For this “Friday Finds,” get to know the work (in English translation) of the six authors shortlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction:
Najwa Binshatwan is a Libyan novelist, playwright, and short-story writer who was chosen as one of the “Beirut39” in 2009, a list of “the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40.”
Read her “His Excellency the Eminence of the Void,” trans. Suneela Mubayi.
I visited my paternal aunt’s house a little after noon to check on her health. I had brought a monitor with me to record her blood pressure, as I did on every visit I made to one of my blood relatives. My aunt had gone for an appointment she had made with another doctor outside the family, to whom she would go on complaining and moaning until he would become almost one of the family, while she would still not be cured of that obscure ache that moved from place to place and appeared every time in a new guise.
Mohammed Hasan Alwan
Mohammed Hasan Alwan is a Saudi novelist whose The Beaver was previously shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction; a French translation also won the Prix de la Littérature Arabe. He was also a Beirut39er.
Read his “Mukhtar,” trans. William Hutchins.
When my mother asked me to spend the summer in her brothers’ house in the south, I employed every sophistry of my sixteen years—an age when only a mother pays attention to your budding philosophy of life—to explain to her that life forces surge northward, that the south, from which she and my father came, was becoming obsolete, that Ibn Khaldun (who had inspired this claim) was a great man, that the money could be better spent on a vacation, and that her brothers were actually not that nice. I attempted to persuade her without abandoning the subdued tone of voice and timidity passed down generation to generation but eventually found myself disembarking from the plane in Abha, motivated only by filial obedience after Ibn Khaldun failed me when my mother discredited his northern chauvinism by pointing out that Nice and Cannes are in the south of France.
You can also read an interview with IPAF organizers and an excerpt of his IPAF-shortlisted The Beaver, translated by attendees of the 2011 BCLT summer school along with the author (and, according to attendee Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, occasionally the author’s wife).
Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury hardly needs an introduction. All of his novels (save this one) have been published in English translation, a number of them have won prizes, and Khoury has been mentioned in the betting pools for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Read an excerpt of his novella “The Smell of Soap,” trans. Ghada Mourad.
We rushed into the movie theater. The lights had begun to dim and darkness to surround us. The moment of darkness that precedes the lights emanating from the screen is the most beautiful of the film. Darkness, she by my side, her laughter still ringing in my ears, and Genghis Khan’s picture filling my eyes. But I don’t spoil the movie for her, and she doesn’t look at me. She looks at the screen where we see the director’s and the actors’ names and a background image of a man lying on the ground with his lute at his side, and loud music. But she doesn’t like war, and I think if we asked Genghis Khan whether he liked war he would say no. Or he would light his pipe, sit cross-legged, and start to discuss the future while smoke blew out of his mouth and nose. And I am ready, ready to talk to her in better words than his and without smoke, but she doesn’t want to listen and I don’t want to speak. I want her. I want this long black hair. I want.
Ismail Fahd Ismail
Ismail Fahd Ismail has been called “the spiritual father of the Kuwaiti novel.” He’s published more than two dozen novels, as well as short-story collections, plays, and literary criticism. He was previously longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
It seems no translation of Ismail Fahd Ismail’s work is available online.
You can read an excerpt from his When the Frog Croaked, trans. William M Hutchins, with a subscription to Banipal. It begins:
The taxi’s headlights pierced the curtain of darkness that dominated the agricultural road leaning from al-Ashar in the heart of Basra to the community of Abu al-Khasib. At this late out of the winter night it was the only vehicle on the road. The windshield fogged up on the inside from their breath — his and the driver’s — forcing the driver to wipe it clean from time to time with a special rag.
Egyptian novelist Mohammad Abdelnaby was on the longlist for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his Return of the Sheikh. Abdelnaby, who was previously been known for his short stories, won the 2010 Sawiris award for his collection Anton Chekhov’s Ghost.
You can read “The Ghost of Anton Chekhov,” trans. Anna Swank. It begins:
Most probably they met in a waiting room in one of those clinics. The thin man comes in first and takes a seat, picking out something to read from the materials tidily scattered in front of him. Shortly thereafter, the fat man comes in, and as soon as his eyes fall upon the other he cries out: “No way! Impossible. You?! After all these years!”
You can also see two interviews with Abdelnaby.
Saad Mohammed Rahim
Saad Mohammed Rahim has worked as both a teacher and a journalist.
There doesn’t seem to be any work by Saad Mohammed Rahim, in translation, online. You can read his interview with IPAF organizers. It begins:
I began writing The Bookseller’s Murder in 2014-15. I’d been reflecting on the idea for years and it is connected with my interest in issues of identity, place and the relationship between east and west. The image of the main protagonist of the novel, Mahmoud al-Marzouq, took shape in my mind against the backdrop of events witnessed in Iraq in the last fifty years. This character more or less represents the typical Iraqi intellectual, whose dreams are frustrated by reality and who has a bizarre, tragic end.