Fourteen books that give you something to curl up with as the nights grow shorter. The best and most interesting of what’s coming out this fall:
A favorite of several prize-winning Egyptian authors, novelist and short-story writer Mohammad Abdelnaby says the book has “an epic tone that laughs at everything, an unusual lightness of spirit, and a surprisingly fresh treatment of old motifs such as violence or succession, al-Toukhy creates something unprecedented in the history of the Arabic novel, and in a language that does a very special dance between simple Modern Standard Arabic and an Egyptian Arabic that is colorful and perhaps obscene.”
Beirut, Beirut, Sonallah Ibrahim, trans. Chip Rossetti (BQFP)
Set during Lebanon’s civil war, the novel follows the misadventures of an Egyptian writer who goes to Beirut in an attempt to find a publisher for his work.
Revolution is My Name, Mona Prince, trans. Samia Mehrez (AUC Press)
Chronicles of Majnun Layla and Selected Poems, Qassim Haddad, trans. Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden (Syracuse University Press)
Ghazoul and Verlenden won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award for this book in addition to the $100,000 translation grant the pair received from the National Endowment for the Humanities to “create a comprehensive edition of Haddad’s work in English.” Read some of Haddad’s poems. Read an excerpt here.
Luqman, the novel’s protagonist, is a young former militiaman, trying to make a living in a post-war Lebanon. While you’re waiting on Oh, Salaam!, read an excerpt from another of Barakat’s novels, also trans. Leafgren: “The Bus.”
Arabs and the Art of Storytelling: A Strange Familiarity, by Abdelfattah Kilito, trans. Eric Sellin and Mbarek Sryfi (Syracuse University Press)
Read a charming recent interview with Kilito. Note: This is actually a translation from the French, but about Arabic literature, so.
Monarch of the Square An Anthology of Muhammad Zafzaf’s Short Stories, trans. Mbarek Sryfi and Roger Allen (Syracuse University Press)
A wide-ranging collection that looks at Zafzaf’s stories from all eras of his long writing career. Many wonderful, visceral shorts examining the lives of Moroccans. Interview with Sryfi forthcoming on ArabLit, insha’allah.
The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha, trans. Paul Starkey (Clockroot Books)
A game-changing novel for Egyptian literature, you can read about the novel here.
Crocodiles, Youssef Rakha, trans. Robin Moger (Seven Stories Press)
Lanterns of the King of Gallilee, Ibrahim Nasrallah, trans. Nancy Roberts (AUC Press)
Another in the series that includes The Time of White Horses, this is a book of eighteenth-century Palestine.
French Perfume, Amir Tag El Sir, trans. William Hutchins (ANTIBOOKCLUB)
A hilarious, fast-paced novel that is very different from the East-West novel by El Sir’s famous uncle, Tayeb Salih, but nonetheless interrogates the same relationship.
The Penguin’s Song, Hassan Daoud, trans. Marilyn Booth (City Lights)
Iraq + 100, ed. Hassan Blasim, various translators (Comma Press)
Stories set in Iraq 100 years into the future, including work by celebrated Iraqi novelist Ali Bader.
The Revolt of the Young: Essays by Tawfiq al-Hakim, trans. Mona Radwan
Essays by one of Arabic literature’s all-time leading lights.
Yes, only two of these authors are women: Mona Prince and Najwa Barakat. Earlier this year, two of Radwa Ashour’s excellent novels came out in translation (Blue Lorries and The Woman of Tantoura), Iman Humaydan Younes’s wonderful Other Lives, Hala el Badry’s Rain over Baghdad, and Dunya Mikhail’s latest poetry collection, The Iraqi Nights.
This makes for seven out of between 35-40 titles; let’s say around 18-20 percent, in line with literature translated from other languages. Over at love german books, Katy Derbyshire suggests moving in a different direction in, “A Woman’s Prize for Translated Books.” She writes:
What I want is a women’s prize for translated fiction; a little sister to the Bailey’s Prize, for instance. It would raise awareness for great women’s writing from the non-Anglophone world rather than for great non-Anglophone writing by women. I know that’s a subtle distinction but I think it’s an important one.
Yes, this is an issue we’ve discussed before. However, the “twenty percent” figure may only be part of it. As Derbyshire notes, a woman has never yet won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP), and many women’s titles appear on the scene without getting much public traction. Even Blue Lorries and Woman from Tantoura, which really AUCP and BQFP should’ve pushed together.
Gender breakdown is also a recurring issue/debate on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) shortlist, to an extent that the new, competing Qatari Katara prize has repeataedly announced the percentage of submissions they’ve been getting of work by women. Without women on the key Arabic book prize shortlists, well, it doesn’t really help get out more women’s works in translation.
If there was a concerted effort to publish more great women’s books in translation?
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