Cover of The Politics of Melodrama by Jonathan Smolin
The Politics of Melodrama
The Cultural and Political Lives of Ihsan Abdel Kouddous and Gamal Abdel Nasser
Jonathan Smolin

December 2024
360 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503640238
Paperback ISBN: 9781503641273



Ihsan Abdel Kouddous (1919–1990) is the most popular and prolific writer of Arabic fiction in the twentieth century. The Politics of Melodrama is the first book to take on this giant of Arabic fiction and consider both his outsized cultural influence and consequential position in Egyptian politics. Jonathan Smolin frames the work of Abdel Kouddous not only as romantic melodrama, but as an entirely new model of Arabic fiction as dissent—contesting the fate of the 1952 revolution, condemning Nasser's betrayal of democracy, and grappling with depths of guilt at what Egypt had become.

Smolin reveals the surprisingly close relationship between the famed writer and Nasser. He offers a new reading of fiction during the Nasser era that inserts the importance of non-elite culture in the history of the period and reevaluates the production of Nasserism. Unearthing Nasser's repeated interventions both to shape the work of Abdel Kouddous and to discipline him personally, this book demonstrates how the media and popular fiction became spaces of negotiation between the intellectual and the state, contesting Nasser and his politics during a period that has been widely assumed to be devoid of dissent.

About the author

Jonathan Smolin is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College. He is the translator of two of Abdel Kouddous's novels, most recently A Nose and Three Eyes (2024).

"At long last, we have the first biography of the great writer Ihsan Abdel Kouddous. Jonathan Smolin vividly resurrects the man and his era with a fluent and sweeping narrative, and establishes a new benchmark for literary and intellectual biographies in our field. Decisive, lucid, and meticulously researched."

—Yoav Di-Capua, author of No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean Paul Sartre and Decolonization

"The on-again, off-again 'love' affair between the hero of the Arab world and the most influential Egyptian-Arabic writer of his day. Jonathan Smolin traces an intellectual and affective relationship that molded Arab politics of the 1950s-60s and inspired works of fiction and film that shaped a generation."

—Joel Gordon, author of Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser's Egypt

"Jonathan Smolin unveils Egypt's tumultuous sociopolitical landscape in the 1940s to 1960s, and introduces readers to one of the greatest Arab novelists and intellectuals—Ihsan Abdel Kouddous.The Politics of Melodrama is an excellent, must-read book."

—Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Republic of False Truths