New Reviews of Not (Yet?) Translated Arabic Fiction

The Lady from Tel Aviv, Rabai al-Madhoun. 2009.

The Lady from Tel Aviv has generated a good deal of positive buzz from readers across the spectrum. Published last year, it’s the running for this year’s (2010) Arabic Booker. Indeed, it’s quite possibly the front-runner. Apparently, the book raises interesting philosophical questions while remaining extremely readable. Says Youssef Rakha in The National:

The novel has been praised as much for its entertaining narrative as for being among the first Arabic books that deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict undogmatically, showing psychological depth on both sides while accurately portraying the Palestinian tragedy.

This review from Amir Taheri is not as new, but quite glowing:

The Lady from Tel Aviv shows that Madhoun, now in his mid-60s is at the height of his narrative abilities.

Surely, some enterprising English-language publishing house will pick this up.


The Unfaithful Translator, Fawwaz Haddad. 2008.

The Unfaithful Translator was shortlisted for the “Arabic Booker” last year, and is reviewed here by Youssef Rakha. Says the critical but admiring Rakha:

This potentially jarring medley of fact and fancy jazzes up a more or less predictable story line and gives the fundamentally moral message of the book subversive zing. But, more importantly, it manages to do so without upstaging the idea of a dual world in which dreams can be confused with reality[.]

Interesting, as a translator, to have your name on this one.


Donkey Flu, Amal Sedik Afifi. 2010.

It’s highly unlikely that this futurist fiction will ever make it into English. Generally only “highbrow” fiction crosses the divide, but, anyway, it has a great title. It already makes me imagine a fabulous novelscape (which would have to include some satire about this year’s pig-flu craze).

The real book, according to Amany Aly Shawky in Al Masry Al Youm, tells the story of an Egyptian archeologist living in 2360.  The review notes a number of inconsistencies (the Nile has dried up by this time, but the protagonist travels by sailboat), but also says it’s a fun, quick read. Sometimes, I lament that more “poppy” fiction doesn’t make it into translation. Of course, I don’t read pop fiction in English, so I’m not exactly sure why I lament.


A Black Body Bag and Other Stories, by Khodeir Meirry

Writer/filmmaker Ahmed Khalifa reviews a good deal of fiction on his blog. In a somewhat confusing turn of phrase, he calls Meirry “one of the most underappreciated writers to come out of Iraq.” Khalifa has a fascination with horror (his blog announces that he is the first Egyptian author of an English-language horror novel, a somewhat odd distinction), and he thus appreciates a thrilling story before all else.

He complains, generally, about contemporary Arab fiction:

Most Egyptian writers (and Arab writers as well) seem to be stuck in a self-made vicious cycle that compels them to write only about “relevant issues”, which in turn results in bland, self-important books that “speak about the region”, its lurking “corruption” or about “the marginalized”. I for one am all for speaking and writing about all those things. But in the end, a novel should be about story and character, and through them things can be said, issues discussed, problems addressed.

He goes on to praise Meirry, who he says can write an exciting an tightly plotted story.

From the bleak and strikingly graphic title story, about a young widow who goes to receive her son’s corpse from Abu Ghareib prison and receives it in a plastic garbage bag, to the haunting delirium of The Hashish Tree, to the frightening portrayal of insanity and violence that is A Chant called Dodo, these stories encompass a wide range of emotions, yet focus, almost exclusively, on minds on the edge of collapse, on people whose inner demons are tearing them apart and whose sanity is about to give way to memories better left buried.

But horror is not the only thing that makes Khalifa happy.


Beyond Paradise, Mansoura Ezz Eldin.2009.

Ezz Eldin’s Beyond Paradise is also contending for the 2010 IPAF, although I’ve yet to see anyone place it as the front-runner. Still, I enjoyed her novel Maryam’s Maze, and am looking forward to seeing Beyond Paradise in English. According to Khalifa’s review:

The novel, titled Beyond Paradise, at first seems to be her attempt at a grand Gothic novel a la some of the works of Joyce Carol Oates; a novel high on melodrama and with a large cast of eccentric characters. But to expect conventionalism from Ez El Din wouldn’t be smart, and after the stunningly gripping (and unabashedly Gothic) opening, the novel shifts gears and becomes a sprawling psychological study of several characters as told through the eyes of an unreliable narrator: a young woman seemingly grieving for her just deceased father. Ez El Din takes us on a compelling journey through the lives and psyches of the characters, and every now and then shows us their worst fears and nightmares with her assured style and penchant for nightmarish imagery. It’s an intriguing piece of work, daring and stylish, and occasionally fascinating.

It made his “best of 2009.” I’d expect to see it in English in the next couple years.


Azazeel, Youssef Ziedan. 2008.

For myself, I don’t need a review. I just need Beelzebub/Azazeel to be available before August 2011. Why August 2011!?

Anyhow, for those who are interested, the blog Identity Indeed reviews the 2009 “Arabic Booker” winner.