When I saw that Fadi Azzam’s Sarmada, trans. Adam Talib, had been reviewed recently in The National (“Heady stuff, but not for everyone“), I thought: Hunh. How did this book get so many reviews in the English-language press?
Well, perhaps it isn’t yet “so many.” When I tallied them up, I found: There was an early, mixed review in the London Review of Books that is not online. It was followed by reviews in The Metro (by Tina Jackson, four stars), The New Yorker Book Bench (by Alexia Nader: “Essential Reading of the Arab Spring“), and The Independent (by Robin Yassin-Kassab).
Perhaps this hasn’t quite made “Sarmada” the proverbial household word, but it’s better than the scant attention paid to most Arabic literature in translation. Perhaps some of the interest was timing—“ooh, Syria?!”—and some came because acclaimed author Rafik Schami staked his name on the book.
I have heard that “book reviews don’t sell books any more” and that the book review is “dead.” (The novel is also “dead,” by some accounts—its death even has an entry on Wikipedia—so perhaps the review’s death is rather a non-issue.)
In any case, I assume that reviews beget reviews, and that there will be more. Even if they don’t sell any books.