Why You Should Read Salim Barakat’s Novel About Centaurs and Dictatorship

And Other Stories’ Arabic book group is moving on to the second novel in its second cycle. This one is Salim Barakat’s كهوف هايدراهوداهوس , or The Caves of Hydrahodahose:

The-Caves-of-Hydrahodahose-300x478“Once again,” organizer Elisabeth Jaquette writes in a note to previous participants, “we’ll be reading the book in Arabic, and there will be an English sample. You can order The Caves of Hydrahodahose in Arabic from Neel Wa Furat here; or order a copy with Saqi Books if you’re in London. The novel has also been translated into French by Bayan Salman, and is available as Les Grottes de Haydrahodahus (Actes Sud, 2008).”

Barakat has been frustratingly unavailable in English, as Anne-Marie McManus noted in a recent Q&A about teaching Syrian literature:

…I was looking for English translations of work by Salim Barakat, one of Syria’s most respected novelists. All I could find was an excerpt from Jurists of Darkness translated by Marilyn Booth in a Words Without Borders anthology called Literature from the Axis of Evil. As a teacher, I’m grateful this translation exists, but I’m also disturbed that this packaging frames a student’s first encounter with Barakat through the rhetoric of the George W. Bush administration.

An English extract of The Caves should be available shortly on the AOS website. Whether the entire book is translated will be up to the enthusiasm of readers and publishers. So if you read it, do post and share your thoughts.

Londoners are invited to discuss the book at 7pm on Tuesday, May 5th at Mazi Mas, Ovalhouse Theatre. There will also be meetings in DC and New York City.

More on The Caves of Hydrahodahose:

The Hodahose are a population of centaurs living in a realm of caves, under the rule of a paranoid and capricious tyrant. Each possesses only of half of his dreams, the other half belonging to his life partner. In order to prevent an uprising among his subjects, the tyrant forces them to reveal these dreams—to reveal the very thing most sacred to them. They resist him by inventing dreams that are not their own, and in so doing discover the infinite world of the imagination. Meanwhile, a myth begins to spread within the kingdom of a man named Orsine, a being on two legs who has the gift of possessing his entire dream himself. This myth only strengthens the rebellious spirit of the centaurs and confirms the tyrant’s fears. Through this strange fable, which transports us to a world where man is a distant memory, Salim Barakat brings us to reflect on social ties, individual and collective identity, the power of the imagination, as well as the autonomy of a human being—the only protection against barbarism.

Other Barakat excerpts online: 

From Rampaging Geese, trans. Thomas Aplin

From The Iron Grasshoppertrans. Mona Zaki

From Jurists of Darknesstrans. Marilyn Booth


  1. Wonderful initiative. There really should to be more Salim Barakat in English.

    1. It is up to us readers to push for it!

        1. If you’re living in London/NYC/DC, please attend the discussion group. If not (and you were feeling really enthusiastic!) you could organize one in your own city. Or, once the excerpt is up on the AOS website, you can leave your comments about why this book should be available in English (and why you’d get a copy, and make sure your library got a copy, &cet).

  2. It’s just so weird that this guy isn’t available in English. He’s as good as it gets. But kind of tough to translate, I suppose. The Caves is a charming book (though not his best), and there’s also a 350-page second part of the novel. (Try out Les Seigneurs de la nuit or Les Plumes if you read French but not Arabic.)

    1. Weird stuff, right? But he also hasn’t even ever been longlisted for the “Arabic Booker.” Also weird.

  3. why would a book group read excerpts and/or NOT read English translations??? Or is the book
    group only for those fluent in Arabic? Im not understanding something here, Marsha. Help me out.
    Date: Sat, 4 Apr 2015 04:57:42 +0000
    To: erbrill@hotmail.com

  4. My favorite writer, he is not recieving his deserved celebration

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