Friday Finds: Excerpt of Raja Alem’s ‘Sarab’

Multi-award-winning Saudi novelist Raja Alem — who is on the shortlist for this year’s ArabLitStory Prize, and also was co-winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction — has a new novel out, but only in translation:

Her latest novel, Sarabis available in Leri Price’s English translation and Hartmut Fähndrich’s German. The novel, set around the 1979 siege of Mecca’s Grand Mosque, is not available in Arabic.

According to Alem’s agent, Charlotte Seymour, “It is possible that the novel will eventually be published in Arabic; it has simply not been the author’s priority given the difficulties that would likely be entailed” for Alem in Saudi Arabia.

It opens:

THE GAS BOMBS FORCED the revolutionaries to abandon their posi- tions guarding the huge gates and retreat to the cellars of the GrandMosque. There, they hunkered down and prepared for the fight tothe death.

Squadrons of paratroopers poured in torrents from the helicopters until they covered the courtyard of the Grand Mosque.They reminded the city of the flock of birds described in the Quran which cast handfuls of death on Abraha’s army as it marched withan elephant at its head to destroy Mecca, but this modern flockproclaimed an unparalleled, modern horror. Soldiers in gas masks fanned out instantly to comb the halls and corridors of the mosque for pockets of resistance, and they opened the gates to the troops of the National Guard who were waiting outside.

That was on November 29, 1979. Thanks to the clouds of gas that hovered in the air over the Holy City, the National Guard had successfully regained control of the rooftops and halls of the Grand Mosque, despite the heavy losses they had sustained earlier in the battle.

Continue reading at Hoopoe Fiction.