Mustafa is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures at Boston University; he is also the editor and translator of the excellent Contemporary Iraqi Fiction: An Anthology.
- Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North
- Naguib Mahfouz, Miramar
- Assia Djebar, Women of Algiers in Their Apartments (written in French, but because women are needed on the list, I’ll allow it)
- Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah
- Alifa Rifat, Distant View of a Minaret
Saeed is the acclaimed author of Saddam City, among many other works.
1 – One Thousand and One Nights by Mohammed bin Sakkra Alhashemi
2 – Hayy Ben Yadhan by Iben Tufail
3 – Maqamat Al Hamdani by Bad’ie Azzaman Alhamadani
4 – Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
5 – Life Full of Holes by Driss Chraibi
Antoon is the author of the critically acclaimed I’jaam, which Katrina Weber lists as one of her picks further down the list. He also has published a collection of poems in English, titled Baghdad Blues, and is currently an assistant professor at NYU. His five:
- Mahmoud Darwish, Fi Hadrat al-Ghiyab ( In the Presence of Absence) (or Memory for Forgetfulness)
- Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt
- Sonallah Ibrahim, The Committee
- Elias Khoury, The Kingdom of Strangers
- Hanan al-Shaykh, The Story of Zahra
Muhanna is a PhD student in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Harvard University, a writer, and the maintainer of Qifa Nabki. His five:
- Al-Jahiz, The Book of Misers
- The Mu`allaqaat in the Arberry translation
- Night, Horses, and the Desert (not a single work, but an excellent anthology of classical Arabic literature by Robert Irwin)
- Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddima, in the Rosenthal translation
- The Poems of al-Mutanabbi, also in the Arberry translation
Youssef is the proprietor of the excellent bookstore/literary center Kotob Khan on Shera3 Laselky in New Ma’adi. Her list can be accessed here.
Rakha is a poet, journalist, literary critic, and a member of the Beirut39 cabal that met earlier this year in—of course—Beirut. He writes about Arabic literature and other things at http://yrakha.wordpress.com/. You’ll also be able to find an essay by him in the next issue of Banipal.
Rakha’s five books to read before you die:
- The Travels of Ibn Battutah
- The Ring of the Dove by Ibn Hazm
- The Polymath by Bensalem Himmich
- Season of Migration to the North by Tayib Saleh
- The Collected (or Selected) Poems of Sargon Boulus
Gana’s five (plus one not yet available in English):
- Salih, Season of Migration to the North
- Choukri, For Bread Alone
- Kanafani, Men in the Sun
- Mahmoud Massadi, The Dam (Al-Sudd)
- Mahfouz, The Beggar
- Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah
Lalami is the award-winning author of Secret Son; she also has published a lovely collection of short stories called Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Now she’s famous, of course, but when I first knew Lalami she was just a lowly blogger, short-story writer and literary critic. (Cheers, ya Laila!)
- Men in the Sun (Ghassan Kanafani)
- For Bread Alone (Mohammed Choukri)
- Year of the Elephant (Leila Abouzeid)
- Season of Migration to the North (Tayeb Salih)
- Memory in the Flesh (Ahlam Mosteghanemi)
- One Thousand and One Nights, translated by Hussain Haddawy
- Taha Hussein’s The Days
- Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North
- Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah
- Emile Habibi’s The Pessoptimist
R. Neil Hewison
Hewison is a writer, translator (City of Love and Ashes by Yusuf Idris, and Wedding Night by Yusuf Abu Rayya; both excellent books), and associate director of editorial programs with AUC Press. Hewison’s five:
- Hoda Barakat, The Tiller of Waters (Lebanon) – an absorbing, enlightening, multi-layered novel set in the empty war-ruins of Beirut, as a man struggling to survive and retain his sanity among packs of feral dogs reconstructs his history and the histories of those close to him through the metaphor of fabric (in which he used to trade), and slowly reveals the secret meanings of linen, cotton, velvet, silk. This is simply one of the best Arabic novels I have read, and it is beautifully translated by Marilyn Booth.
- Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah (Palestine) — a poetic revelation of what it means to be an exile, and what it means to return. This is one of the most powerful — because it is told so calmly, without rancor — indictments of the great injustice that is Israel. Translated perfectly by Ahdaf Soueif.
- Ibrahim al-Koni, Gold Dust (Libya) — a great desert novel that is simple and universal at the same time. You will feel the heat and the sores and the thirst and the pain. In an elegant translation by Elliott Colla.
- Naguib Mahfouz, Miramar (Egypt) – everybody must have their favorite Mahfouz novel, and this is mine. It is the story of Egypt and its Revolution, brilliantly told by four very different men staying in an old-fashioned pension in Alexandria, as they hover around the country girl who works there.
- Ahmed Alaidy, Being Abbas el Abd (Egypt) — weird, funny, unconventional in form and content, short but effective and memorable.
Davies is the (Saif Ghobash) award-winning translator of, among other works, Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis, Alaa El Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun and Yalo, Ahmed Al-Aidy’s Being Abbas el-Abd, and—one of my neglected favorites—Pyramid Texts, by Gamal al-Ghitani. Two of Davies’ translations were longlisted for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction prize, a distinction he shared with the excellent Anthea Bell. Davies’ choices:
- Elias Khoury, Bab al-Shams/Gate of the Sun: best book written about Palestinian dispossession; very long and non-linear; sometimes infuriating but ultimately thrilling—as one critic pointed out, you really have to read it twice.
- Elias Khoury, Yalo: a young man accused to serial rape and theft is being interrogated in a Lebanese police station; in the process his understanding of the world changes utterly; amazingly, even some deadpan humor.
- Muhammad Mustagab, Dayrut al-sharif + Min al-Tarikh al-Sirri li-N‛man ‛Abd al-Hafiz/Tales from Dayrut; Upper Egyptian gothic, always over the top.
- Yusuf al-Shirbini. Hazz al-Quhuf bi-Sharh Qasid Abi Shaduf/Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded; viciously non-PC attack on the ‘people of the countryside’ and everything they stand for by way of ignorance, unwashedness, overly long pubic hair, etc. with digressions into farting, love, cooking, and anything else rattling around in the mind of this seventeenth-century Egyptian intellectual.
- Muhammad Afifi, Taranim fi Zill Tamara/Little Songs in the Shade of Tamaara ; dreamy contemplations of the creatures inhabiting his garden (the dog, a frog, his wife, etc.) by an old man sitting under a tree; cult classic in the making.
- Ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddima/The Introduction; what really makes the world turn, by an eleventh-century genius.
Aboul-Ela is associate professor of English at the University of Houston; he teaches courses in postcolonial literature literary theory, Arab studies, and world lit. He also translates, most notably Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealth, Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid’s Distant Train, and Soleiman Fayyad’s Voices. He is co-editor with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak of “Theory Around the World”, a new publication series translating critical theory from outside Europe and North America. Aboul-Ela says he bases his list partially on the quality of the translation into English, with the exception of Voices, which he insists “rises above its translator’s limitations.” Anyone who’s read Aboul-Ela’s work will certainly disagree. His five:
- Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun
- Tayyeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North
- Soleiman Fayyad, Voices
- Abdel Rahman Munif, Cities of Salt
- Sonallah Ibrahim, Zaat
- Emile Habibi’ s Said the Pessoptimist
- Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose (Editor’s note: Originally written in French?)
- Abd al-Rahman Mounif, Cities of Salt
- Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love (Editor’s note: This was written in English, but after hearing Soueif’s explanation of how she imagines the dialogue in Arabic and “translates” it into English, I can see a reason to allow it. Also, we’re a little light on women.)
- Sahar Khalifeh’s The Image, the Icon and the Covenant
Weber is a lover of Arabic literature and moderator of the Read Kutub literature group and blog, which is part of The Third Line non-profit programming in Dubai. Weber also has a very interesting method of counting to five. Weber selected:
- Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North
- Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun
- Mahmoud Darwish, anything and everything…is this cheating?
- Sinan Antoon, I’jaam
- Sonallah Ibrahim, Zaat
- Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories or Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa & Other Stories or All That’s Left of You
- Abdul Rahman Munif, Cities of Salt and Endings
- Hoda Barakat, Tiller of the Waters
- Naguib Mahfouz, Cairo Trilogy
- Emile Habiby, The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist
- Husain Haddawy’s translation The Arabian Nights (based on the Muhsin Mahdi edition of the Arabic).
- Season of Migration to the North, Denys Johnson-Davies’ translation of Tayeb Salih’s Mawsim al-Hijra ila al-Shamal.
- Zayni Barakat, Farouq Mustafa’s translation of Gamal al-Ghitani’s novel of the same name.
- W. J. Prendergast’s translation of Badi‘ al-Zaman al-Hamadhani’s Maqamat.
- Cities of Salt, Peter Theroux’s translation of the first of Abderrahman Munif’s quintet
- And a bonus that needs to be included: Michael Sells’ translation of the early Meccan Suras in Approaching the Qur’an.
- Memory for Forgetfulness, Mahmoud Darwish
- Season of Migration to the North, Tayyeb Saleh
- The Trilogy or Children of the Alley by Mahfouz (I’m cheating but they should both be on the list.)
- نزيف الحجر, Ibrahim El Kouny (Editor’s note: Bleeding of the Stone, in very strong translation from May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley).
- Youssef Idris stories in Arabic
Thanks to all the authors, translators, critics, and book-lovers who sent me their lists. Now: Let the reading begin!
*This will obviously have to work on the honor system. I will not come to your house for a snap inspection.
**Friends and family: You are not eligible. If you would like some Arabic literature, in English or otherwise, just ask.
***If the winner likes, I can consult with her/him about which titles she/he already has. Also, if the reader prefers books in Arabic, I can accommodate that. For English selections, I have it in mind to include at least Stealth (Sonallah Ibrahim), Touch (Adania Shibli), and White Masks (Elias Khoury), all new to English in 2010. Perhaps also East Winds, West Winds (Mahdi Issa Al-Saqr)? Or The Scents of Marie-Claire (Habib Selmi)? Hmm.
Tags: Aida Bamia, Arabic Reading Challenge, Elias Muhanna, Elliott Colla, Humphrey Davies, Karam Youssef, Katrina Weber, Laila Lalami, Maia Tabet, Nouri Gana, R. Neil Hewison, Shakir Mustafa, Sinan Antoon, Ursula Lindsay, Youssef Rakha