translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger

A ferocious and urgent novel of the Arab Spring that begins with a suicide and ends with a doomed revolution, covering sex, violence, metafiction, deception, lost youth, and the last thirty years of a living, breathing, daring, burning, culturally infested Cairo.

Youssef Rakha's novel is narrated by a man who looks back on the magical and explosive period of his life in which he started a secret poetry club with two friends, doing the things that all young men ought to do: messy drugs, fierce older-woman-activist lovers, violent sex and passive politics, clumsy but determined intellectual bravado, retranslations of the Beat poets, growing up into and growing out of the city. One difference between The Crocodiles and any other novel is that it's set in Cairo between 1997 and 2011, against the backdrop of a burning Tahrir Square and a revolution that we know, even then, will fail. Read and you may well weep.

Book cover for The Crocodiles
Book cover for The CrocodilesBook cover for The Crocodiles

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“Youssef Rakha’s The Crocodiles is a fierce ‘post-despair’ novel about a generation of poets who were too caught up in themselves to witness the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Or is it? With its numbered paragraphs and beautifully surreal imagery, The Crocodiles is also a long poem, an elegiac wail singing the sad music of a collapsing Egypt. Either way, The Crocodiles—suspicious of sincerity, yet sincere in its certainty that poetry accomplishes nothing—will leave you speechless with the hope that meaning may once again return to words.”

“Rakha writes with keen authenticity and imbues each scene in this kaleidoscopic, intelligent, and unconventional novel with unparalleled verisimilitude, essential reading for our turbulent times.”

“From its opening depiction of a suicide to its final pages, the author paints a disquieting picture of wild young people who can only look forward to a future that remains unresolved.”

“In poet/journalist Rakha's brilliant novel, set in Cairo between 1997 and 2011, the suicide of an iconic female activist, the founding of the Crocodiles Movement for Secret Egyptian Poetry by a bunch of young idealists, and the birthday of Nayf, who's struggling to translate Allen Ginsberg's "The Lion for Real," all converge on a single June day. Whether Ginsberg's lion is God or love, revolution or fate, the young people here aren't quite ready, though they're full of talk. The numbered paragraphs read like prose poems and flow like the best fiction.”

“Influenced by Roberto Bolaño’s “ultrarealist” group of young poets in The Savage Detectives, and also by the American “Beat Generation,” Rhaka’s book is a collage-form account, told in paragraph-length, numbered passages that read like diary entries, about a generation of young writers and artists in Cairo. This novel is exuberant with the passions and energies of youth, and what young people endured to become artists and activists during the Mubarak regime from just before the turn of the millennium until the revolution and disillusioning aftermath of the Arab Spring. The form of it, too, is most welcome, as it can be read in very short bursts without losing anything.”

“Youssef Rakha has channeled Allen Ginsberg's ferocity and sexual abandon to bring a secret Cairo poetry society called The Crocodiles to life. He's done something daring and not unlike Bolaño in his transforming the Egyptian revolution into a psychedelic fiction thick with romantic round robins, defiant theorizing and an unafraid reckoning with the darkest corners of the Egyptian mentality.”

Youssef Rakha

Novelist, poet, reporter, photographer, the multitalented YOUSSEF RAKHA was born in Cairo in 1976. He received a BA in English and Philosophy from Hull University in England and since then has worked as a writer, copy editor, and cultural editor-cum-literary critic at Al-Ahram Weekly, the Cairo-based English-language newspaper. He was also the founding features writer at the Abu Dhabi-based daily, the National. His work has appeared in English in the Daily Telegraph, the New York Times, Parnassus, Aeon Magazine, McSweeney’s, and the Kenyon Review, among others. His photographs have been exhibited at the Goethe Institute in Cairo. He is the author of seven books in Arabic, some of which have appeared in German, Polish, Slovak, and Italian. Rakha was chosen as one of the best known and loved new voices of modern Arabic literature at the Hay Festival/Beirut World Book Capital competition, Beirut39, in 2009. His essay “In Extremis: Literature and Revolution in Contemporary Cairo (An Oriental Essay in Seven Parts)” appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of the Kenyon Review. The Crocodiles and Book of the Sultan’s Seal are Rakha’s first novels to appear in English.