15+ Books to Look for in 2013

What follows are a few books I hope and expect to read in 2013. Insha’allah* this list will grow. 


silenceThe Silence and the Roar, Nihad Sirees, trans. Max Weiss – Pushkin Press (UK Release)

Sirees’s book is a remarkable fictional achievement. It tracks a day in the life of a writer in a setting that is crisply and clearly Syrian, and yet also  touches the many other “silences” and “roars” that exist in our world(s).


41nxCtcXf0L._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-44,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_That Smell & Notes from Prison, Sonallah Ibrahim, trans. Robyn Creswell – New Directions

Originally trans. Denys Johnson-Davies but long out of print, That Smell (or The Smell of It), is here re-translated by Robyn Creswell. Composed during and in the wake of Ibrahim’s five-year prison sentence, the semi-autobiographical story follows a recently released political prisoner as he wanders through Cairo. Creswell has also included an annotated selection of Notes from Prison culled from Ibrahim’s prison diary. A must-have. Plus, if you haven’t gotten a copy of Stealth yet, you must find a way to get that as well.

june_rainJune Rain, Jabbour Douaihy, trans. Paula Haydar – BQFP

Shortlisted for the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Douaihy’s June Rain centers on an armed dispute in and around a Lebanese village church that left 24 dead. It evokes the sectarian fissures and fractures in Douaihy’s poetic prose. A review of the French translation concluded: “Despite its length and a denouement that leaves one unsatisfied, June Rain is a novel which one can not fail to recommend.”

Emoz, Eslam Mosbah, trans. Raphael Cohen – AUC Press


USThe Silence and the Roar, Nihad Sirees, trans. Max Weiss – Other Press (US release)

Same reasons as above, new country. And new jacket.

The Arch and the Butterfly, Mohammed Achaari, trans. Aida Bamia – BQFP

510KbbhoeiL._SL500_AA300_This novel was co-winner of the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and is foregrounded by the life of a left-wing Moroccan writer, Yousef, whose past life, political beliefs and faith in his own principles are shaken by a letter he receives one day about his son Yassin. The anonymous letter tells his father that the son “died as a martyr in Afghanistan,” and forces Yousef to re-examine his life.

horses-of-god-cs-apr_1Horses of God, Mahi Binebine, trans. Lulu Norman (from the French) – Tin House Books

Also by a Moroccan author, this novel takes as its subject the violence of May 16, 2003, when fourteen suicide bombers launched a series of attacks throughout Casablanca, and is narrated from the afterlife. You might read them together.


Traces, Gamal al-Ghitani, trans. ?? – BQFP


9789992179161Where Pigeons Don’t FlyYousef al-Mohaimeed, trans. Robin Moger – BQFP

This is the third of al-Mohaimeed’s novels to be translated into English (Wolves of the Crescent Moon, Munira’s Bottle). Neither of those were mind-blowing, but they did show narrative promise. This book follows Fahd, a boy growing up in Riyadh, from early childhood to the point where he flees Saudi Arabia to Britain.


51nDzsx2BhL._SL500_AA300_Where the Rain Doesn’t Fall / Land of No Rain, Amjad Nasser, trans. Jonathan Wright, BQFP

The first novel of an acclaimed poet, the book takes place in Hamiya, a fictional Arab country run by military commanders who treat power as a personal possession to be handed down from one generation to the next, which could be…lots of places. Highly recommended by Ahdaf Soueif, among others.

51iRtV1sCCL._SL500_AA300_The Mehlis Report, Rabee Jaber, trans. Kareem James Abu Zaid, New Directions

Testimony from translator Kareem James Abu Zaid: “I don’t remember laughing very much the first time I read the novel, but now that I’m translating it, I often find myself laughing out loud – one of my fellow translators here at the Banff residency who has occasionally shared a library desk with me here at Banff can attest to this! The humor is very dark, but it’s there. I think this must be one of the reasons I was so attracted to the novel in the first place – I’ve always been a fan of black humor[.]” (More.)


9780300190601The Corpse WasherSinan Antoon, trans. the author, Yale University Press

This compelling novel by Antoon follows  Jawad, born to a traditional Shi’ite family of corpse washers and shrouders in Baghdad, as he — an artist by inclination and training — returns to the family business after the onrush of corpses following the 2003 invasion. Antoon is also a poet and the award-winning translator of Mahmoud Darwish, among other authors, and has a deft hand with both languages.


The Sultan’s Seal, Youssef Rakha, trans. Paul Starkey – Clockroot Books

The Dove’s Necklace, Raja Alem, trans. Katharine Halls and Adam Talib – Overlook and Duckworth

The House of el-Deeb, Ezzat el-Kamhawi – AUC Press (Winner of the 2012 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature.)

Fingers of Dates, Muhsin al-Ramly, trans. Luke Leafgren – isa AUC Press

The Lady from Tel Aviv, Rabai al-Madhoun, trans. Elliott Colla –  Saqi/Telegram

Also, Ghazi Gheblawi (@Gheblawi) tells me these three will be coming from DARF publishers, the English imprint of Ferjani Books:

Maps of the Soul, Ahmed Fagih

African Titanics, Abubaker Hamed Kahal

Chewing Gum, Mansour Bushnaf


I leave “insha’allah” or isa in the text, vs. translating it as “God willing” or “let’s hope” or “GW,” because I mean none of those things. I mean…insha’allah.