The UK’s Garnet Publishing announced this week that they have acquired world English rights to Yemeni novelist Wajdi al-Ahdal’s بلد بلا سماء (A Land Without Sky), trans. William Hutchins as A Land without Jasmine. It’s due to be published in the fall of 2012.
Garnet says the book is “is a sexy, satirical detective story about the disappearance of a young woman student”—the titular Jasmine—“from Yemen’s Sanaa University,” with echoes both of Sherlock Holmes and Catcher in the Rye. Intriguing excerpts of Hutchins’ translation were published in Banipal36. A Land Without Sky was also named by fellow Yemeni author Nadia Alkowkabani as one of her four favorite books from 2008-2009, along with Two People from Sana’a by Aziza Abdullah, The Handsome Jew by Ali al-Muqri, and Water’s Geography by Abdulnasser Mugali.
Al-Ahdal has published three previous novels. His قوارب جبلية (Mountain Boats), published in 2002, was confiscated by the Yemeni Ministry of Culture for insulting “morality, religion, and conventions of Yemeni society.” A campaign against the book drove him into exile. However, according to Words Without Borders, when the German Nobel Laureate Günter Grass visited Yemen in December 2002, he was received by the (nearly ousted?) Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Grass asked the president to help al-Ahdal, and the author was allowed to return to Yemen.
Al-Ahdal’s حمار بين الأغاني (A Donkey in the Choir) was published in 2004. An excerpt appeared in Words Without Borders as “Declining Freedom,” trans. William Hutchins. The book was dedicated to Grass.
Al-Ahdal’s third novel, فيلسوف الكرنتينة (Quarantine Philosopher), was longlisted for the 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. He was also selected as one of the 2010 Nadwa participants and one of the “best 39 Arab writers under 40” in 2009, and his “A Crime in Mataeem Street” was published in the Beirut39 collection.
According to Garnet, “Although al-Ahdal’s passport was seized at the Sanaa Airport in the spring of 2010 he was later allowed to travel. At present he is in Sanaa, with electricity one hour a day.”
Read the excerpt in WWB: “Declining Freedom”
Hat tip to Susannah Tarbush, who writes about this over on her blog, Tanjara.