20 x 20: Short Stories & Photographs
by Khaled El Shalakany
Trafford Publishing

"You live and learn Abbas that is the way of the world."

As a lawyer, Khaled El Shalakany found it difficult to consolidate his thoughts and express himself. Yet here, as the author/photographer behind this memorable short story collection, he renders a succinct portrayal of original narrative and imagery. Whether in the opening account of French revolutionary Robespierre's prophetic smile lingering after his execution, a Cairo cabbie's transformative ride with the angel of death, or a traveling clown's predictions of disaster, Shalakany captures our interest with a wide range of subject matter. Readers will not feel shortchanged by the minimalist boundaries of four to six pages; many of the pieces end with a thought-provoking, ironic twist. "Welcome to the Future" offers readers a ruthless tycoon who scoffs at tree-hugging environmentalists, then finds himself in an unviable world, secluded as a museum specimen. Story set-ups include life-and-death situations, incarceration, brutality and components of prayer. Such enticements are both provocative and stirring, often with touches of humor. Consider a Communist Party member who finds enlightenment in the face of a Blue Buddha that bears an uncanny resemblance to Chairman Mao.

With familiarity, Shalakany often weaves a tale against the backdrop of an Egyptian city. "The Nile at Sunset" photograph reveals a beautiful waterscape bordered by hills in silhouette. Readers will envy Shalakany's travels. Artfully, he reveals a vibrant Buenos Aires street mural, snake-charming magic in New Delhi, the allure of Machu Picchu, and penguins in the Antarctic. "Door" in Tunisia recalls the solitude of an O'Keeffe painting. Both the stories and pictures reveal a moment in time. These clear and simple concepts have a residual complexity that flares only in our imaginations. Ultimately, Shalakany proves himself as both a literary and visual artist who can streamline his expansive creativity and deliver it with authenticity, clarity, and aplomb.

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