5 Books: Recommendations from Bothayna al-Essa

Best-selling and award-winning Kuwaiti novelist Bothayna Al-Essa — also the founder of Takween, a platform for creative writing, a publishing house, and a bookshop — is a voracious reader:

Al-Essa published her first novel (Soundless Collision) at 23, and she has since published more than ten books for adults and children. Her first novel to appear in English translation arrived this spring: Al-Essa’s All That I Want to Forgettr. Michele Henjum, follows bibliophilic Fatima as she struggles to fashion a life for herself, out of words and imagination, despite all the anti-poetry forces that range against her.

Al-Essa recommended five of her favorite books.

1) A City of Walls without End, by Tariq Imam

In this work, I was struck by the fertility of imagination; it seemed as if I had come to participate in a festival of language. Each story in this collection begins where logic ends and the imagination begins, until you grow accustomed to the logic and it starts to make sense. This work is an experimental extension of the traditions of Arabic narrative inspired by the first Spring: the Thousand and One Nights.

2) Sons of the End Times, by Faisal al-Habini

No one resembles Faisal Al-Habbini; no one on the Kuwaiti or Arab scene writes like him. He is delightfully unique, and every corner of his stories carries a satisfying, artful, heartbreaking, and existential surprise. He writes with a nihilistic Sufi spirit, as if the oil and water were finally mixed!

3) Island of Leaves, by Dalia Tounsi (picture book)

This is not a book for children in the strict sense of the word, but rather a book that dodges age limits and re-births the story Hay ibn Yakzhanby the philosopher Ibn Tufail. I believe that storytellers are the guardians of memory, and I love books that bring heritage into new forms, particularly if they are written for everyone, young and old. After all, we are all children in the face of stories, are we not?

4) The House Pigeons, by Saud Al Sanousi

In Hammam al-Dar, we find a closed-off world that starts at home and ends at the sea. All his characters are a study in absence. This is a nightmare novel—although not filled with monsters and screams, it captures the nature of dreams, which delve into a moment when nothing happens. It’s the nightmare of the modern human, whose existence is brutal and who experiences loss in one absence after another. This is a new stage in the journey of a writer who has succeeds in every work by using a different approach, defeating expectations, wrestling with his audience, and using his long history of success in order to win his right to write as he wants, not as they wanted him, nor as he has before.

Editor’s note: Two books by Alsanoussi are available in translation: The Bamboo Stalktr. Jonathan Wright, and Mama Hissa’s Micetr. Sawad Hussain.

5) Scattered Crumbs, by Muhsin al-Ramli

This is a symbolic story in which we find all of Iraq in the story of one family; all of Iraq is scattered crumbs beneath the dictator’s shoes. A cruel and luminous novel with no beauty-enhancing filters, this book offers a realistic panoramic picture of the tragedy, with a few earth-shaking pages.

Editor’s note: This book is also available in Yasmeen Hanoosh’s English translation.

Tr. M Lynx Qualey. 

More from Al-Essa:

Kuwaiti Writer Bothayna al-Essa on Finding Her Voice in the Morgue

An Excerpt from Bothayna al-Essa’s ‘Maps of Wandering’

Best-selling Kuwaiti Author Bothayna al-Essa on the Anti-Consumerist Attitude Needed to Write

Leading Kuwaiti Writers Saud Alsanousi and Bothayna al-Essa on Pushing Back Against a Season of Censorship

Friday Finds: ‘All That I Want to Forget’ and Its Surprises