You might have been surprised about the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature judges’ comments about the book that won in 2015, No Road to Paradise:
Perhaps, if you’d already read Daoud’s Penguin’s Song, in or out of Marilyn Booth’s excellent translation, you would have known how to understand the judges’ comments on the prize-winning No Road to Paradise. For instance: “a state of non-action” (judge Tahia Abdel Nasser) and “slow, meticulous, stagnant narration” (Rasheed El-Enany) and “a stagnation” (also Rasheed El-Enany), which makes the book sound a bit like having x-rays done at the dentist: a mildly discomfiting process that seems as though it will never, ever end.
And it’s true, the book is discomfiting, but in ways that make us re-see not just a small-town Shi’a imam in Lebanon, but also our own lives, and our own separation from our lives, our inability to completely join the stream of it. (Perhaps people who don’t read books can completely join the stream of their lives. Who knows. They’re not reading this.)
In a Venn diagram of “books about small-town imams” and “books about dying of cancer” and “books that explore the distance between ‘perception’ and ‘reality,'” there is surely only No Road to Paradise, and the style Daoud has perfected: of minuscule relatable details, building up an utterly real human, but one unable to connect to themselves.
Lebanese novelist Hassan Daoud is a master chronicler of bodily illness, uneasy relationships and social isolation. In No Road to Paradise, these themes are brought together in the life of a small-town imam whose father cannot speak, whose children cannot hear and whose wife doesn’t like him. The 2013 novel has been translated into precise, understated English by Marilyn Booth, who previously worked on Daoud’s challenging Penguin Song.
Daoud has an obsessive fascination with the difficulties of human connections, including the connection with our internal “I”. It is because Daoud is so successful that his books are a difficult pleasure. There are no great joys or sorrows in No Road to Paradise, nor are we allowed any deep intimacies. Instead, there are the beautiful details of trying to get comfortable on a hospital bed, or communicating with your children, or the hardest struggle of all: to know one’s own mind.
You can read the entire review online. Also: Even though No Road isn’t a light and easy read (or especially for those reasons), one hopes there is some recognition for the beautiful craftsmanship of translator Marilyn Booth, who has put excellent work into re-crafting Daoud’s detached style in English, a topic on which you can read more, if you like.