This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
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Ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Lebanese literary agent Yasmina Jraissati has five new must-translates to add to her list:
Jraissati promises: “A novel by one the most interesting emerging voices in Lebanon”; a new novel by Man Booker International finalist Hoda Barakat; novelist by International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted novelists Youssef Fadel, of Morocco, and Najwa Bin Shatwan, of Libya; and a new nonfiction work by PEN Pinter-winning Syrian novelist and activist Samar Yazbek.
Hilal Chouman, كانَ غدًا, Once Upon a Time, Tomorrow
Chouman is the author of the charming, 2017 PEN-longlisted novel Limbo Beirut, translated into fluid, changeable English by Anna Ziajka Stanton. Limbo Beirut was described by its translator as a demand that the reader ″balance in the uneasy space between being a voyeur and a participant, gratifying our desire to get inside the head of that stranger we meet on the street…but on the other hand surprising us with the fact that you can never just be a witness, that you′re always going to somehow become involved in the other′s life, whether you mean to or not.″
Jraissati describes Chouman’s fourth, 2016 novel — published by Dar al-Saqi — as, “A fresh, funny and immensely clever take on what life is like for your average millennial in an unstable corrupt country – where anything is possible, and nothing can be relied upon.” It begins among a series of unexplained events in Beirut, as Khaled is trying to start a new relationship and help a friend find his missing wife.
Reviews and a brief summary are available at Chouman’s website; an excerpt is available from Raya Agency. Also: a three-city Skype conversation between Chouman, Stanton, and ArabLit editor M Lynx Qualey.
Hoda Barakat, بريد الليل, The Night Post
A new novel from one of the most significant contemporary voices in Arabic literature and a finalist for the Man Booker International, Barakat’s The Night Post is forthcoming in Arabic this winter.
A new book by Barakat will be an event.
In Jraissati’s words, “An illegal emigrant writes a letter to his lover. A woman writes the man she awaits. A torturer on the run writes his mother… They all connect by coincidence, and converge towards the airport looking for a new start elsewhere. Barakat tackles the dysfunctions of Arab societies that lead them to rupture.”
A sample and summary are available from the Raya Agency.
Najwa Bin Shatwan, زرايب العبيد, The Slave Pens
This novel made the shortlist for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and tells a story of the lives of enslaved people in Libya. From Jraissati: “Benghazi, Lybia, some time in the first half of the past century, Atiqa now a free woman, hears the story of her mother’s life as a slave and lover for the first time.”
You can read an excerpt on ArabLit. It opens:
The road was dusty, long, and narrow, its houses packed one against the next, built in the same shape and with the same faded white paint falling off in large flakes. The uneven heights were interrupted by a few small shops, most owned by the surrounding residents, and where this road turned into the next, there was a small pharmacy with no signboard. It was the only one around, and they called it “Giuseppe’s,” a name the owner didn’t like, that people called him behind his back.
You can also read a recent interview with Bin Shatwan, conducted for the Shubbak Festival in London.
Samar Yazbek, تسعة و عشرون إمرأة: سوريات يروين التاريخ, Nineteen Women: Stories of Resilience from Syria
This book — by a recipient of the PEN-Tucholsky, PEN Oxfam-Novib, PEN Pinter, and of prestigious French “Best Foreign Book award” — will also be a winter release in Arabic.
In this book, according to Jraissati, “Yazbek gathers incredibly brave testimonies from the silenced actors of the revolution: Women. The book sheds light on the complexity of the conflict, and the situation of women in the region.”
A summary is currently available, and a translation sample is coming soon.
Youssef Fadel, فرح, Joy
Two of Fadel’s warm, funny, illuminating novels are available in English translation: A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me, tr. Jonathan Smolin, and A Beautiful White Cat Walks with Me, tr. Alexander Elinson.
Joy is the third book in the series, and is told in seven sections, from seven viewpoints, with an unhappy love story at its center.
Or, in Jraissati’s words: “Casablanca in the 1980’s, an enormous mosque being built in proximity of a very poor neighborhood forms the backdrop of a tragic love story.”
A summary is available from the Raya Agency, and there are a number of reviews online.
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