Friday Finds: Review & Excerpt from Hoda Barakat’s ‘The Night Post’

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction has longlisted acclaimed author Hoda Barakat’s acclaimed short novel The Night Post:

The prize also longlisted Barakat’s 2012 novelThe Kingdom of This Earth, although it did not advance to the 2013 shortlist. Two years later, Barakat was also a finalist for the Man Booker International.

In all, Barakat has written six novels, three of which have been translated into English. She won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for her novel The Tiller of Waters and the al-Nagid Award for The Stone of Laughter. In 2002 she became Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and then the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite National in 2008.

Barakat’s latest novel — set somewhere between Beirut and Paris — consists in the main of six letters, each intercepted by an unrelated person, who, after reading it, is compelled to write a letter of their own.

The excerpt of the novel that appears at Words Without Borders, in translation by Robin Moger, is taken from the beginning of the third letter. Moger writes: “A young man, apparently pursued by the authorities, is at the airport when he sees a woman rip up and throw away a sheaf of papers (the novel’s second letter). He reassembles the torn pages and, prompted by their content, decides to write his own letter, to his mother—an equivocal missive of reconciliation and blame that unfolds into a desperate confession.”

It opens:

My darling mother,

I write to you from the airport before they can take me, before I go through the security barrier. They’re worried about terrorism, you see. Watching the slightest movement. Soon as you’re through the main entrance they’re there, everywhere, patrolling about in civilian clothes.

It’s under control, though. I’m going to act like someone come to meet a passenger. I’ve no bag, and my shirt’s unbuttoned so they can see I’m not strapped with a bomb.

You can continue reading at Words Without Borders.

In his review of the book for ArabLit, Mahmoud Hosny wrote:

The five voices of these five letter-writers aren’t related to one another in any way, except through the postman who carries their messages and is trapped in the cycle of war in an unnamed county. The situation the postman finds himself in makes the letters just stories, “Stuck as dead papers, in the corners of empty streets.”

These are letters without addresses. Instead, they’re just titled: “To my father,” “To my brother,” “To my sweet mother,” or “To my dear… because that’s how the letters should begin.” Furthermore, there’s no hint as to where the senders live, because they are always in a temporary place, such as a hotel room, or in an airport waiting for a plane.

With violence surrounds them on all sides, the novel’s characters, who are all Arabs, travel to escape or to seek refuge. Even the more fortunate ones seem to be suffocating as they seek a fresh start elsewhere. But the refuge that the West seems to offer is mostly an illusion, and the characters all have to face their failures.

The shortlist for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction will be announced the afternoon of February 5.

A brief excerpt of The Night Post (2012):

Trans. Robin Moger

A brief excerpt of Kingdom of this Earth (2012):

Trans. Ghada Mourad

English-language interviews with Barakat:

With Youssef Rakha, 1999

With Elisabeth Marie, in 2002

With Olivia Snaije, in 2003

With Brian Whitaker, in 2004

With Finnegan’s List, in 2012 

With Suneela Mubayi, in 2012 


Barakat on receiving the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

Also read, interviews from the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction longlist:

Iman Yehia and the Story of Yusuf Idris’ Marriage to Diego Rivera’s Daughter

Eritrean Novelist Haji Jaber: On Writing the Stories of the Falasha Jews

Habib al-Sayah: Cracking ‘the Shell of the Taboo Around Talking about Algerian Jews’

Reviews from the 2019 longlist:

‘Finally, Haji Jaber’s on an IPAF Longlist’

‘Me and Haim’: an Algerian Odyssey Through Racism

No Endings for Maysloon Hadi’s ‘The Brotherhood of Mohammed’

And the 2019 longlist:

2019 IPAF Longlist Features ‘Strong, Female-led Narratives’