By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
Berkeley–Egypt is a society that contains both Christians and Muslims and that is reflected in their culture — one of the most ancient cultures at that.
Youssef Essa was a creative writer — in fact, with many awards to his credit. At the same time, he was a substantial scientist. His charming daughter Fatan Essa came to Berkeley. (Curiously, her father was in residence here as a Fulbright scholar during the 1960s.) She came to introduce her fatherâ€™s work that is too little known in the West. It was a happy time for him here in Northern California. He learned to love American movies. He even wrote articles about Berkeley. Unfortunately, when he returned to Egypt, he found himself in a depression.
Dr. Youssef Eassa is one of the most significant writers of the Twentieth Century, and definitely so in the Arabic language. He was writing in a school of his own where imagination, fact and dream merged amazingly to create an analysis of reality (much of it the Islamic realism within the Land of the Nile). Eassa mastered the short story, the novel, articles and the essay. Besides fiction (his short stories are masterful), he composed poems, and was an exceptional essayist. The critic Mohammed Fatey Bek wrote in 1945, â€œThe works of Yousef Ezeddin Eassa are pieces of outstanding quality. Theyâ€™re characterized by an originality of ideas and a variability of themes. There is a beauty in their build up, and they are highly creative.â€
Fatan believed her father â€œwas global in the way he looked at thingsâ€¦he was a universal thinker.â€ His two careers as a scientist and a writer gave him a grand vision. â€œHe was able to balance the two sides of his [intellectual] life.â€ Being a scientist and a creative person, â€œHe had an immense gift of imagination.â€ Ms. Essa stated â€œIt is more difficult to see the whole world as the whole world.â€ He was nominated for the Nobel Prize, but very few of the judges read Arabic.
When â€œHe was recovering from the [a] shock of death,â€ he graduated in 1938. Shortly, thereafter, he wrote a play that became an immense success. In his play, â€œLife became death and death life. He wrote in symbols, the butterfly became his (overriding) symbol for â€œLove [for him was] a butterfly.â€
Much of his life was spent over periods of historical upheaval. He never understood World War II.
He was married shortly after the War in 1948 to Fatanâ€™s mother. Personally, he was an admirable father to her. In particular, â€œHe was very sympathetic with young people.â€
â€œYou really find yourself liking him because you like his writing.â€ There is a lot of psychology in his writing even in his â€œâ€¦challenging essays.â€
The government of Egypt published A Selection of Short Stories (2002) by Professor Essa. Please, contact their Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Office of the Foreign Information Department. The book was published by the Prism Publication Office/ 44, Messaha Street / Guiza / Egypt (the Prism Literary Series #13). The translator of these short stories is by his daughter Fatan Essa with revisions by Amal Mazhar. There is a website dedicated to Professor Youssefâ€™s memory at www.eassa1914.net.