New Summer Books List: Enter & Win 2013 PalFest Anthology

This past week, it’s been mid-40s in Cairo (that’s around 110 for you Americans), which makes it time for some sweaty summer reads:

summerreadingWhat is a summer read?

Typical summer-book lists conflate the warm season with a particular beach lifestyle and recommend sexy, lighter-weight reads. So instead of Nightwood or To the Lighthouse or Rama and the Dragon, most summer reading lists are full of So-and-so Wears Prada (Again) or perhaps, where the list-maker was feeling exceptionally lazy, Hilary Mantel’s latest novel.

But forget that. Summer isn’t for any particular genre; it’s for new discoveries.

Great. So suggest some new summer reads.

Six new releases in 2013 that are off the beaten track (no Mantel here):

The Mehlis Report, by Rabee Jaber, trans. Kareem James Abu Zaid (New Directions). If you haven’t read this yet, then shoo. Go on. Get a copy and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be here. (Review forthcoming.)

Ben Barka Lane, Mahmoud Saeed, trans. Kay Heikkinen (Interlink). This novel should be read in the summer; it follows an Iraqi exile to a beach town in late-1960s Morocco, in “the leaden years” that followed King Hassan II’s dissolution of parliament, the assassination of leftist leader Ben Barka, and other crackdowns and arrests, and is crafted between paradise and nightmare. (Review forthcoming.)

The Obstinate Snail, Rachid Boudjedra, trans. Leon Stephens (Xenos Books). Boudjedra has a reputation has an extremely difficult author, and is often likened to Joyce. (Perhaps, if he were better known in English, he would’ve made the “most difficult” list above.) But this is the most straightforward thing I’ve read by him, and the funniest. (Review.) If you’re interested in Boudjedra’s more challenging work — also rewarding — pick up The Barbary Figs, trans. Andre Naffis-Sahely (Arabia).

The Corpse Washer, Sinan Antoon, trans. the author (Yale University Press).  A beautiful meditation on the meanings of the body in a time of corpses. (Review forthcoming.)

The Lady from Tel Aviv, Rabai al-Madhoun, trans. Elliott Colla (Telegram Books). This International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted novel follows a Palestinian exile returning from Europe who sits beside an Israeli on the flight.

The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim, ed. Denys Johnson-Davies (AUC Press). This is newly out in paperback, so you don’t have to worry about lugging your heavy old al-Hakim hardback to the beach. I’ve been re-reading it, and al-Hakim’s writing is worth the return. (Review forthcoming.)

And since we’ve been talking about Waguih Ghali, if you haven’t yet read Beer in the Snooker Club, again: Shoo. Come back when you have a copy. It’s a brilliant summer read, this year and any year.

Um, that’s great. So how do I…win?

Right, winning. As before, post the title of a book you’ll read this summer in the comments below. It can be on the list above or another of our recommended-lists: the “Top 105” and the “5 to Read Before You Die” are good ones. Or, sure, if you’ve been dying to read a fantastic novel like Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealth (trans. Hosam Aboul-ela) or Rachida al-Madani’s Tales of a Severed Head (the first poem is too slight; skip that and move into the rest) or any other book that’s been mentioned on ArabLit: post it below. Basically: Any book that’s been mentioned on this blog.

How do you know if I really read it or just promised to?

I trust you.

What do I win? A new…?

Book! You win a new bilingual, Arabic-English book!

We (will) have five giveaway copies of this year’s PalFest anthology, which includes work by all the authors who traveled along with the fest, in both Arabic and English. This includes Susan Abulhawa, Lina Attalah, China Miéville, Aamer Hussein, Najwan Darwish, Tom Warner, Ibtisam Azem, Gillian Slovo, Jeremy Harding, myself, and others.

But I don’t want to use my real name in your comments (below).

Fine, fine. Use a pseudonym. Use your frenemy’s name; pretend you’re Naguib Mahfouz; whatever. As long as you log in with a real email address, I can contact you later to tell you that you’ve won.

When do I find out?

August 15, 2013. Then Ramadan will be over, and I’ll have just enough time to get you the PalFest anthology (and you to read it) before the coming of the autumn.

And you’ll mail to…?

Anywhere, although I can’t make promises about the state of your postal system.


  1. I fancy reading the Obstinate Snail next (think the publisher is Xenos Books).

    1. Oops, better fix that before the publisher sees.

  2. I reckon Adania Shibli’s Touch would make a good summer novel too; it’s far too small for a holiday read, but it’s so slight and shimmery it’d be great for taking to the park for a few hours.
    I will definitely be reading Mahmoud Saeed’s The World Through the Eyes of Angels for about the 5th time, for my MSc thesis. The fact that I don’t hate it, and indeed still enjoy doing so, it testimony to how good it is (and it’s especially surprising that I say that given that I don’t usually like literature or films about children or with them as protagonists).
    I’m very much looking forward to reading The Mehlis Report, and to seeing how Abu Zaid has tackled translating Jaber. I loved Druz Belgrade, so it’ll be great to compare.

    1. what druze has been translated and i missed that? when? how?

      1. No, no, Druze hasn’t been translated, I assume Sarah read the original.

        1. oh, ok. got a bit worried here i loved druze, too.

          1. i apologise for my punctuation …

            1. Not to mention your lack of capitalization!

              1. that’s style

          2. But Kareem is in the process of translating “Confessions,” I think. Also for ND.

  3. I plan to read “The Lady from Tel Aviv” by Rabai al-Madhoun. Thank you for all the great recommendations!

      1. I am not, but thank you for the suggestion!

  4. I’m going to read “The Iraqi Christ”, by Hassan Blasim. I haven’t read anything by this author, and I “discovered” him trough your blog. So I hope you were right! 😀

    1. Great! Well, I’d really suggest starting with his other collection, “Madman of Freedom Square,” (or in the US edition, I think the two will be mashed together), but in any case he is a fascinating short-story-maker.

      1. I’d like to spend the summer on the beach, but I’m afraid it isn’t possible so I also need some not-beach books 😉

  5. Thank you for your always-wonderful book recommendations! Most of my summer reading list is already from this blog, but I just added Beer in the Snooker Club as well!

    1. Whoo-hoo! I always like a vote for BitSC.

  6. As soon as I finish ‘That Smell’ and ‘The Silence and the Roar,’ I’ll be reading Colla’s much-awaited translation of al-Madhoun’s ‘The Lady from Tel Aviv.’ So many good translations coming out!

    1. ‘Much-awaited’. Ha. I think this comment gets the understatement prize 🙂

      1. Yah, didn’t Elliott finish this translation ages ago?

        1. The publication date was originally scheduled for about a year ago, I’m meant to be reviewing it for EI and the original note in my work schedule is about 2 pages down the list, even though I’m hardly doing any freelancing nowadays!

  7. Where did all these commentors come from all of a sudden? A couple of hours ago I’d have been a shoe-in for two copies of the Palfest book just on mathematical grounds! Is it the USA waking up and getting online?

    1. But don’t you want people to read books, ya Sarah?

  8. I’m reading “The Corpse Washer” by Sinan Antoon. The man is a poet and genius.

  9. So I am sort of just discovering Arab Literature (being from India – where the exposure to Arab literature is fairly limited in the main stream), having accidently picked up a copy of Palace Walk. So this summer my endevour is to finish the Cairo Trilogy, and then continue on this wonderful journey…

    1. I am sure you’ll enjoy it. Glad you’re joining us on this journey.

  10. Hello-I spent a few days earlier this year reading your 105 greatest Arabic novels (loved it!) I now have quite a few of them on my Amazon wish list. The first one I’ve read is ‘Memories in the Flesh by Ahlam Mosteghanemi and it’s repeatedly reduced me to tears! Very moving and beautifully written as Naguib Mahfouz commented on the blurb. Definitely, definitely recommend it!

    1. So delighted that you loved it.

      1. I’ve just finished reading it now-so moving! I hope that the third book in the trilogy will be translated into English soon otherwise it’ll be years and years till my Arabic will be up to scratch read the original 🙁 Call out to all translators!

  11. I will be reading Robyn Creswell’s latest translation of “That Smell & Notes from Prison” by Sonallah Ibrahim (New Directions). I am here in Cairo & I am hoping that the bleak, sparse style, and the feeling of impending doom throughout, will prepare me for the upcoming Tamarod protests at the end of this month.

    1. Yes, Sonallah can certainly prepare you for doom. But then when you need a tender insight into the gentler side of humanity, don’t neglect his Talossos / “Stealth,” please. And enjoy!

  12. I will be finishing Khairy Shalabi’s Lodging House, which I began when both the Author and Translator (Farouq Mustafa) were still alive and for some reason only got 70 pages in, though I loved it. I feel it would be a fitting tribute to read it now

    1. Indeed. And may they both be resting in peace.

  13. I’m going to read Ghada Samman’s Beirut Nightmares and Sinan Antoon’s I’jaam.

    1. Excellent!

  14. I just bought “the diesel” by Thani al Suwaidi (antibookclub) and I am very curious

    1. I’ve read it, would love to hear what you think of it.

  15. I’ve already read The Madman from Freedom Square by Hassan Blassim and now I’m going to read his The Iraqi Christ also bilingual french-english poetry book by Najwan Darwish!

  16. Am I too late? I’d love to be in line for the anthology. REALLY. I have checked out of my library, a copy of Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif.

    1. Not too late at all! Any time until August 14 is good. I hope you love Munif.

  17. I have a lot to catch up on, having only recently discovered so many great Palestinian writers. Currently reading ‘Sharon and my Mother-in-Law’ by Suad Amiry and ‘I Saw Ramallah’ by Mourid Barghouti.

    Sitting in the bookcase to follow is Raja Shehadeh’s entire back catalogue, having loved ‘Occupation Diaries’, and Emile Habibi’s ‘The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist’. Like I said, a lot to catch up with!

    1. Great! Not to overload you, but don’t miss Suad’s later book, “Nothing to Lose But Your Life.” It’s fast-paced and trippy.

  18. Wow! Well, I’m planning to read (at least) “The Theocrat” (I loved “The Polymath”, so if this one is half as good it’ll be awesome) and “Zayni Barakat” in translation. (Munif’s “7iina taraknaa al-jisr” and Jaber’s “I3tiraafaat” are also on my list, although I guess these don’t count as I’ll be reading them in the original 🙂 )

    1. They do count if I’ve ever mentioned them on this blog, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned “Confessions” (which is being translated by Kareem James Abu Zaid, pub. ND, like Jaber’s Mehlis). I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned Munif’s “When We Left the Bridge,” although surely Munif always counts, and in any case you’re over-qualified for the contest. Don’t miss Hammeesh’s “Muslim Suicide”; Roger translated that as well.

      1. Great tip on Muslim Suicide; thank you!

      2. Of course he’s over-qualified for the contest, he’s our resident you-were-born-WHEN-and-you-can-do-THAT genius at Univ Edinburgh 🙂

  19. I’ll be reading the Barbary Figs and The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim. Just ordered them both. Thanks for the recommendations!

    1. You’re welcome & great!

  20. A question please: any recommendations of novels by Syrian authors that have been translated into English? Many thanks! Heba

    1. Yes, absolutely.

      To give a proper recommendation, I’d need to know what other sorts of books you like best, but from recently translated books I wholeheartedly recommend THE SILENCE AND THE ROAR by Nihad Sirees and IN PRAISE OF HATRED by Khaled al-Khamissi.

      I also think Samar Yazbek’s recently translated CINAMMON is also interesting, and there are classics like Ghada Samman’s BEIRUT NIGHTMARES and short-story collections like Zakaria Tamer’s BREAKING KNEES.

      If you want more tailored recommendations, please let me know.

  21. I just start reading Arabic literature. This week I’ planning to read ‘The Committee’ by Sonallah Ibrahim.

    1. To add: in my country (Poland) Arabic literature is very rarly translated, so I must read only what is available for Kindle. In a few weeks I’m going to Cairo so I’ll read some of the books from your “books on Cairo list”

      1. I hope you enjoy & you enjoy your trip to Cairo, the mother of the world.

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