Collage of selected books from the article
©
Collage of selected books from the article
Column: Arab Literature
Last updated: January 20, 2017

15 Arabic books to read (in English) in 2017

Banner Icon Literature Here's a look at a few of the Arabic books forthcoming in English translation in 2017.

JANUARY 2017

Ascension to Death, by Mamdouh Azzam, trans. Max Weiss (Haus Publishing)

From the publisher:

"Ascension to Death, which launches Haus Publishing’s new Modern Arabic Classics series, is the first work of acclaimed Syrian writer Mamdouh Azzam to be published in English. Set against the backdrop of a conservative Druze region of southern Syria, this is the tragic story of the orphan Salma, who falls in love with a boy from her village but is then forced into an arranged marriage."

The controller of Salma’s fate is her tyrannical uncle, who, as her guardian and a powerful community leader with governmental ties, is all too pleased to unload the burden of his brother’s daughter onto the first man to propose. As Salma desperately tries to escape the marriage, the novel follows her attempt to flee with her lover. But after her family colludes with the authorities against her, Salma finds herself trapped in a nightmarish ordeal of imprisonment, torture, and abandonment.

One of the most beloved Syrian novels of our time, Ascension to Death is a dark, inventive, and unflinchingly honest look at both the best and the worst to be found in human nature and our modern world.

Read an excerpt from the novel, trans. Max Weiss, online.

FEBRUARY 2017

In Jerusalem and Other Poems, by Tamim Al-Barghouti, trans. various (Interlink)

From the publisher:

"Tamim Al-Barghouti published six poetry collections in both colloquial and classical Arabic, including Meejana (1999), Al-Manzar “The Scene” (2000),Maqam Iraq (2005), Fil Quds “In Jersualem” (2008) and Ya Masr Hanet (2012), and two academic books on Arab politics and history. He received his PhD in political science from Boston University in 2004, and has since taught at Georgetown University, the Free University in Berlin, and the American University in Cairo. He was also a fellow at the Berlin Institute for Advanced Studies 2007-2008.  A columnist since 2003, writing in Egyptian and Lebanese dailies, Al-Barghouti has been associated with the 2011 uprisings, and with political activism in Egypt and Palestine. He is currently based in Beirut and works at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia."

Or read his “Gift,” trans. his mother, the great novelist Radwa Ashour.

MARCH 2017

The Book of Safety, by Yasser Abdel Hafez, trans. Robin Moger  (Hoopoe Fiction)

Khaled transcribes testimonies at the Palace of Confessions, a shadowy state-run agency situated in a respectable Cairo suburb. There he encounters Mustafa Ismail: a university professor turned master thief, who breaks into the homes of the great and the good and then blackmails them into silence. Mustafa has dedicated his existence to the perfection of his trade and authored The Book of Safety, the ultimate guide to successful thievery. With cool and incisive prose, Yasser Abdel Hafez follows Khaled into obsession with this mysterious book and its author.

Menorahs and Minarets, by Kamal Ruhayyim, trans. Sarah Enany (Hoopoe Fiction)

After ten years in Paris, Galal returns to Cairo, where he finds a society in transformation. Egypt is Galal’s home, but he feels he no longer belongs there. He is caught between his two identities: his Jewish mother’s family are cosmopolitan business people, while his father’s family are rural farmers from the Delta. Kamal Ruhayyim paints an uncompromising portrait of an older generation dictating how their children live and love. Menorahs and Minarets is the concluding part of Ruhayyim’s compelling trilogy.

Since this is part of a trilogy, you might first want to read Diary of a Jewish Muslim and Days of the Diaspora.

Suslov’s Daughter, Habib Abdulrab Sarori, trans. Elisabeth Jaquette (Darf Publishers)

As a young man growing up under communism in South Yemen, Imran finds himself drawn to Hawiya, the daughter of a high-ranking official in the ruling Marxist party. He departs Aden, the seaport city of his childhood, to study literature in Paris, hoping to ‘see the sunset of capitalism with his own eyes.’ Years later he returns to Yemen and meets Hawiya again – only to find that she is now a niqab-wearing Salafist, calling on people to join the conservative Islamist movement. The novel spans the 1960s to the early 21st century, from the independence of southern Yemen and the subsequent establishment of The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, to the Unification of Yemen in 1990 and the Arab Spring. Set against the backdrop of Yemeni history, Habib Abdelrab Sarori’s Arabic Booker long-listed novel traces one man’s lifelong search for love and his own political ideology.

You can read an excerpt from Abdulrab Sarori’s novel The Hoopoe’s Report trans. William Hutchins.

APRIL 2017

The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories, by Osama Alomar, trans. C.J. Collins (New Directions)

From the publisher:

"Wonderful short stories that sharpen awareness, from a brilliantly gifted Syrian refugeePersonified animals (snakes, wolves, sheep), natural things (a swamp, a lake, a rainbow, trees), mankind’s creations (trucks, swords, zeroes) are all characters inThe Teeth of the Comb. They aspire, they plot, they hope, they destroy, they fail, they love. These wonderful small stories animate new realities and make us see our reality anew. Reading Alomar’s sly moral fables and sharp political allegories, the reader always sits up a little straighter, and a little wiser. Here is the title story:Some of the teeth of the comb were envious of the class differences that exist between humans. They strived desperately to increase their height, and, when they succeeded, began to look with disdain on their colleagues below.After a little while the comb’s owner felt a desire to comb his hair. But when he found the comb in this state he threw it in the garbage."

Read eleven of Alomar’s very-short stories, trans. Collins.

Baghdad Eucharist, Sinan Antoon, Maia Tabet (Hoopoe Fiction)

Displaced by the sectarian violence in the city, Maha and her husband are taken in by a distant cousin, Youssef. As the growing turmoil around them seeps into their household, a rare argument breaks out between the elderly Youssef and his young guest. Born into sanctions and war, Maha knows nothing of Iraq’s good years that Youssef holds dear. Set over a single day, The Baghdad Eucharist is an intimate story of love, memory, and anguish in one Christian family. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Listen to an excerpt from Baghdad Eucharist on SoundCloud.

Embrace at Brooklyn Bridge, by Ezzedine C. Fishere, trans. John Peate (Hoopoe Fiction)

On the eve of Salma’s twenty-first birthday, scattered friends and family converge on New York for a celebration reluctantly organized by her grandfather. Each journey takes on unexpected significance, as the guests find themselves examining their pasts, their relationships to one another, and to the country in which they live. Traveling between Cairo and New York, Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a story of Arab-American life, and of a family’s search for home. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

No Road to Paradise, Hassan Daoud, trans. Marilyn Booth (Hoopoe Fiction)

The imam of a small village in southern Lebanon decides to remove the turban and cloak that he inherited from his forefathers. He sheds a vocation that he neither chose nor wanted, shunning a tradition that should have secured him his place in paradise. Was it the death of his father that liberated him, or his diagnosis with cancer? Or does it reflect a far deeper disillusionment? Calm and introspective, Hassan Daoud’s masterful novel probes the inner workings of a man of religion struggling with his place in society. Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature 2015

MAY 2017

In the President’s Gardens, Muhsin al-Ramli, by Luke Leafgren (MacLehose)

Al-Ramli began writing this novel in 2006:

"…after receiving the news of the murder of nine of my relatives, who were fasting on the third day of Ramadan. The people of the village found only their heads in boxes of bananas, with their identity cards. So I dedicated the novel to their souls. That was a huge shock to me. It horrified me and made me weep and to start with, writing the novel was a reaction (to this event) undertaken without planning or a clear vision."

In the novel, one of the crated heads belongs to one of the most wanted men in Iraq, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated. The novel traces his life, and the lives of his friends Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, through the the last half century of Iraqi history.

Read al-Ramli’s “The One-eyed TV,” trans. Yasmeen Hanoosh.

Hend and the Soldiers, by Badriah Albeshr, trans. Sanna Dhahir (University of Texas Press)

From University of Texas Press:

"….this novel by the high-profile author and journalist Badriah Albeshr explores women’s lives in the Saudi’s repressive kingdom."

Note that while the U of Texas Press listing says the novel was banned, Albeshr clarifies it’s not, and hence why it’s been attacked.

Albeshr was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014 for her interesting, multilayered Love Stories on al-Asha Street. But as Al Monitor noted, it was her first novel, Hend and the Soldiers, that “provoked some indignant reactions in her native Saudi Arabia. While approved for sale, the book, which chronicles Saudi Arabian women’s day-to-day fight to earn more personal freedoms, was accused of deviating from the tenets of Islam, among other things.”

In addition to being an award-winning novelist, Albeshr is also an op-ed columnist. You can read several of her op-eds online.

SUMMER/FALL 2017

Using Life, by Ahmed Naji, illustrated by Ayman Zorkani, trans. Ben Koerber (University of Texas Press)

This is the novel that was excerpted in Akhbar al-Adab magazine, in Egypt, and thus earned its author, Ahmed Naji, a two-year jail sentence for “violating public modesty.” While waiting for the full text to be edited and published by University of Texas Press, read the excerpt in question, as well as three new short-short stories translated by Mona Kareem.

The Silence That Remains, by Ghassan Zaqtan, trans. and ed. Fady Joudah (Copper Canyon)

This will be a facing-page bilingual edition of selected early poems by Zaqtan, bringing together the Griffin Poetry Prize-winning Zaqtan-Joudah duo.

SEPTEMBER 2017

Farewell Damascus
, by Ghada Samman (Darf Publishers)

From the publisher:

"Her forthcoming autumn 2017 translation by Nancy Roberts, A Farewell to Damascus, is set in the Syrian capital during the early 1960’s, a city that now languishes in the grip of corruption and political oppression following the Baathist takeover in Syria. The story opens as Zayn al-Khayyal, a university student and aspiring young writer, plots an early-morning escape from her house as her husband slumbers. Her mission: to get an illicit abortion, plans for which she’s divulged to no one, and to announce that she wants out of her stifling marriage. A rebel and a trail-blazer par excellence, Zayn draws down the wrath of the elite and the authorities, political and religious alike, as she challenges attitudes, and a ruling regime that sucks the life out of both oppressed and oppressor. As the plot unfolds, Zayn finds her way as a student to a neighbouring country which, though it grants her the freedom, respect and appreciation she had lacked in her homeland, becomes a place of anguished exile."

NOVEMBER 2017

The Apartment in Bab El Louk
, by Donia Maher, Ganzeer &Ahmed Nady, trans. Elisabeth Jaquette  (Darf Publishers)

I have called the Arabic of this graphic novel a “fabulous noir poem,” and cannot but trust Jaquette to bring it into beautiful English. Winner of the Kahil Award for Best Graphic Novel, “even though,” Ganzeer writes, “it isn’t exactly a graphic novel.” One of the pioneers in graphic-novel hybridism in Arabic literature.

You can read an excerpt at Words Without Borders.


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If you're interested in more stories on Arabic literature, make sure to visit Marcia's popular blog, ArabLit.

Marcia Lynx Qualey
Marcia is a writer and reader who runs a popular blog on Arab Literature, a subject that she also covers for Your Middle East in her biweekly column. Visit: http://arablit.wordpress.com/
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