What follows are a few books I hope and expect to read in 2013. Insha’allah* this list will grow.
The Silence and the Roar, Nihad Sirees, trans. Max Weiss – Pushkin Press (UK Release)
Sirees’s book is a remarkable fictional achievement. It tracks a day in the life of a writer in a setting that is crisply and clearly Syrian, and yet also touches the many other “silences” and “roars” that exist in our world(s).
That Smell & Notes from Prison, Sonallah Ibrahim, trans. Robyn Creswell – New Directions
Originally trans. Denys Johnson-Davies but long out of print, That Smell (or The Smell of It), is here re-translated by Robyn Creswell. Composed during and in the wake of Ibrahim’s five-year prison sentence, the semi-autobiographical story follows a recently released political prisoner as he wanders through Cairo. Creswell has also included an annotated selection of Notes from Prison culled from Ibrahim’s prison diary. A must-have. Plus, if you haven’t gotten a copy of Stealth yet, you must find a way to get that as well.
June Rain, Jabbour Douaihy, trans. Paula Haydar – BQFP
Shortlisted for the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Douaihy’s June Rain centers on an armed dispute in and around a Lebanese village church that left 24 dead. It evokes the sectarian fissures and fractures in Douaihy’s poetic prose. A review of the French translation concluded: “Despite its length and a denouement that leaves one unsatisfied, June Rain is a novel which one can not fail to recommend.”
Emoz, Eslam Mosbah, trans. Raphael Cohen – AUC Press
The Silence and the Roar, Nihad Sirees, trans. Max Weiss – Other Press (US release)
Same reasons as above, new country. And new jacket.
The Arch and the Butterfly, Mohammed Achaari, trans. Aida Bamia – BQFP
This novel was co-winner of the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and is foregrounded by the life of a left-wing Moroccan writer, Yousef, whose past life, political beliefs and faith in his own principles are shaken by a letter he receives one day about his son Yassin. The anonymous letter tells his father that the son “died as a martyr in Afghanistan,” and forces Yousef to re-examine his life.
Horses of God, Mahi Binebine, trans. Lulu Norman (from the French) - Tin House Books
Also by a Moroccan author, this novel takes as its subject the violence of May 16, 2003, when fourteen suicide bombers launched a series of attacks throughout Casablanca, and is narrated from the afterlife. You might read them together.
Traces, Gamal al-Ghitani, trans. ?? – BQFP
Where Pigeons Don’t Fly, Yousef al-Mohaimeed, trans. Robin Moger – BQFP
This is the third of al-Mohaimeed’s novels to be translated into English (Wolves of the Crescent Moon, Munira’s Bottle). Neither of those were mind-blowing, but they did show narrative promise. This book follows Fahd, a boy growing up in Riyadh, from early childhood to the point where he flees Saudi Arabia to Britain.
Where the Rain Doesn’t Fall / Land of No Rain, Amjad Nasser, trans. Jonathan Wright, BQFP
The first novel of an acclaimed poet, the book takes place in Hamiya, a fictional Arab country run by military commanders who treat power as a personal possession to be handed down from one generation to the next, which could be…lots of places. Highly recommended by Ahdaf Soueif, among others.
The Mehlis Report, Rabee Jaber, trans. Kareem James Abu Zaid, New Directions
Testimony from translator Kareem James Abu Zaid: “I don’t remember laughing very much the first time I read the novel, but now that I’m translating it, I often find myself laughing out loud – one of my fellow translators here at the Banff residency who has occasionally shared a library desk with me here at Banff can attest to this! The humor is very dark, but it’s there. I think this must be one of the reasons I was so attracted to the novel in the first place – I’ve always been a fan of black humor[.]” (More.)
The Corpse Washer, Sinan Antoon, trans. the author, Yale University Press
This compelling novel by Antoon follows Jawad, born to a traditional Shi’ite family of corpse washers and shrouders in Baghdad, as he — an artist by inclination and training — returns to the family business after the onrush of corpses following the 2003 invasion. Antoon is also a poet and the award-winning translator of Mahmoud Darwish, among other authors, and has a deft hand with both languages.
UNKNOWN RELEASE, 2013
The Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha, trans. Paul Starkey – Clockroot Books
The Dove’s Necklace, Raja Alem, trans. Katharine Halls and Adam Talib – Overlook and Duckworth
The House of el-Deeb, Ezzat el-Kamhawi – AUC Press (Winner of the 2012 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature.)
Fingers of Dates, Muhsin al-Ramly, trans. Luke Leafgren – isa AUC Press
The Lady from Tel Aviv, Rabai al-Madhoun, trans. Elliott Colla - Saqi/Telegram
Also, Ghazi Gheblawi (@Gheblawi) tells me these three will be coming from DARF publishers, the English imprint of Ferjani Books:
Maps of the Soul, Ahmed Fagih
African Titanics, Abubaker Hamed Kahal
Chewing Gum, Mansour Bushnaf
I leave “insha’allah” or isa in the text, vs. translating it as “God willing” or “let’s hope” or “GW,” because I mean none of those things. I mean…insha’allah.