Marilyn Booth translated Hassan Daoud’s novel The Penguin’s Song as a labor of love and initially strugged to find a publisher. Now it’s forthcoming from City Lights Books in Fall 2014 and a second excerpt just ran on the (new! improved!) Asymptote:
I do also think it is the case that novels that have been out for a while or are by writers who aren’t as well known do get passed over. In my own immediate experience, with a project I took on as a total labour of love, this happened. Hassan Daoud’s novel The Penguin’s Song deals with a moment following the Lebanese civil war: the issue of who owns Lebanon, who owns Beirut, and how do Lebanese subjects find a voice in a radically changed social and political situation? These are universal issues, pressing all over the Middle East (and pretty much everywhere else). So I don’t see this as a novel of the Lebanese civil war, I see it as a novel of the human condition in many times and places, which is as crucial now as when it was written. So it is distressing to see it passed over.
It is a little surprising to think of Daoud as lesser-known — he’s the author of two volumes of short stories and eight novels, four of which have already appeared in English translation, and his 180 Sunsets was long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction — but I suppose it is what it is.
According to Booth, writing in Jadaliyya, the novel:
Ghina’ al-Batriq (1998; The Penguin’s Song) is told in the words of a young and physically deformed man whose family has been pushed, literally, to the margins of Beirut; whose aging father has lost his shop in the old downtown, a wound from which he never recovers. Family disintegration and economic marginality go together, as the young man struggles with his own isolation and inability to make a life, expressed also in unfulfilled sexual longings. The novel’s precise and dispassionate language is typical of Daoud’s minimalist but rich literary voice. When it came out, this novel was hailed as ‘the best Lebanese novel of 1998.’