Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh — winner of the Muhammad Zafzaf Prize — has seen five of her novels translated to English, but not her classic Bab al-Saha, which appears on both Banipal’s “Best 100 Novels” list and the Arab Writers Union’s “Best 105” of the 20th century:
Khalifeh’s classic novel is forthcoming next February 15 from Seagull Books in Sawad Hussain’s translation as Passage to the Plaza. Khalifeh is also a finalist for the prestigious 2020 Neustadt Prize, along with Moroccan author Abdellatif Laâbi and seven other authors from around the world.
For this year’s Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth), ArabLit ran a pre-release excerpt of the novel, about which translator Sawad Hussain wrote:
In Bab Al-Saha, a quarter of Nablus, sits a house of ill-repute. In it lives Nuzha, a young woman ostracised from and shamed by her community.
When the Intifada breaks out, Nuzha’s home unexpectedly becomes a sanctuary for those in the quarter: Hussam, an injured resistance fighter; Samar, a university researcher exploring the impact of the Intifada on women’s lives; and Sitt Zakia, the pious midwife who wouldn’t be caught dead in there.
In the furnace of conflict at the heart of the 1987 Intifada, notions of freedom, love, respectability, nationhood, the rights of women and Palestinian identity – both among the reluctant residents of the house and the inhabitants of the quarter at large – will be melted and re-forged. Vividly recounted through the eyes of its female protagonists, Passage to the Plaza is a ground-breaking story that breaks the myth of a uniform gendered experience of conflict.
Also, while you wait for February, you can find at least five novels by Khalifeh in English: Of Noble Origins (trans. Aida Bamia, AUC Press), The Inheritance (translated by Aida Bamia, AUC Press); Wild Thorns (Trevor Legassick, and Elizabeth Fernea, Interlink); The End of Spring (Paula Haydar, Interlink); The Image, the Icon and the Covenant (translated by Aida Bamia, Interlink).