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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Over the Bridge

Mohamed El-Bisatie

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Title: Over the Bridge
Author: Mohamed El-Bisatie
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Over the Bridge - US
Over the Bridge - UK
Over the Bridge - Canada
  • Arabic title: الخالدية
  • Translated by Nancy Roberts

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Our Assessment:

B+ : wonderful concept, nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The main character of Over the Bridge is an auditor in the Department of Security, a small cog in a bureaucratic machine that functions fairly smoothly and predictability, yet has also taken on a life of its own, its function having, to some extent, become separated from its actual purpose. The auditor recognizes this, and comes up with an ingenious plan to take advantage of this situation.
       The auditing section he works in is:

the last stop for all monetary activity in the department. This was the section that delivered the final word, after which a check for payments due would be made out.
       All it takes is for him to forge some papers, and it's done: there's a new entity to which funds must be disbursed, a police station, in some "small town with a tribal stamp". He invents a town -- Khaldiya -- and establishes his fictitious police station there, and soon enough the checks are issued and no one is the wiser:
Who would ever stop to think that it was an imaginary police station ? Or that the town itself was nonexistent ?
       He has to enlist the help of someone to cash the checks, since he can't do that himself, but fortunately a man down on his luck named Younis has been badgering him at the coffee shop he frequents, and the auditor decides to make him the "disbursement officer" for this project, presenting it like it is an official government job.
       The plan goes off without a hitch, and soon the auditor has more money than he knows what to do with -- not that he knows what to do with money anyway, or seems to care much about it (though Younis is pleased to move into a nicer apartment and have his wife quite her job). Instead, what the auditor is really captivated by is his creation: his mind is always on -- and often in -- Khaldiya. He builds a model of the city, too, which becomes ever-more detailed and elaborate. He also has vivid dreams (and nightmares) of life there and at the local police station. Khaldiya takes on more and more reality -- but it's also a reality that begins to escape his control, as life in Khaldiya moves unpredictably and actions lead to local reactions, transforming the entire place.
       Younis and the auditor's circumstances also change given the money at their disposal; Younis takes a mistress, while the auditor tries to do some good by giving away some of his ill-gotten earnings to those in need. For both of them their relationships with women complicate matters.
       It's a clever idea, and well executed, especially how what the auditor imagines and dreams up escapes his control, his nightmares and reality eventually closely intertwined. There's obvious allegorical intent here, but it's also simply a good story -- and, if anything, it's too sketchy, El-Bisatie not doing enough with his fantastical conceit. Still, it works well as is.
       Enjoyable, and recommended.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 May 2010

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Over the Bridge: Reviews: Other books by Mohamed El-Bisatie under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Mohamed El-Bisatie (محمد البساطي) was born in 1937.

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© 2010 the complete review

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