Interlink Signs English Rights for Novels by Asma Al Atawna, Hammour Ziadeh

The RAYA Agency for Arabic Literature, in addition to announcing four new titles to its list, shared number of new rights deals for Arabic literature in translation:

The rights sales included Khaled Khalifeh’s Death is Hard Work to publishers in Georgia and Serbia, Samar Yazbek’s 19 Women to a Ukrainian publisher, Jabbour Douaihy’s King of India to Actes Sud in France, Mustafa Khalifeh’s The Shell to a publisher in the Netherlands, and two titles by Dima Wannous to a Brazilian publisher.

There were also two agreements to publish in English: for Asma al-Atawna’s debut coming-of-age novel, Missing Picture, and Hammour Ziada’s Drowning.

Missing Picture was signed to Interlink Books in the US, and also a Turkish publisher, Yeni Insan.

According to Raya, al-Atawna’s novel unfolds in two sections. The first, titled “Go Away,” starts with the tale of her escaping Gaza. The second, “Come Back,” returns to her childhood and late teens, until the moment she decides to escape.

The translation sample, by Robin Moger, opens:

The bell rang and it was back to class. Mona would rush to her place in the front row, making sure her desk was pushed up to touch the teacher’s. Then our class teacher, Miss Zeinab, came in and we sprung to our feet to return her greeting, chanting in unison, with such enthusiasm that the floor’s loose tiles trembled:

“Good morning, class.”

“Good morning!”

She ordered us to sit, and we sat. It was now so quiet that Miss Zeinab could have heard a fly land.

I was frightened of Miss Zeinab.

We called her Zeinab the Christian because she was. She was fat, wore skirts that barely covered her knees, and kept her hair short. Her thick glasses made her eyes look tiny. And she was tough. Tough as a nun in an orphanage. She always wore black. Her husband had been martyred in the Intifada and she took it out on us.

The second English title signed, also by Interlink, is Drowning. This historical novel, by Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning novelist Hammour Ziada, takes place around the 1968 military coup in Khartoum although the story unfolds in the rural town of Hajer Narti, where the body of a young girl is found in the Nile.

The sharply rendered Drowning is Ziada’s third novel, following his Longing of the Dervish, which won the 2014 Naguib Mahfouz Medal and was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. It was translated to English by Jonathan Wright.

Ziada was also named the 2019 Banipal Visiting Writer Fellow, and the award-winning film You Will Die at Twenty was based on one of his short stories.

A translation sample, by Jonathan Wright, opens:

Fayit Niddu stood up, tall and muscular, and called her daughter over. “Abir,” she said, “come and fill the water jar. Your uncle Bashir hasn’t left any for us.”

Then she turned to Abdel Razeq. “No one treats me fairly here, except for you,” she said. 

Abir came into the shack and added a fragrance to the place, like the smell of guava leaves in the rain.

The titles new to RAYA’s list include Youssef Fadel’s The Life of Butterflies, Rahim Hassawi’s Zebra Crossing, Dima Wannous’s And the Family Devoured Its Men, and Nael Eltoukhy’s Out of the Gutter.