Rabee Jaber’s ‘The Mehlis Report’ Signed by New Directions

Rabee Jaber’s The Mehlis Report has been signed on by New Directions and is currently scheduled for release in the spring of 2013.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid, who was runner-up for the Banipal Prize in 2010 for his translation of Tarek Eltayeb’s Cities Without Palms, will translate the book. Abu-Zeid said, in an email, “I’m excited to have a press with broader distribution, and also because this is the first time I’ve ever selected the novel/author I wanted to translate, approached the press with it, and had them accept.”

Abu-Zeid has had his eye on Jaber for a while. In a 2009 feature on Quarterly Conversation called “Translate This Book!“, Abu-Zeid had said, “The single Arab author I believe to be the most in need of translation is the Lebanese novelist Rabee Jaber, born in 1972. He has published a host of novels in Arabic, several of which have been translated into French, yet none of which have been translated into English. He captures the life and spirit of the city of Beirut in unforgettable ways.”

Now Abu-Zeid will have his chance to bring Jaber’s work into English. Although Jaber’s work has appeared in excerpts — in the Beirut39 collection and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) “book of excerpts” — no full-length translation has yet been published. And, even though he is not yet 40, Jaber has written seventeen novels, including two that have been IPAF shortlisted (2010 for Amreeka and 2012 for The Druze of Belgrade).

Abu-Zeid described the novel he’s begun to translate in an email:

The Mehlis Report revolves around the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, and charts the psychological effects of the series of explosions that rocked Beirut at this time. As a very palpable tension builds, the novel’s first protagonist, Saman Yarid, wanders through the city, ruminating on its past and the massive reconstruction projects undertaken largely by Hariri’s own company, Solidere. Yet this “surface” narrative is accompanied by a more fantastical one, as the voices of the dead quite literally begin to take over the text. A second Beirut emerges here, the Beirut of the dead that exists in the bowel’s of this turbulent city, and slowly begins to impose itself on the first. The detailed topographies of Beirut that emerge are one of the most remarkable aspects of this novel – the reader is left with the impression of having truly lived this place and this moment in time. Yet Jaber’s novel is also ultimately about people’s impossible needs for answers, for narratives that would explain all those unfathomable aspects of our lives and deaths. This desire is symbolized most directly by the impossible hopes Saman pins on Detlev Mehlis, the German judge appointed by the UN to investigate Hariri’s assassination.