Reviews of Books I Haven’t Read–or–Why Do the Italians Love Arab Fiction?

Rogers, by Ahmed Nagi

Apparently the Italians are interested in contemporary Egyptian writing.  According to Al Ahram:

This week the Italian publisher Il Sirente issues Rogers by Ahmad Nagi, the 24-year-old Egyptian writer. After the commercial success of Che il velo sia da sposa [I Want to Get Married] by the young blogger Ghada Abdel-Aal… Italian publishers have taken it upon themselves to present a new generation of Egyptian writers to a fast growing audience base.

The novel is apparently about Nagi’s childhood. Al Ahram says:

In his novel, Nagi mixes songs, movies, photos and memories of childhood, the dreams and daily life of an Egyptian teenager in the 1990s. He writes to understand his childhood through postmodernist means.

What was difficult about translating Rogers? Says translator Barbara Benini:

“I didn’t have any problem translating from Egyptian dialect mixed with classic Arabic,” she says of Rogers. “My only challenge was the absence of a plot. So I was very focused on rendering the huge number of references to movies, books and songs. My target was to keep the essential relation between those parts of the novel and the developments of Ahmad’s memories”.

Cat’s Eyes, by Hassan Abd El Maugoud, winner of the Sawiris Award (2nd place) for outstanding

first novel. Ahmed Khalifa is generally quite passionate about his reviews, but this one is pretty straightforward. He complains that the pace of Cat’s Eyes is occasionally a little “frenetic,” but that otherwise it’s a memorable, compelling novella. What’s it about?

The novella tells the tale of a young boy – referred to throughout the novella only as Qot or Cat – living in a village in Upper Egypt with his conservative family, and who believes he can Astral-Project every night and inhabit the body of any stray cat. This allows him to prowl the village at night, sneak into houses undetected, and learn the village inhabitant’s darkest secrets. Author Hassan Abd El Maugoud uses this intriguing premise as a launching pad for clever socio-political commentary, painting a not very pretty picture of living in a village in Egypt, which stands in for Egypt itself; a place which, as depicted in the story, is rife with corruption, bullies, unscrupulous politicians and sexual repression.

My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness, by Adina Hoffman.

This is not, of course, an Arab author or Arabic text, but a biography of an Israeli-Arab poet, and one the Guardian says is impressive, “quietly intense.” It follows the life of poet Taha Muhammad Ali, born in a Galilean village called Saffuriyya, near Nazareth, in 1931.

One of the things I find interesting about reading Taha Muhammad Ali is that his translator, Peter Cole, identifies as Israeli. He spoke, at Wesleyan, about the difficulty of not projecting his own political views onto the text.

The Proof of Honey, by Salwa Al Neimi. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Al Neimi’s book was recently blacklisted in Oman. It was published in Arabic in 2007 and in English in 2009. Apparently, it’s sold like hotcakes (at least 80,000 copies) in Italy.

Reviewer Badar Salem found it fascinating, while M. A. Orthofer over at The Complete Review was not impressed.

The book was translated by Carol Perkins and excerpted in Words Without Borders. I suppose just because a book’s been blacklisted in Oman (and the Italians love it) is no guarantee that it’s any good.


There is an Italian “Arabic Literature” blog,, but of course I can’t make head or tail of it.