Review: Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis

Quarterly Conversation has posted my review of Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis, which won the inaugural “Arabic Booker,” or International Prize for Arabic Fiction. (The book, not my review.)

As you’ll see, I find the book somewhat problematic, particularly in its focus on theme ahead of story or character, which tends to malform two of its characters, and its treatments of Western females. (This apparently also was a problem in Taher’s Love in Exile.) I don’t mean to defend Western females—hey, we’re a problematic bunch—but we are, after all, real.

Thus, Sunset Oasis is not as clearly beautiful as Taher’s earlier work, such as Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery. It is certainly worth reading, but it would not have been my choice for the inaugural Arabic Booker. What’s my choice, you ask? That would be Al-Talossos (Stealth), available in English from Aflame books in February 2010.

I also have up an interview with the novel’s translator, Humphrey Davies, who helped me better understand the translation process in general as well as the particular landscape of Arabic-to-English translation. He also addresses the issues that presented with this particular book.