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3 November 1913 – 22 June 2008
Egyptian novelist Albert Cossery lived in Paris for over 60 years. He has published seven novels in French and was winner of the Francophone Prize for Literature. His work has been translated into many other languages but, unfortunately, very little into English. His first collection of short stories, Men God Forgot, (Cairo 1940) was highly praised, so much so that Henry Miller wrote the introduction to the American edition (published in Banipal 1, Spring).
Cossery was born in Cairo and was educated in Cairo’s French schools where he received his Baccalaureat. In 1930, he moved to Paris to continue his studies. During World War Two he was a captain of an Egyptian merchant ship going to New York. He stayed in New York for a time and then travelled to Britain, returning to Egypt at the end of the war, although he quickly took up permanent residence in Paris in September 1945. He set up home on the fifth floor of Hotel Louisiane in Saint-German, where he was to remain for the rest of his life.
In tribute to Albert Cossery, who died on Sunday 22 June 2008, we reproduce below the interview with Albert Cossery conducted by Shakir Nouri and published in Banipal 4, Spring 1999.
“I had read some of Albert Cossery’s novels,” commented Shakir Nouri, “before I knew him personally. When I became a friend, after meeting him many times over the last ten years, I started to interview him. Here follows a short interview, which could not be completed for many reasons: firstly, Albert Cossery really doesn’t care much for the media or interviews, and then there is his illness which prevents him from speaking. We still meet in the café and sit watching people go by.
“Some might wonder how Albert Cossery managed never to forget Cairo, even for one moment, either in his every day life or in his writing, or how he could stay closeted in one hotel, in one room, for such a length of time. He strolls the streets of Saint-Germain without a cheque book or cash card; there is only one purchase on his mind – Le Monde newspaper. He has an abhorrence of what is referred to as ‘material possessions’ and since 1945 his sole ‘possession’ has been his hotel room, which did not include, of course, the furniture.”
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