Set in the 5th century AD, these are the memoirs of Hypa, a Coptic monk. His journey begins when his mother betrays his father, who is killed, and then marries another man. Unable to forgive his mother he travels from Upper Egypt to Alexandria, and then on to Syria looking for spiritual enlightenment, as well as seeking to develop his skills as a physician. Slightly naïve, with an ambivalent attitude towards women he finds himself unwillingly involved in the dangerous politics of the early Christian church, where corrupt powerful Bishops crush any opposition, whether pagan or Christian, to their interpretation of the Gospels.
Winner of the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Youssef Ziedan has written a remarkable book, which looks at how one man’s beliefs are challenged, not only by the devil (Azazeel), but also the corruption endemic within the early Church. Written in the first person, the author’s voice is strong, dynamic and, through Hypa, forces the reader to examine their own beliefs, while bringing alive what has been a relatively neglected period of history. Recommended.