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Cossery's heroes are the descendants of Baudelaire's flâneur, of the Surrealists with their rejection of the sacrosanct work ethic, not to mention the peripatetic Beats or the countercultural 'dropouts' of the 1960s. 

The Nation

Albert Cossery

20th century Egyptian writer

Albert Cossery was born in Cairo in 1913, the son of middle-class parents. He studied law in Paris before the outbreak of World War II. During the war, Cossery served in the Egyptian merchant Navy. At the age of 27 he published his first book, Men God Forgot. Albert Cossery emigrated to Paris  to continue his studies (which he never did) and to devote himself to writing. He settled permanently in the French capital in 1945, where he lived until his death in 2008. In 60 years he wrote eight novels, in accordance with his philosophy of life in which "laziness" is not a vice but a form of contemplation and meditation. 

His books, which take place in Egypt or other Arab countries, portray the contrast between poverty and wealth, the powerful and the powerless, in a witty, but 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. He is considered by some to be the last genuine "anarchist" or free thinking writer of western culture with 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 storyteller, without the boredom and artificial ambiguity of his fellow classical or avant garde 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. Cossery died on June 22, 2008, aged 94.


Laziness in the Fertile Valley

Fiction by Albert Cossery

translated by William Goyen
with a contribution by Henry Miller and Anna Della Subin

Laziness in the Fertile Valley is Albert Cossery’s biting social satire about a father, his three sons, and their uncle — slackers one and all. One brother has been sleeping for almost seven years, waking only to use the bathroom and eat a meal. Another savagely defends the household from women. Serag, the youngest, is the only member of the family interested in getting a job. But even he — try as he might — has a hard time resisting the call of laziness.

Read a section of the afterword by Anna Della Subin at Bookforum.



The Colors of Infamy

Fiction by Albert Cossery

translated by Alyson Waters

Ossama is a thief, but a tasteful, well-mannered, easy-smiling one. His eyes sparkle and his sartorial taste is impeccable. His country may be in shambles, but he’s a hedonist convinced that “nothing on this earth is tragic for an intelligent man.” By matching the style of the privelged class, he can avoid the suspicious gaze of the police, and so he lazily glides around the cafés of Cairo, seeking his prey. After taking a crocodile wallet from a fat, opulent man, he finds not just a gratifying amount of cash, but also a letter — a letter from the Ministry of Public Works, cutting off its ties to the fat man. A source of rich bribes heretofore, the fat man is now too hot to handle; he’s a fabulously wealthy real-estate developer, lately much in the news because one of his cheap buildings has just collapsed, killing fifty tenants. Ossama, “by some divine decree,” has become the repository of a scandal of epic proportions. And so he decides he must act. . . Among the books to be treasured by the utterly singular Albert Cossery, his last — The Colors of Infamy — is a particular jewel.



A Splendid Conspiracy

Fiction by Albert Cossery

translated by Alyson Waters

Summoned home to Egypt after a long European debauch (disguised as "study"), our hero Teymour – in the opening line of A Splendid Conspiracy – is feeling "as unlucky as a flea on a bald man’s head." Poor Teymour sits forlorn in a provincial café, a far cry from his beloved Paris. Two old friends, however, rescue him. They applaud his phony diploma as perfect in "a world where everything is false" and they draw him into their hedonistic rounds as gentlemen of leisure. Life, they explain, "while essentially pointless is extremely interesting." The small city may seem tedious, but there are women to seduce, powerful men to tease, and also strange events: rich notables are disappearing. Eyeing the machinations of our three pleasure seekers and nervous about the missing rich men, the authorities soon see–in complex schemes to bed young girls–signs of political conspiracies. The three young men, although mistaken for terrorists, enjoy freedom, wit, and romance. After all, though "not every man is capable of appreciating what is around him," the conspirators in pleasure certainly do.