Albert Cossery

Albert Cossery (Arabic: ‫ )البرت قصيري‬was born to a well-off Levantine-Egyptian family in Cairo, where his parents were wealthy small-property owners. In 1998, he told Abdallah Naaman: "We are the "Shawams" (Syro-Lebanese, referring to the Bilad al-Sham) of Egypt. My father is a Greek Orthodox native of the village of al-Qusayr, near Homs, in Syria. Upon arriving in Cairo at the end of the 19th century, our surname's pronunciation was simplified to "Cossery" (from "Qusayri")." At the age of 17, inspired by reading Honoré de Balzac, emigrated to Paris. He came there to continue his studies which he never did to devote himself to, writing and settled permanently in the French capital in 1945, where he lived until his death in 2008. In 60 years he only wrote eight novels, in accordance with his philosophy of life in which "laziness" is not a vice but a form of contemplation and meditation. In his own words: "So much beauty in the world, so few eyes to see it." At the age of 27 he published his first book, Les hommes oubliés de Dieu ("Men God Forgot"). During his literary career he became close friend of other writers and artists such as Lawrence Durrell, Albert Camus, Jean Genet and Giacometti. Cossery died on 22 June 2008, aged 94. His books, which always take place in Egypt or other Arab countries, portray the contrast between poverty and wealth, the powerful and the powerless, in a witty although dramatic way. His writing mocks vanity and the narrowness of materialism and his principal characters are mainly vagrants, thieves or dandies that subvert the order of an unfair society. Often auto-biographical characters, like Teymour, the hero of the novel Un complot de saltimbanques, a young man that forges a diploma of chemical engineer after a life of enjoyment and lust abroad instead of study and gets back to his home town and enters in an unexpected intringue against the authorities with his dandy friends. He is considered by some to be the last genuine "anarchist" or free thinking writer of western culture by his humorous and provocative although lucid and profound view of human relations and society. His writing style does not submit to an academic or experimental approach which makes him a vivid, catchy storyteller, without the boredom nor artificial ambiguity of some classical (which he is) or avantgarde writers. The sageness of his works are monuments to the freedom of being and thought against materialism, the contemporary obsession with consumption and productivity, the arrogance and abuse of authority, the vanity of social formalities and the injustice of the wealthy towards the poor. In 1990 Cossery was awarded the Grand Prix de La Francophonie de l´Académie française and in 2005 the Grand Prix Poncetton de la SGDL. The first of his books translated in English are Men God Forgot (first translated by Harold Edwards of Faruk University, Alexandria, Egypt, not by Henry Miller, whose note on Cossery appeared on a later 1963 City Lights Books edition, and published in the USA in 1946 by George Leite's Circle Editions of Berkeley), The House of Certain Death (New Directions, 1949), The Lazy Ones (New Directions, 1952), and Proud Beggars (Black Sparrow Press, 1981). Three more of Cossery's novels have since been published in English translation: Anna Moschovakis' The Jokers (NYRB Classics) and Alyson Waters' A Splendid Conspiracy andThe Colors of Infamy (New Directions). As of 2012, Une ambition dans le désert and Les Fainéants dans la vallée fertile remain untranslated into English.

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