Over at Conversational Reading, Scott Esposito has out an “interesting books of 2011” list, which reminded me that my “forthcoming” page still lists 2010 releases. So:
My notes: Tahar Ben Jelloun, although primarily known in international spheres as a novelist, is also a poet, and just won the 2010 Argana International Poetry Award, granted by Morocco’s House of Poetry.
And, of course, this isn’t really an “Arabic” book—Ben Jelloun is a Moroccan who writes in French—but the book is probably worth picking up despite Ben Jelloun’s Francophone handicap.
Penguin Press promotional text: Award-winning, internationally bestselling author Tahar Ben Jelloun’s new novel is the story of an immigrant named Mohammed who has spent forty years in France and is about to retire. Taking stock of his life- his devotion to Islam and to his assimilated children-he decides to return to Morocco, where he spends his life’s savings building the biggest house in the village and waits for his children and grandchildren to come be with him. A heartbreaking novel about parents and children, A Palace in the Old Village captures the sometimes stark contrasts between old- and new-world values, and an immigrant’s abiding pursuit of home.
>>The Essential Naguib Mahfouz, edited by Denys Johnson-Davies
My notes: Another addition to the AUC Press’s “essential” series, which also includes The Essential Yusuf Idris and The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim. All of them have been compiled by pioneer translator Denys Johnson-Davies, and the two I’ve read to date (Idris and al-Hakim) are worth having.
AUC Press promotional text: Naguib Mahfouz, the first and only writer of Arabic to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, wrote prolifically from the 1930s until shortly before his death in 2006, in a variety of genres: novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, a regular weekly newspaper column, and in later life his intensely brief and evocative Dreams. His Cairo Trilogy achieved the status of a world classic, and the Swedish Academy of Letters in awarding him the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature noted that Mahfouz “through works rich in nuance—now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous—has formed an Arabic narrative art that applies to all mankind.”
>>Heart of the Night, Naguib Mahfouz, trans. Aida Bamia
My notes: In 2011, AUC Press will finish translating its 34th and 35th Naguib Mahfouz novel, so that all of Mahfouz’s works can be in English before his centenary.
Promotional copy from AUC Press: A classic Mahfouz story exploring themes of marriage across class lines, spirituality, and the harsh realities of a precarious life.
Jaafar Ibrahim Sayyed al-Rawi, the main character in this most recently translated Mahfouz novel, is guided by his motto, “let life be filled with holy madness to the last breath.” He narrates his life story to a friend during one long night in a café in old Cairo. Through a series of bad decisions, he has lost everything: his family, his position in society, and his fortune. A man driven by his passions, he married a beautiful Bedouin nomad for love, and as a consequence pays a punishingly high price. From a life of comfort with a promising future guaranteed by his wealthy grandfather, he descends to the spartan life of a pauper, after being disinherited. Jaafar faces his tribulations with surprising stoicism and hope, sustained by his strong convictions, his spirituality, his sense of mission, and his deep desire to bring social justice to his people.
>>The Tobacco Keeper, by Ali Bader
Promotional copy from Bloomsbury-Qatar: Conceived as a murder mystery, a political reportage, a personal odyssey of a man who refuses to succumb to the need to define himself and his Baghdad in terms of one identity. First published in Arabic in 2008, “The Tobacco Keeper” relates the investigation of the life of a celebrated Jewish Iraqi musician who was expelled to Israel in the 1950s. Having returned to Iraq, via Iran, the musician is thrown out as an Israeli spy. Returning for the third time under a forged passport, he is murdered in mysterious circumstances. Arriving in Baghdad’s Green Zone during the US-led occupation, a journalist writing a story about the musician’s life discovers an underworld of fake identities, mafias and militias. Even among the journalists, there is a secret world of identity games, fake names and ulterior motives. This is a novel written as investigative journalism, including apparently authentic sources, meticulously researched in Baghdad, Teheran, Istanbul and Damascus.
About the author: Ali Bader (born 1964) is an Iraqi novelist, essayist, poet, and scriptwriter.
>>Love in the Rain, by Naguib Mahfouz, trans. Nancy Roberts.
Set in Cairo in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967, Love in the Rain introduces us to an assortment of characters who, each in his or her own way, experience the effects of this calamitous event. The war and its casualties, as well as people’s foibles and the tragedies they create for themselves, raise existential questions that cannot easily be answered.
In a frank, sensitive treatment of everything from patriotism to prostitution, homosexuality and lesbianism, Love in the Rain presents a struggle between “old” and “new” in the realm of moral values that leaves the future in doubt. Through the dilemmas and heartbreaks faced by his protagonists, Mahfouz exposes the hypocrisy of those who condemn any breach of sexual morality while turning a blind eye to violence, corruption, and oppression, double standards as applied to men’s and women’s sexuality, and the folly of an exclusive focus on sexual morals without reference to other aspects of human character.
>>In the Presence of Absence, Mahmoud Darwish, trans. Sinan Antoon
My notes: Clearly a must-have.
Promotional copy by Archipelago Books: By one of the most transcendent poets of his generation—an intimate look at what it truly means to be away from home. This self-eulogy is a masterfully written poetic narrative that recalls the Palestine of the Darwish’s youth as a metaphor for love, exile, and the injustice and pain of our contemporary moment.
More: Read an excerpt. Free.
>>As Though She Were Sleeping, Elias Khoury, trans. Humphrey Davies
Promotional blurb from Quercus: Beirut in the 1930s: a young woman has the gift of seeing the past in her dreams, and she can also predict the future. Over the course of three nights, Milia recalls her love affair with Mansour, between Beirut and Nazareth, and dreams of episodes in the lives of her family: of a grandmother who regains her virginity after the birth of her son; of the bizarre death of an uncle, who accidentally hangs himself by a church-bell rope; of her relationship with her mother. Dreams are a way to escape all forms of oppression, whether from family, religion or politics; Milia’s visions are of a kind of Garden of Eden, of frangipani trees and orange blossom, and yet she foretells the political and social transformations to come: Jewish immigration to Palestine, the influence of foreign Christian missions and the Westernization of morality. As Though She Were Sleeping is a reminder of what life once was in the Middle East; Elias Khoury has again crafted a compelling and many-layered narrative of great sensuality.
>>The Animists, by Ibrahim al-Koni, trans. Elliott Colla
AUC Press blurb: In a remote Saharan valley, a mysterious caravan approaches from the south. In its train, it brings gold and slaves but also marvelous, dangerous things—ancient pagan heresies and a scorching, unceasing southern wind. And more. For the first time in desert memory, a caravan has come to settle permanently, to build a city of walls and roofs in a land where men have always lived freely as nomads.
Renowned as Ibrahim al-Koni’s masterpiece, The Animists is an epic story of the many winds sweeping north and south across the Sahara—of the struggles between devils and humankind, worldly traders and Sufi ascetics, monotheists and animists, nomads and city dwellers, life and death. Al-Koni’s depiction of the Saharan crossroads is at its richest in this novel—nowhere else is his portrayal of humanity’s spiritual and existential battles so complex and compelling, nowhere else are his unique storytelling skills so evidently displayed.
>>Azazel, by Youssef Ziedan, trans. Jonathan Wright.
Promotional copy from Dar el Shorouk (English-language publisher Atlantic Books still is mum on the subject): Set in fifth century Upper Egypt, Alexandria and northern Syria, Azazel unfolds during a critical point in Christian history. Focusing on the period following the Roman Empire’s adoption of the ‘new’ religion, the novel highlights the subsequent internal doctrinal conflicts rising amongst the fathers of the Church on the one hand, and between the ‘new’ believers and receding paganism on the other.
Some other time in 2011…we think….
>>Brooklyn Heights by Miral al-Tahawy, trans. ?
My notes: I’m currently reading it (along with too many other books). A must-have.
Promotional text from Dar Merit: Brooklyn Heights tells the story of the New York’s Arab immigrants and those who live among them through the eyes of the female narrator. By contrasting her experiences in her chosen home, America, and her homeland Egypt, she reveals the problematic relationship between East and West. It is a story of fundamentalism and tolerance, loss and hope in love. Simple yet full of rich detail, the novel evokes the atmosphere of America over the last decade.
>>Vertigo by Ahmed Mourad, trans. ?
Promotional text from Bloomsbury-Qatar: A photographer in a classy nightclub in Cairo witnesses his friend murdered during a fight between rival young businessmen. A tense thriller that reveals contemporary Egypt and Cairo’s seedy nightlife. This novel has been a bestseller in Egypt and reprinted eight times since its release in 2007.
About the author: Born in 1978, Ahmed Mourad is a photographer, graphic designer and a novelist. Since completing his film studies he has won several awards for his short films.
>>Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, trans. ?
Promotional text from Bloomsbury-Qatar: It’s Egypt in 2023. The rich are living decadent lives in guarded compounds while the poor are outside in a dog-eat-dog world. A young man and a young girl venture outside the gated communities to see what Egypt is really like. This novel has been a bestseller in Egypt and reprinted three times since its release in 2008.
About the author: Ahmed Khaled Tawfik was born in 1962 and is probably the Arab world’s bestselling author of science fiction and horror. He has written more than 200 books.
>>Nessyane.com by Ahlam Mostaghanmi, trans. ?
Promotional copy from Bloomsbury-Qatar: Ahlam Mostaghanemi’s newest title is a literary examination of male abuse of women in the Arab world. She advises Arab women on how they should/could forget Arab men who exploit them.
About the author: Ahlam Mostaghanmi is probably the best-selling female author in the Arabic-reading world.
This is not meant to be an exclusive list; if you see something I’ve left off, please let me know.