50 Great Lebanese Novels and a 5-Book Starter Kit

The excellent indie press Archipelago sent out a note yesterday saying that, to celebrate “the 70th anniversary* of Lebanon’s liberation from colonial rule, Archipelago Books is happy to announce that all of Elias Khoury’s books will be on sale for 60% off the original cover price, including e-books.” You just need to check out with the code “khoury70.” Where should you start with Khoury? Where should you go from there? Well:

600px-US_50.svgThe 50 Great Books from Lebanon

For your Elias Khoury collection:

(1) Gate of the Sun, Elias Khoury, trans. Humphrey Davies. A must-read that needs no introduction.

(2) Yalo, Elias Khoury, trans. Humphrey Davies. A must-read and international award-winner.

(3) Little Mountain, Elias Khoury, trans. Maia Tabet. A beautiful older book of Khoury’s

(4) White Masks, Elias Khoury, trans. Maia Tabet (for the starter kit)

(5) The Journey of Little Gandhi, Elias Khoury, trans. Paula Haydar

(6) The Kingdom of Strangers, Elias Khoury, trans. Paula Haydar

(7) The Gates of the City, Elias Khoury, trans. Paula Haydar

(8) As Though She Were Sleeping, Elias Khoury, trans. Humphrey Davies (Quercus) and Marilyn Booth (Archipelago). Both versions are excellent; this exploration of 1930s Lebanon and Palestine is un-missable.

(9) Note that Sinalcol, Khoury’s latest novel (trans. Humphrey Davies), is coming out in English next year. And, insha’allah, we will have an excerpt of Khoury’s wonderful untranslated novella, The Scent of Soap, in the February 2014 all-Lebanon-all-the-time issue of Missing Slate. 

For your Hanan al-Shaykh collection:

(10) The Story of Zahra, Hanan al-Shaykh, trans. Peter Ford  (for the starter kit)

(11) Women of Sand and Myrrh, Hanan al-Shaykh, trans. Catherine Cobham.

(12) Beirut Blues, Hanan al-Shaykh, trans. Catherine Cobham

(13) I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops, Hanan al-Shaykh, trans. Catherine Cobham

A must-have for the serious reader (& for your Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq collection):

(14) Leg Over Leg, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1887), trans. Humphrey Davies. Four volumes. Un-missable.

For the lover of historical fiction:

(15) Tree of Pearls, Queen of Egypt, Jurji Zaidan (1861-1914), trans. Samah Selim. (for the starter kit)

(16) The Conquest of Andalusia, Jurji Zaidan, trans. Roger Allen. All these books are wonderful fun. If you enjoy historical fiction and are only a little curious about this period, do. Read.

(17) The Battle of Poitiers, Jurji Zaidan, trans. William Granara

(18) The Caliph’s Sister, Jurji Zaidan, trans. Issa J. Boullata

(19) The Caliph’s Heirs, Jurji Zaidan, trans. Michael Cooperson

(20) Saladin and the Assassins, Jurji Zaidan, trans. Paul Starkey

(21) Samarkand, Amin Maalouf, trans. (from the French) Russell Harris. Maalouf needs no introduction.

(22) Leo Africanus, Amin Maalouf, trans. (from the French) Peter Sluglett

(23) The Gardens of Light, Amin Maalouf, trans. (from the French) Dorothy Blair

For those interested in sexy ’60s Beirut:

(24) Death in Beirut, Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad, trans. Leslie J. McLoughlin

For the lover of boundary-crossing:

(25) The Mehlis Report, Rabee Jaber, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid. To quote from my own forthcoming review, this is a “genre-bending historico-fantastical murder-mystery that moves the borders between life and death.”

(26) Confessions, Rabee Jaber, trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid. This is forthcoming from New Directions.

Sharp-witted ride through young Beirut:

(27) Always Coca-Cola, Alexandra Chreiteh, trans. Michelle Hartman

For the lover of beautiful, haunting contemporary literary works:

(28) B as in Beirut, Iman Humaydan Younes, trans. Max Weiss

(29) Wild Mulberries, Iman Humaydan Younes, trans. Michelle Hartman

(30) Other Lives, Iman Humaydan Younes, trans. Michelle Hartman. This is forthcoming from Interlink; insha’allah an excerpt will appear in our Feb. 2014 issue of Missing Slate.

(31) The Stone of Laughter, Huda Barakat, trans. Sophie Bennett

(32) Tiller of Waters, Huda Barakat, trans. Marilyn Booth (for the starter kit)

(33) Disciples of Passion, Huda Barakat, trans. Marilyn Booth

(34) June Rain, Jabbour Douaihy, trans. Paula Haydar. This is forthcoming from BQFP; insha’allah an excerpt will appear in our Feb. 2014 issue of Missing Slate.

(35) Autumn Equinox, Jabbour Douaihy, trans. Nay Hannawi

(36) Salaam!, Najwa Barakat, trans. Luke Leafgren. This is forthcoming from Interlink, and an excerpt will appear in The Massachusetts Review. Insha’allah we will have an excerpt of Barakat’s A Bus of Good People for Missing Slate. 

(37) The Penguin’s Song, Hassan Daoud, trans. Marilyn Booth. This is forthcoming from City Lights; insha’allah we will have an excerpt of Daoud’s 180 Sunsets in Missing Slate, also trans. Booth.

(38) Kite, Dominique Eddé, trans. (from the French) Ros Schwartz

(39) Blood Test, Abbas Beydoun, trans. Max Weiss. Insha’allah a poem of Beydoun’s, trans. the inimitable Maged Zaher, will also be in our upcoming issue of The Missing Slate.

For your Etel Adnan collection:

(40) Sitt Marie Rose, Etel Adnan, trans. (from the French) Georgina Kleege

Graphic novels for grown-ups:

(41) Bye Bye Babylon, Lamia Ziade, trans. Olivia Snaije (for the starter kit)

Graphic novels for young readers, 12-18:

(42) Game for Swallows, Zeina Abirached, trans. Edward Gauvin

Novels for young readers, 12-18:

(43) The Servant, Fatima Sharafeddine, trans. the author.

Lebanese novels written in English:

(44) De Niro’s Game, Rawi Hage.

(45) Cockroach, Rawi Hage.

(46) Carnival, Rawi Hage.

(47) The Hakawati, Rabih Alameddine

(48) I, The Divine: A Novel in First Chapters, Rabih Alameddine

(49) Koolaids: The Art of War, Rabih Alameddine

Well, this isn’t a novel, but if you like memoir:

(50) Jean Said Makdisi’s Beirut Fragments

And the Five for a Starter Kit, With a Bonus for the Serious Reader

1) Start with Jurji Zaidan’s Tree of Pearls. Why Zaidan? Isn’t he “just” a nahda-era historical novelist? (Well, yes, he is. But he’s a fun, page-turning historical novelist who hews pretty close to recorded history.)

2) Start with Elias Khoury’s White Masks. Why White Masks and not Khoury’s famed Gate of the Sun or stunning Yalo? Because White Masks marked a turning point in Khoury’s work, and evidences the themes — memory, loss, violence — that make his oeuvre so brilliant.

3) Start with Hanan al-Shaykh’s Story of Zahraher brilliant exploration of gender, violence, and identity.

4) Start with Huda Barakat’s Tiller of Watersa beautifully vocalized novel that gives weight to the importance of everyday objects.

5) Start with Lamia Ziade’s Bye Bye Babylona colorful, gaudy child’s-eye view of civil war.

BONUS: The serious “reader’s reader” will absolutely need to begin with al-Shidyaq’s 1855 classic Leg over Leg. After this, she (or he) can go anywhere.

ALSO: I had meant to list 70 great novels and a 7-book starter kit — since “independence” is at year 70 — but, alas, time elapsed. If you’d like to add 20 / 2 more below, I’d be grateful.

*For more on the “70th anniversary.”