Mentioned just a few days ago in the New York Times as one of the top-sellers among Syrian refugees shopping at Istanbul’s famed Pages, it’s been announced that Mustafa Khalifeh’s The Shell — recommended for translation by Syrian writer Samar Yazbek — will come out from Interlink next year, trans. Paul Starkey:
Yazbek’s 2012 suggestions for Finnegan’s List — The Shell, Mamdouh Azzam’s Ascension to Death, and Hani al-Rahib’s The Epidemic — were all picked up by And Other Stories’ 2013-2014 Arabic reading group, commandeered by translator Elisabeth Jaquette. Both The Shell and Ascension to Death are slated for translation into English.
Yazbek is, of course, not the only one to have suggested it’s time to translate Azzam. Sabry Hafez mentioned Azzam in a 2008 list of under-translated Arab writers for The Guardian.
The Shell will be a major addition to the relatively small corpus of Syrian literature in English. As Publishing Perspectives’ Olivia Snaije wrote in her wrap-up of the best books of 2015:
Last but not least, La Coquille, (The Shell) by Moustafa Khalifé, a book I read in French, translated from Arabic, gave me the distinct feeling once I had finished it that I was no longer the same. Masterfully translated by Stéphanie Dujols, this autobiographical novel about 13 years spent in a Syrian prison is devastating and altogether mesmerizing, as terrible as the story is. Interestingly, La Coquille was published by Actes Sud in French before coming out in Arabic because Arabic-language publishers were afraid to print it. Although it is eight years old, the novel is absolutely auspicious and a good reminder to look back in time for books as well as looking forward to new releases. Fortunately for those who don’t read French, Interlink Books will be publishing The Shell in an English translation by Paul Starkey in the fall of 2016.
Meanwhile, Ascension to Death is set to come out next year from Haus:
Ascension to Death is set in a village in the south of Syria. It tells the story of an orphan girl named Salma, in love with a boy from her village but trapped in a forced marriage. Her predicament is enforced by Salma’s tyrannical uncle and guardian, who was all too pleased to unload the burden of his brother’s daughter on to the first man who proposed. Salma’s uncle is a local community leader with connections to the government, and a true modern-day tragedy unfolds. The novel follows Salma’s attempt to escape with her lover, her family’s collusion with the authorities against her, and the ordeal of imprisonment, torture and abandonment that follows.
Read translations and a commentary from translator Ruth Ahmedzai:
Mustafa Khalifa’s ‘The Shell’: Memories of a Hidden Observer
Read an excerpt of Ascension to Death:
Translated into English by Max Weiss, here.