The Best 100 Arabic Books (According to the Arab Writers Union): 1-10

Somehow, I thought I could quickly track down each of these 100 titles, translate them (roughly), note whether or not an English translation or excerpt exists, and be done with it.

Apparently, my eyes were bigger than my fingers.

So here you have it! The first 10 of the best hundred Arab novels selected by the Arab Writers Union. As has been noted elsewhere, the list is sometimes puzzling. Although perhaps it would be clearer if we knew the manner by which these titles were selected.

1 Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk Palace of Desire Sugar Street by Egyptian (Nobel-prize winning) author Naguib Mahfouz. Yes, of course it’s available in English: Trans. William Maynard Hutchins, Everyman’s Library, 2001.

2 In Search Of Walid Masoud by the Palestinian author Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. This is available in English, translated by by Adnan Haydar & Roger Allen. Syracuse University Press, 2000. Also, Ghassan Nasr’s translation of Ibrahim Jabra’s The Journals of Sarab Affan, published by Syracuse University Press, was a runner-up for the Banipal translation prize in 2008.

3 Honor, by the great Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim. As far as I can turn up, this has never been translated into English. Ibrahim’s Zaat, Committee, Stealth, and Beirut, Beirut are all available. The Smell of It was translated, too, but it’s long since out of print.

4 War In The Land Of Egypt by Yusuf al-Qa’id was published by Interlink in 1997, translated by Olive and Lorne Kenny and Christopher Tingley.

5 Men In The Sun, by the Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani, was translated by Hilary Kilpatrick and published by Lynne Rienner Publishers in 1998.

6 Secret Life Of Saeed The Pessoptimist, by Palestinian Emile Habibi, was translated by Salma Khadra Jayyusi and published by Interlink in 2001. And that’s the translator’s title, not mine.

7 The Desolate Time, by Syrian author Haidar Haidar remains untranslated. I find nothing by Haidar Haidar in English.

8 Rama and the Dragon, by the Egyptian Edward al Kharrat, was translated by Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden and published by AUC Press in 2002.

9 Thus Spoke Abu Huraira, by the Tunisian author Mahmoud Messadi, has been translated into French, but not English. I can find nothing by Messadi (or, more properly, Al Messadi) in English.

10 Beirut Nightmares, by Syrian author Ghada Samman, was translated by Nancy N. Roberts and published by Quartet Books in 1998.


  1. Thank you for this!
    Just a note re: number 4: War in the Land of Egypt by Yusuf al-Qa’id was published by Interlink in 1997, translated by Olive and Lorne Kenny and Christopher Tingley.

  2. Ah! Sorry for the oversight, and cheers to Interlink, which has handled a lot of these titles.

  3. Thanks for all of your hard work on this list–very much appreciated and hopefully will pique interest among readers, scholars and publishers.

  4. Mahfouz’ Cairo Trilogy is certainly good, but Munif’s City of Salt Trilogy is definitely better.

  5. Jean: Yes, I hope so. While I don’t always agree with the list, it does remind me about how many titles I’d like to see in English, or in new editions, in re-translation, etc.

    I recognize that the “fresh and contemporary” is what most publishers are looking for, but I think sometimes a good older book can be made new again.

    Anokatony: You would not believe where /Cities of Salt/ falls on the list. It makes me wonder about the voting (?) process. But I was surprised by many things: How Taha Hussein’s /Call of the Curlew/ is at 60, How /Cities of Salt/ manages to come…dead last. And so on.

  6. This will serve as a great resource for sharing with the collections staff at our library in Kentucky. Forever finding gems on your blog. Much appreciation.

  7. Hi M,

    I hope you are your family are safe and well at this hopeful yet scary time. We are all rooting for Egypt!

    I know I’m commenting on an old post of yours and you probably don’t have blogging on your mind right now, but I just wanted to say thanks for providing such a super resource with this series of posts! They are really invaluable to Arabic students like myself.

    Best wishes,

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