May Releases: From Arabic Cult Classics to Dark Fiction

Three compelling May releases will be available next week:

The Magnificent Conman of Cairo, by Adel Kamel, translated by Waleed Almusharaf, with a foreword by Naguib Mahfouz (May 3 2020, Hoopoe Fiction)

It’s a pleasure to see AUC Press bringing out this 1942 cult classic by Adel Kamel (1916-2005), which was re-issued in Arabic in 2014. Kamel wrote only a few works, and all of them seemingly between 1938 and 1942, but he remained good friends with Naguib Mahfouz and other Cairo litterati. In 1993, a year after Kamel moved to Houston, Mahfouz wrote a tribute to him — “Adel Kamel, the Harafish, and Literature,” which is published as a foreword to the novel.

Kamel’s sharp-eyed, witty novel was rejected by the Arabic Language Academy along with a work by his friend Mahfouz. While Mahfouz persisted, Kamel’s life took him on other paths. Still, this cult classic speaks to Egypt, and our world today, and finally appears in English translation this month.

Read an extract at the Hoopoe Fiction website.

Impostures, by al-Hariri, translated by Michael Cooperson, with a foreword by Abdelfattah Kilito (May 5 2020, Library of Arabic Literature)                                                                             

Al-Hariri (1054-1122) was a poet and scholar who lived in Basra, Iraq during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, known for his standard-setting maqamat.

But this is not the lively scholarly translation the 50 maqamat that you might expect from the Library of Arabic Literature. There are previous English translations, including one by Thomas Chenery and Francis J. Steingass published in 1867, Cooperson’s is an attempt not at scholarly accuracy, but to translate the Arabic wordplay into wordplay of his own. The voice in “Imposture 1,” for instance, promises to be in the style of Mark Twainwhile the second — titled “A Basran Boswell” — is Englished after James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. Others are in the style of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Charles Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta, and forty-six others.

Minor Detail, by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette (May 6 2020, Fitzcarraldo & 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) are sometimes-suffocating examinations of the difficulty of understanding both self and the world around 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 a group of Bedouin in the Negev desert, including a teenaged girl who is first held against her will, raped, then killed and buried in the desert. The other is the present day, as an awkward, anti-social woman in Ramallah is looking into this minor detail, a crime committed exactly twenty-five years before she was born. What does it mean to look into the past? Is it possible? Where can we find it?

In beautiful translation by Jaquette.