Interview with longlisted author Adel Esmat


When did you begin writing The Commandments and where did the inspiration for it come from?

I began writing the novel in 2015 and revised the last draft in Autumn 2017, and it was published in January 2018.

There was no need for inspiration. It was an old story in my mind, but I lacked the artistic experience and perception to bring it into being in the way I visualized it in my imagination. I have said before, in interviews with journalists, that I did not want just to narrate the story of a family but to make their feelings and their approach to life tangible, to trace the hidden factors which led to the house being closed, the land broken up and the people scattered all over the country.

It was just that I lacked the key to unlocking the story. But in Spring 2015, I found the theme of The Commandments, which helped me to re-create old lives which have gone forever.   

Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?

The subject was very old, in my mind. I had tried to write about it in 2002 but the result wasn’t satisfactory. I couldn’t capture the right spirit, nor did I feel the atmosphere, and I did not have the skill to enable me to re-imagine that time. It was a failure, and I thought that I would never be able to write the story in the way I imagined it. I wrote other novels until I found the theme of The Commandments.

I was living in the city of Tanta, where I still live and work. 

How have readers and critics received it?

The thing which most pleased me was the reception by readers, before that of critics, although they also praised it. I felt happy when I received a letter from a reader with these words: “You wrote the history of my family”, or I would meet one of them at an event and he would say: “You described my father as though you had lived with us”. I think many readers loved the book.

The first edition finished in December and a second has been printed.

What is your next project after this novel?

I hope to finish the novel I am currently working on, and at the same time I am preparing a collection of short stories for publication.