Eight new or soon-to-be-published books by women, all translated by women, that come recommended by ArabLit:
This list-of-eight includes a range of novels, poetry collections, short-story collections, and graphic novels, translated from Arabic and from French.
1) The Olive Trees’ Jazz, by Samira Negrouche, translated by Marilyn Hacker (February 2020, Pleiades Press)
The Olive Trees’ Jazz and Other Poems opens by posing an urgent question about identity and language.
The bilingual poetry collection – with French poems by Algerian poet Samira Negrouche and English translations by Marilyn Hacker – arrives this month from Pleiades Press, and its first work blurs the lines between essay, manifesto, open letter, and prose poem. In “Who is speaking,” the poet-narrator seizes the reader by the shirtfront and asks: “Tell me – Who are you? When you speak in someone else’s language?”
2) The Frightened Ones, by Dima Wannous, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette (April 2020, Harvill Secker)
Shortlisted for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, The Frightened Ones begins when two Syrians, Suleima and Nassim, meet in the lobby of their therapist’s office in Damascus. This is the opening to their unusual — and tender — love affair, conducted in large part through Suleima reading a draft of Nassim’s latest book.
A brilliant novel where fear overlays fear, and where fears echo and build on past stories of fear; particularly heartbreaking to fans of Saadallah Wannous, the author’s father.
3) Passage to the Plaza, by Sahar Khalifeh, translated by Sawad Hussain (April 2020, Seagull)
Sahar Khalifeh, who was a finalist for the prestigious Neustadt Prize, has seen a number of her novels translated to English, but not her classic Bab al-Saha, which appears both on the Banipal list of the “best 100 Arabic novels” and was also voted by the Arab Writers Union as one of the best 105 novels of the twentieth century.
It’s set in and around a “house of ill repute” in Bab Al-Saha, a quarter of Nablus, during the 1987 Intifada, and is a woman-focused narration of conflict.
4) Minor Detail, by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette (May 2020, New Directions)
Adania Shibli is a prose stylist whose earlier novels Touch (translated by Paula Haydar) and We Are All Equally Far from Love (translated by Paul Starkey) examine the difficulty of understanding ourselves and the world around us in settings limned in by Israeli occupation.
Her latest novel, translated by the award-winning Jaquette, takes place in two times: one is the summer of 1949 when Israeli soldiers murder an encampment of Bedouin in the Negev desert, including a teenaged girl who is first raped, then killed, then buried in the desert. The other is the present day, as a woman in Ramallah is looking into this minor detail, a crime committed exactly twenty-five years before she was born.
From the publisher’s description:
Jmiaa, a prostitute in Casablanca, lives alone with her daughter. A woman of strong character and quick wit, she doesn’t hold back when describing the world around her: her lover Chaïba, a crude, wordless brute, or Halima, her depressed fellow prostitute who reads the Qur’an between clients, or Mouy, her mother with implacable moral standards who seems completely ignorant of her daughter’s work. Then along comes a young woman, Chadlia – dubbed “Horse Mouth” by Jmiaa – who wants to make her first film about the life of this Casa neighborhood.
Translated by the brilliant Emma Ramadan, who could hardly steer you wrong.
6) Wondrous Journeys in Amazing Lands, by Sonia Nimr, translated by M Lynx Qualey (Fall 2020, Interlink Books)
This novel won the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the Young Adult category, and it will be a thrilling read for adults and children alike. It follows the adventures of the medieval Palestinian girl, Qamr, who sets off from her small village life in Palestine and finds herself kidnapped, enslaved, escaped, joining pirates, opening a bookshop, finding love, and having a hundred other adventures before finally, in the end, finding (we hope) what she was searching for.
7) Catalogue of a Private Life, by Najwa Binshatwan, translated by Sawad Hussain. (2021, Dedalus Africa)
A PEN Translates-winning collection of short stories by 2019 ArabLit Story Prize-winning team Binshatwan and Hussain. This collection is forthcoming in 2020 or, perhaps, 2021.
8) Shubeik Lubeik, by Deena Mohamed, translated by Deena (2021, Pantheon/Granta)
A graphic novel trilogy set in a fantastical Egypt where wishes are literally for sale, and the more expensive they are the more powerful their ability to fulfill your dreams. Shubeik Lubeik tells the story of three first-class wishes and how they affect the lives of three characters trying to achieve their dreams in a wildly stratified society.
Each part of the Shubeik Lubeik trilogy is released as a separate novel in Arabic. The first and second parts have already been published by Dar al-Mahrousa in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and they have already won “Best Graphic Novel” at the Cairo Comix Festival (2017), Grand Prize at the Cairo Comix Festival (2017), and Mahmoud Kahil Award finalist (2018). The translated collected volume of all three books is set to be released in English by Pantheon Books (US) and Granta (UK) in 2021.