New & Forthcoming: Fiction from IPAF Shortlister Bensalem Himmich, Acclaimed Fadhil al-Azzawi and Mahmoud Saeed

International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) shortlister Bensalem Himmich and 2011 IPAF judging chair Fadhil al-Azzawi both have new works of fiction coming soon in English.

Al-Azzawi’s The Traveler and the Innkeeper is first out of the gate, trans. William Hutchins and available now from AUC Press.  Al-Azzawi wrote the novel in the late 1970s, but it wasn’t published until 1989.

According to AUC Press:

This timely, elegant novel’s hero is an Iraqi secret police inspector who routinely uses enhanced interrogation techniques, which even he considers torture. Convinced that he is protecting society from anarchy, he is at peace with the world until ordered to interrogate a childhood friend, a journalist with possible links to violent subversives. Then he falls in love with his friend’s wife. The plot of this novel, which was written in Iraq in 1976 and published in Arabic in Germany in 1989, is further complicated by street protests in Baghdad following the Six-Day Arab–Israeli War of June 1967. Despite the grim subject matter of this novel, it is at heart a love story, lyrically narrated.

Two other books by the Iraqi poet and novelist are available in English: The Last of the Angels (2007) and Cell Block Five (2008). (My review of The Last of the Angels in The Quarterly Conversation.)

You can get some sense of the author’s idea of play and magic by reading his poems in translation on Poetry International Web and Jehat. Here, the opening to the poem “In My Spare Time,” trans. Khaled Mattawa:

In my spare time
During my long, boring hours of spare time
I sit to play with the earth’s sphere.
I establish countries without police or parties
and I scrap others that no longer attract consumers.
I run roaring rivers through barren deserts
and I create continents and oceans
that I save for the future just in case.
I draw a new colored map of the nations:
I roll Germany to the Pacific Ocean teeming with whales
and I let the poor refugees
sail pirates’ ships to her coasts
in the fog
dreaming of the promised garden in Bavaria.

Keep reading.


Another IPAF-er book coming in 2011 is Muslim Suicide, by Moroccan author Bensalem Himmich, who shortlisted this year for his novel My Tormentor. The translation has been done by Roger Allen, who also translated  Himmich’s acclaimed and Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning The Polymath as well as Himmich’s The Theocrat.

Himmich’s excellent The Polymath creates a fictionalized world for the great philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldun. Muslim Suicide takes Sufi philosopher Ibn Sab’in as its starting point. From publisher Syracuse University Press:

Award-winning novelist Bensalem Himmich’s third novel to be translated into English is a vertiginous exploration of one of Islam’s most radical thinkers, the Sufi philosopher Ibn Sab’in. Born in Spain, he was forced to immigrate to Africa because of his controversial views. Later expelled from Egypt, Ibn Sab’in made his way to Mecca, where he spent his final years.

Himmich follows the philosopher’s journey, outlining an array of characters he meets along the way who usher in debates of identity and personal responsibility through their interactions and relationships with Ibn Sab’in. Set against the backdrop of a politically charged thirteenth–century Islamic world, Himmich’s novel is a rich blend of fact and imagination that re–creates the intellectual debates of the time. As the culture of prosperity and tradition was giving way to the chaos created by political and social instability, many Arabs, as Ibn Sab’in does in the novel, turned inward toward a spiritual search for meaning. In his fictional portrait of Ibn Sab’in, Himmich succeeds in creating a character, with his many virtues and flaws, to whom all readers can relate.

Other 2011 IPAFers forthcoming in translation: Miral al-Tahawy’s novel Brooklyn Heights should be out from AUC Press within the year, trans. Samah Selim, and 2011 IPAF winner Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly is set to come out from Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in 2012, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid.  No word yet about co-winner Raja Alem’s The Doves’ Necklace, although Alem is now represented by Andrew Nurnberg Associates.


Syracuse University Press is also bringing out Mahmoud Saeed’s Through the Eyes of Angels this year, trans. Samuel Salter, Zahra Jishi, and Rafah Abuinnab. He is less-known in English, although his semi-autobiographical novel Saddam City was translated and published by Saqi Books in 2004.

SUP on The World Through the Eyes of Angels:

Mosul, Iraq, in the 1940s is a teeming, multiethnic city where Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Jews, Aramaeans, Turkmens, Yazidis, and Syriacs mingle in the ancient souks and alleyways. In these crowded streets, among rich and poor, educated and illiterate, pious and unbelieving, a boy is growing up. Burdened with chores from an early age, and afflicted with an older brother who persecutes him with mindless sadism, the child finds happiness only in stolen moments with his beloved older sister and with friends in the streets. Closest to his heart are three girls, encountered by chance: a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew. After enriching the boy’s life immensely, all three meet tragic fates, leaving a wound in his heart that will not heal. A richly textured portrayal of Iraqi society before the upheavals of the late twentieth century, Saeed’s novel depicts a sensitive and loving child assailed by the cruelty of life. Sometimes defeated but never surrendering, he is sustained by his city and its people.

Two other forthcoming books from Syracuse University Press that look particularly interesting: Masculine Identity in the Fiction of the Arab East since 1967 and Cultural Criticism in Egyptian Women’s Writing. And AUC Press seems to be constantly expanding its 2011 lineup, requiring regular check-ins with their new website.

Other forthcoming translations can be found on this website’s “forthcoming” page, although one is not always so good about keeping it updated.