Marcia Lynx Qualey
Last updated: 13 October, 2011

6 Books to Read this Fall: New Arabic Fiction

There are a number of highlights in Arabic literature (in translation) this fall, in poetry, fiction, and memoir. Six books to put on your must-read list:

I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, by Mourid Barghouti, trans. Humphrey Davies (October). This beautiful memoir, Barghouti’s second, will be co-published by Bloomsbury and AUC Press. The Palestinian poet’s first memoir, I Saw Ramallah, was translated by Ahdaf Soueif and has been listed by scholar Nouri Gana, scholar/translator Shakir Mustafa, translator Maia Tabet, and editor/translator Neil Hewison as one of their “five books to read before you die.” It is translated here by two-time Banipal translation prize winner Humphrey Davies.

Vertigo, by Ahmed Mourad, trans. Robin Moger (October). Translators and those who edit and publish translations often eschew popular thrillers. The world would be a much poorer place without Elias Khoury’s luminous and complex As Though She Were Sleeping and Mahmoud Darwish’s beautiful In The Presence of Absence, also out this year. But it’s good to see Bloomsbury-Qatar reaching out to reads that are both interesting and fun.

In this novel, the society photographer who narrates the novel (also named Ahmed) witnesses the murder of his close friend in the book’s opening chapter. The briskly paced novel is set amongst corruption and violence at the top of Egypt’s regime.

Utopia, by Ahmed Khaled Towfik, trans. Chip Rossetti (October). Egypt’s most celebrated author of science fiction pens a futuristic tale set in a gated community on Egypt’s north coast in 2023. This novel, also published by Bloomsbury Qatar, was called a “miniature masterpiece” in The Independent, where reviewer Sholto Byrnes said, “I defy anyone not to read it in one sitting.”

Brooklyn Heights, by Miral al-Tahawy, trans. Samah Selim (November). This International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlisted novel (2011), also a winner of the 2010 Naguib Mahfouz Medal, is forthcoming from AUC Press. The book is a deft recognition of both the differences and commonalities between the residents of Brooklyn Heights and the protagonist’s village back in the Delta. It is translated here by award-winning Samah Selim, who took the 2009 Banipal translation prize for her rendition of Yahia Taher Abdullah’s The Collar.

We Are All Equally Far from Love, by Adania Shibli, trans. Paul Starkey. Shibli’s first novel in translation, Touch, was a poetic reflection on an eight-year-old’s coming-of-age in Palestine that was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. We Are All Equally Far from Love, published by Interlink, is a look at collaboration, enemies, and love in Palestine.

Sarmada, by Fadi Azzam, trans. Adam Talib (October). This book is being co-published by Interlink and Syrian-German author Rafik Schami’s new venture, Swallow Editions. It is a short read, just 128 pages, but vividly told. According to Schami, “Sarmada and its women dance in front of us with all their senses; they take us by the hand and escort us into their village homes, where the events of this great novel take place.” A free excerpt is available on Book2Look.