Should Mustafa Khalifa’s ‘The Shell’ Be Translated Into English? You Decide

The And Other Stories groups in New York, Cairo, and London all held their first discussion — of Hani al-Rahib’s The Epidemic — and now are moving on to book number two, Mustafa Khalifa’s The Shell:
The New York City discussion of The Shell will be on Monday, Oct 28 at 7:30pm at Book Culture, which is at 536 West 112th Street (between Broadway & Amsterdam). The Cairo meeting to discuss  The Shell, will be held on Sunday, November 3rd at 7:30pm, at Will Barnes’ apartment — you can email for the location. The London meeting, meanwhile, is set for November 26th at 7pm in the Royal Festival Hall Southbank.
But for those who want to get reading, you can order the book online in Arabic (here). Or you can download a pdf or word document (here). According to organizer Elisabeth Jaquette, “It’s perhaps one of the most accessible of all the books we’re reading, so if you’re going to give one of them a shot in Arabic, this could be a good one!”
If you’re looking to read in English, there is a short translated excerpt by Ruth Ahmedzai up on the And Other Stories’ website (here). A second excerpt, trans. Jaquette, is up now (here).

Jaquette adds that readers should “remember to add your thoughts on the author page for Mustafa Khalifa on And Other Stories’ website! Our feedback is how AOS can decide whether they might like to publish one of these books, so please do weigh in!”

More on Mustafa Khalifa and The Shell from AOS:

Mustafa Khalifa (b.1948) is a Syrian author. He went to university in France, where he studied art and film direction, and was arrested at the Damascus airport when he returned from Paris. From 1982-1994, Khalifa was held without trial at various state security prisons, including the infamous Tadmur Military Prison, a detention center described as a “kingdom of death and madness” by poet Faraj Bayraqdar and the “absolute prison” by dissident Yassin al-Haj Salih. The Shell is his first and only book, and has been lauded as one of the finest examples of Arabic prison literature.

The Shell (Beirut: Dar al-Adab, 2008) is a gripping memoir, written in spare, stripped-down prose punctuated by introspective, poetic reflection. In it, the first-person narrator describes being apprehended by state security and the twelve years in prison that follow. He details the brutal torture at the hands of the prison guards and military police, as well as the social fabric of prison life. Early on, Khalifa tells the guards that he is a Christian, hoping they will understand that their accusation that he is working with the Muslim Brotherhood is clearly false. Yet with true catch-22 logic and a belief in the infallibility of Syria’s state intelligence, the guards tell him that if he has been arrested, it must be for good reason, and as a Christian accused of working for the Brotherhood, he is doubly a traitor. As a professed atheist, Khalifa is ostracized by his fellow inmates, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who suspect he may be a spy planted among them by the state. Tortured by the guards and shunned by the other prisoners, he retreats further into himself, forming a protective shell around himself for which the book is named.

For more, read Shareah Taleghani’s review in the Syrian Studies Association Bulletin, or Anne-Marie McManus’ review in Jadaliyya. You can also take a look at Mustafa Khalifa’s 2012 editorial: ‘What if Bashar Assad Wins?’