Marcia Lynx Qualey
Last updated: 10 January, 2014

Blogger @arablit presents 17 books we should all read 2014

Our columnist Marcia Lynx Qualey, aka "Arablit", brings us the titles set to arrive in English translations in the year ahead. Don't miss out.

The Woman from Tantoura, Radwa Ashour, trans. Kay Heikkinen. AUC Press.

By acclaimed novelist Radwa Ashuor, this book follows the life of a young girl from her days in the village of al-Tantoura in Palestine up through the dawn of the new century.

The Corpse ExhibitionHassan Blasim, trans. Jonathan Wright. Penguin.

Stories by fantastic, over-the-top, genre-creating author Hassan Blasim. Now, finally, in North America.

Women of Karantina, Nael al-Toukhy, trans. Robin Moger. AUC Press.

One of Mohammad Abdelnaby’s favorites of 2013, the book — according to Abdelnaby, has “an epic tone that laughs at everything, an unusual lightness of spirit, and a surprisingly fresh treatment of old motifs such as violence or succession, al-Toukhy creates something unprecedented in the history of the Arabic novel, and in a language that does a very special dance between simple Modern Standard Arabic and an Egyptian Arabic that is colorful and perhaps obscene.”

Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha, trans. Paul Starkey. Clockroot.

I hope this is still coming. It was originally set to come out in 2013, so let’s cross fingers for 2014.

Crocodiles, Youssef Rakha, trans. Robin Moger.

This is definitely coming — or so says Robin — in November, from Seven Stories Press. You can read an extract here.

Nothing More to Lose, Najwan Darwish, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid. NYRB.

From NYRB: “Published for the first time in English, this volume brings together a selection of poems by Najwan Darwish, from his earliest work written in the late 1990s to his most recent in 2013. Hailed across the Arab world and beyond as a singular expression of the Palestinian struggle, Darwish’s poetry walks the razor’s edge between despair and resistance, between dark humor and the harsh reality of death. Here, the psychological, social, and political are collapsed into dense coils of rhythm and image. Darwish’s obsessive rewritings of the life of Christ are particularly incisive and reveal the poet’s conflicted relationship with Jerusalem—a city that appears repeatedly as both beloved and crucifier.

http://arablit.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/9781590177303_jpg_200x450_q85.jpg“Although they are strongly rooted in Darwish’s homeland, these poems repeatedly link the Palestinian cause to more global visions of equality and justice, and to historical moments from across the Arab world and beyond. This ability to transcend national boundaries—and to assimilate a vast array of literary and religious traditions—has made Darwish one of the very few Palestinian poets to garner a large readership outside his homeland.”

The Iraqi NightsDunya Mikhail, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid. New Directions.

According to Mikhail: “The poem’s title is a reference to Scheherazade’s ability to save herself through stories in The Arabian Nights. I began writing the main poem of the manuscript after my niece was kidnapped while walking home from a market in Baghdad. She was pulled from her mother’s grasp, dragged into a car, and has not been heard from since. Some of the sections are visual, with illustrations that are inspired by the ancient Sumerian tablets.  Although the setting is Baghdad, the theme is universal.”

June Rain, Jabbour Douaihy, trans. Paula Haydar. BQFP.

From the publishers: “Drawing on an actual killing that took place in his home town, Douaihy reconstructs that June day from the viewpoints of people who witnessed the killing or whose lives were forever altered by it. A young girl overhears her father lending his gun to his cousins, but refusing to accompany them to the church. A school boy walks past the dead bodies, laid out in the town square on beds brought out from the houses. A baker whose shop is trapped on the wrong side of the line hopes the women who buy his bread will protect him. At the center of the portrait is Eliyya, who, twenty years after emigrating to the US, returns to the village to learn about the father who was shot through the heart in the massacre, the father he never knew.” An excerpt is set to appear in the February issue of The Missing Slate.

Dates on my Fingers, Muhsin al-Ramli, trans. Luke Leafgren. AUC Press.

From the publisher: “Saleem, fed up with all the violence, religiosity, and strict family hierarchies of his Iraqi village, flees to Spain to establish a new life for himself. But his lonely exile is turned upside down when he encounters his father, Noah, in a Madrid nightclub after not seeing him in more than a decade. Noah looks and acts like a new man, and Saleem sets out to discover the mystery of his father’s presence in Spain and his altered life. In doing so, he recalls formative moments in Iraq of familial love, war, and the haunting accidental death of his cousin Aliya, Saleem’s partner in the hesitant, tender exploration of sexuality. When the renewed relationship with his father erupts in a violent conflict, Saleem is forced to rediscover his sense of self and the hard-won stability of his life. Through Saleem’s experiences and reflections, the fast-paced narrative carries the reader between Spain and Iraq to a surprising resolution.”

Other Lives, Iman Humaydan Younes, trans. Michelle Hartman. Interlink.

An excerpt of this is set to appear in the Februrary issue of The Missing Slate. So! Mark your calendar now.

Salaam! Najwa Barakat, trans. Luke Leafgren. Interlink.

Luqman, the novel’s protagonist, is a young former militiaman, trying to make a living in a post-war Lebanon. Or, is there a post-war Lebanon? Excerpt forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review.

The Penguin’s Song, Hassan Daoud, trans. Marilyn Booth. City Lights.

This was a labor of love for translator Marilyn Booth, and you can read excerpts here and here.

Revolution is My Name, Mona Prince, trans. Samia Mehrez. AUC Press.

You can read an excerpt on the AUC website, and more about the book on Jadaliyya. 

Hail Mary, Sinan Antoon, trans. Maia Tabet.

The events of International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted Hail Mary take place in a single day, with two different visions of life. One of the core characters, Youssef, is an elderly man who refuses to emigrate and leave the house he built, where he has lived for half a century. Antoon told IPAF organizers that, “He is a lot like one of my relatives. He remains alone in the family house which he built in Baghdad after everyone emigrates because of wars and the blockade.”

Antoon also said, “In the Autumn of that year (2010), a well-known church in Baghdad, called ‘Our Lady of Salvation,’ was attacked and many people were killed and the worshippers were held hostage for hours. This event had a big impact on me personally and on the events in the last part of the novel.”

Land of No Rain, Amjad Nasser, trans. Jonathan Wright, BQFP.

From BQFP: “Land of No Rain 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. The main character was forced into exile from Hamiya twenty years earlier for taking part in a failed assassination attempt on the military ruler known as the Grandson. On his return to his homeland, he encounters family, childhood friends, former comrades and his first love, but most importantly he grapples with his own self, the person he left behind. Land of No Rain is a complex and mysterious story of the hardship of exile and the difficulty of return.”

And in Spring 2015:

Sinalcol, Elias Khoury, trans. Humphrey Davies. Quercus and Archipelago.

From Archipelago: “Nasri is a pharmacist in Beirut who lives alone with her two children, Karim and Nassim. The first, a medical student, is active in leftist circles under the nom de guerre “Sinalcol” (a nickname derived from “alcohol-free” in Spanish), while the second is Phalangist. The two brothers are in love with Hind, who is enamored of Karim. But eventually, after the departure of the latter to France, she marries Nassim. Their history is born of other stories that intertwine to form an imposing fresco of Lebanese society over the past fifty years.”

Confessions, Rabee Jaber, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid. New Directions.

The second book by International Prize for Arabic Fiction-winner (and shortlistee, and longlistee) Rabee Jaber to be translated into English. Ahdaf Soueif, in her list for The Guardian, gave this as one of her favorite novels of 2012.