The print media is rife with the “best books of 2009,” and I’m sure we’ll soon see countdowns of dozens of other things (“top news stories,” “best frauds perpetrated by wanna-be reality TV stars,” and so on).
Having worked in the news industry (with appropriate safety goggles and gloves), I know that this is an easy way to fill some space and/or time. Things with which we’re already familiar! Re-masticated content! Relax, it’s the holidays!
Ah, but wouldn’t it be harder—and more entertaining—to predict the best books of the next year? (And the top news stories? And so on?)
Here’s what I’m watching for:
Al-talossos (Stealth), by Sonallah Ibrahim. This will be available in February 2010 from Aflame Books. In Stealth, Ibrahim brings the dispassionate voice of political satire that he’s developed over decades to bear on a seven-year-old narrator. The translation by Hosam Aboul-ela is brilliant. It’s my nominee to win the Banipal translation prize for 2010. (It’s also my retroactive nominee to win the 2007-2008 Arabic Booker.)
Azazeel (Beezlebub), by Youssef Ziedan. I don’t know who is translating, but this philosophical novel won the Arabic Booker of 2008, and will be coming out from Atlantic Books. An assured winner of 2010.
White Masks, by Elias Khoury. This novel is due out in March 2010, from the author of the New York Times Notable Gate of the Sun and the award-winning Yalo. From Archipelago.
Of course, great new Arabic writing needn’t be confined to books.
What else am I looking forward to? The Hay Festival Beirut39 blog, set to launch in 2010, wherein “39 Arabic Writers under 40” blog about their experiences at the festival. There is a good deal of Arabic writing in English, but most of it’s by long-established, older writers–Elias Khoury, Naguib Mahfouz, Hanan al-Shaykh, Bahaa Taher–and not by the younger writers on this list. (I am so relieved it’s “under 40” and not “under 35” or “under 30.” This means I, too, am still a young writer!)
Also: I’m getting a subscription to Banipal as soon as I un-freeze my credit card (oops). It’s a pretty safe bet that some of the best Arabic writing-in-translation of 2010 will be here.
Aha! Banipal was apparently the frozen-credit-card culprit. Apparently, magazine purchases (in such an economy?) are suspicious.