Compiled and translated by ArabLit staff
We sent out a note to editors and contributors asking for favorite reads; we’re grateful to everyone below who shared their highlights of 2022.
Contributor Hussien Fawzy
Hussien Fawzy was born in 2001 in Egypt. He studies mechatronic engineering and writes short stories. His stories have been published online at The Sultan’s Seal, al-Kitaba, Madina, and, of course, his story “The Graduation Project” appeared in the JOKE issue of ArabLit Quarterly.
موسم الأوقات العالية (Season of High Times), by Yasser Abdellatif
This is a collection of seven short stories, and each story in the book is a lesson in writing and its techniques. With every reading, there is something new to discover.
تربية حيوانات متخيلة (Imaginary Animal Husbandry), by Ahmed Wael
An excellent collection of stories, which creates a shared dialogue between reader and writer about the questions it raises about writing and art writ large, with different treatments in each story. A book for writers.
أقفاص فارغة (Empty Cages), by Fatima Qandil
For me, this is a book about crafting private secrets and their resulting pains into literary form, subject to sharing and evaluation. The book, however, does not fall into the category of emotional catharsis; on the contrary, Fatima Qandil shows an overwhelming sensitivity in dealing with the release of emotion of her work, leaving each recipient to deduce their own feelings from the situations, based on their references and personal experiences. Short and beautiful.
Contributor and Prize Judge Yasmeen Hanoosh
Yasmeen Hanoosh is a fiction writer, literary translator, and professor at Portland State University, where she directs the Arabic program and teaches courses in Arabic language and literature. She grew up in Iraq and received her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan in 2008. As a fiction writer, she has published a short story collection, Ardh al-Khayrat al-Mal’unah (The Land of Cursed Riches, Al-Ahali Press, 2021). Her second collection, Atfal al-Jannah al-Mankubah (Children of Afflicted Paradise) has been translated and excerpted in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, and Italian. Her work has appeared in ArabLit Quarterly, and she was one of our 2022 ArabLit Story Prize judges.
خبز على طاولة الخال ميلاد (Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table), by Mohammed Elnaas
In simple, transparent, almost-docile language, this novel interrogates notions of masculinity and patriarchal dominance that are deeply-entrenched in Libyan society to reveal the potential power of women’s thoughts and actions when, hypothetically, the restraints of these toxic gender dynamics are lifted. In this novel Elnaas playfully reverses gender roles and deconstructs sexist colloquialisms to illustrate his points.
Contributor and ArabLit Story Prize Winner James Scanlan
James Scanlan is an an Arabic-to-English translator from the UK based in Egypt. He won the 2022 ArabLit Story Prize for his translation of Bilal Fadl’s “The Kid Sheikh.”
ماكيت القاهرة (Cairo Maquette) by Tareq Imam (2021)
I have read it twice and don’t really understand it but am happily reading it again, lost between a love for three (four?) different Cairos.
أم ميمي (Umm Mimi) by Belal Fadl (2021)
Funny rude. Generally outrageous.
إخضاع الكلب (Conquering the Dog) by Ahmed el-Fakharany (2021)
“My neighbour was a forty-something artist with no talent. Rejected by art and disowned by great cities, he came here to reinvent his life as a lie (the common mistake of the middle classes who run off to Dahab), as an eminent visual artist tired of fanfare and fame, living in a fabricated community of artists.” Nihilism near Nuweiba. A bit disturbing. Dislike the characters, but enjoy the writing.
باط مان (Batman) by Mahmoud Hasib (2012)
Batman goes to Egypt to open a cotton factory and save the revolution, no less. Daft fun.
قصصنا الشعبية (The Our Folk Tales series of books), by Zeinab Kamal (2021)
Folk tales for children, in Egyptian Arabic! Simple & beautiful. My daughter will love them too. I’ll make sure of it.
Agitated Air: Poems After Ibn Arabi by Yasmine Seale & Robin Moger (2022)
Arnhem Pro Blond is the font Ibn Arabi would have wanted. Just sublime all round.
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga (2022)
Finally, a limpid explanation for the Egyptian practice of splashing water outside shops.
The Sun Sets in the East by Samir Haddad (2022)
A fluidly written historical novel that follows several generations of a Christian family in Syria from the 1950s until the present day.
Managing Editor Nashwa Nasreldin
Nashwa Nasreldin is a writer, editor, and translator of Arabic literature. She is the translator of the 2014 Sheikh Zayed Book Award-winning novel, After Coffee, by Abdelrashid Mahmoudi. Her book translations include the collaborative novel by nine refugee writers, Shatila Stories, and a co-translation of Samar Yazbek’s memoir, The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria. She holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a former documentary producer and journalist. She is a contributing editor of ArabLit Quarterly, and managing editor of its sister website, arablit.org.
أقفاص فارغة (Empty Cages), by Fatima Qandil
Egyptian poet Fatima Qandil so masterfully crosses the boundaries of genre to bring us this stunning tale of love and loss, though not necessarily in the traditional sense. There is both death and survival, care and neglect, strength and vulnerability. This is a story that invites you into its secrets, revealing the inner workings of a middle-class family that the protagonist seeks to navigate. It is unclear whether the novel is truly a work of fiction or whether it’s in fact brimming with autobiography (as many novels are), but it feels authentic and resonated with me deeply as a reader. The writing too was lyrical, engaging, and original—a treat as good (or better) than a box of Milk Tray chocolates.
خبز على طاولة الخال ميلاد (Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table), by Mohammed Elnaas
I’m not surprised to see this book appear on the lists of other contributors! It offers readers a unique tale from a perspective we rarely hear, not only in the Middle East but around the world. Elnaas’s protagonist, Milad, is authentic, sensitive, and attuned to his emotions. He shows us how multi-faceted the concept of masculinity can be and the tragic consequences of being true to oneself. Set against a backdrop of bread-baking (how can you not love it?!), the book was fresh, addictive, and a much-needed addition to the literary landscape.
Slipping, by Mohamed Kheir, translated by Robin Moger
Having being drawn by Kheir’s writing for over a decade now, the release of his debut novel, and its subsequent translation into English, was exciting news. Combining both the intensity of his poetry and the captivating narratives of his short stories, this book is a delight to the senses, and charming—in the magical, surrealistic, mesmerizing meaning of the word. The book creates a world that we enter involuntarily but soon desire never to leave, so enchanting are its meandering corridors that twist and turn and leave us, like one of its protagonists, spent on the ground with no recollection of time’s passing while we were held in its thrall.
Threshold, by Iman Mersal, translated by Robyn Creswell
Iman Mersal’s talents are bountiful, not least in her skills at recalling difficult memories through vivid and surprising imagery, with juxtapositions that are painfully relatable and so powerful they can leave a reader reeling. Her sequences read like a memoir in verse, while individual poems illuminate dark corners of a psyche that allows us to come close, with an intimacy that feels authentic and real. This is a beautiful set of poems, delicately translated by Robyn Creswell.
The Bamboo Stalk, by Kuwaiti author Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright
An older book I finally managed to read this year, or technically, to listen to, since I downloaded the audio book, its impact was heightened by the excellent narration of Ben Elliot. A beautifully told story shining a light on the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf (one of many sad stories that need to be heard), this is also a book about a person torn between cultures, who suffers from a lack of grounding and rootedness. With writing that is both powerful and sensitive to cultural nuances, this is not a book that wades through the serious issues it presents but dives deftly through the layers to reveal the complexities beneath.
Contributor Lily Sadowsky
Lily Sadowsky is a technical editor and translator from Los Angeles, CA. She holds a BA in mathematics and classical languages from Macalester College and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Her work has appeared in The Markaz Review and at the inaugural Bila Hudood: Arabic Literature Everywhere festival in 2021. Her translation of Abbas Beydoun’s “Not My Voice” was shortlisted for the 2022 ArabLit Story Prize.
The Girl with the Braided Hair, by Rasha Adly, translated by Sarah Enany
This novel treats, among other things, the relationship of the material world to historical memory and of historical memory to our understanding of self. I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and this title has proven particularly resonant in light of the year’s “Just Stop Oil” protests. Underlying the novel is a profound sense that art—even art driven by personal passions—is itself a form of resistance and one whose affective power is capable of spanning centuries.
Contributor Ghada Alatrash
Ghada Alatrash, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the School of Critical and Creative Studies at Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary, Canada. She holds a PhD in Educational Research: Languages and Diversity from the Werklund School of Education, the University of Calgary, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Oklahoma. Her current research speaks to Syrian art and creative expression as resistance to oppression and dictatorship.
Ibn Arabi’s Small Death by Mohammad Hassan Alwan, translated by William M. Hutchins
As to why I feel this is a special work—what more can one say about a book written on the great Sufi Master and philosopher Ibn Arabi who writes, “I follow the religion of love.”
Assistant Editor Leonie Rau
Leonie Rau is ArabLit’s Assistant Editor. She holds an MA in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and is a research assistant at the University of Tübingen, Germany, where she is currently preparing her dissertation proposal on medieval Arabic recipe collections. Leonie is also an aspiring literary translator with a particular interest in Maghrebi literature. Her translations have appeared on arablit.org and in ArabLit Quarterly and Guernica. She can be found on Twitter @Leonie_Rau_.
The Critical Case of a Man Called K, by Aziz Mohammed, translated by Humphrey Davies
I had intended to read this book ever since the translation first came out in 2021, and finally got to it in the spring of this year. This is the masterfully written story of a man fighting against cancer, that, refreshingly, falls into none of the tropes cancer stories so often do. The sharp, often darkly funny observations and at times entirely absurd behaviors of the protagonist and those around him are highly entertaining. Told with unabashed honesty, this is a compelling exploration of illness, death, family, and societal dynamics at large.
Blood Feast, by Malika Moustadraf, translated by Alice Guthrie
Finally available in English translation, this collection of short stories by the late Moroccan writer Malika Moustadraf surprised me in the best way possible. Raw and unflinching in its account of human emotions, thoughts, and actions, the collection brings together characters often absent from mainstream literature without ever exploiting them for the voyeuristic pleasure of the reader. What especially struck me was Moustadraf’s intrepid exploration of what it means to have a body, especially a gendered, ill, or otherwise non-normative body.
Bitter Orange Tree, by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth
Alharthi’s third novel and the second to be translated into English, Bitter Orange Tree offers a beautiful exploration of family, relationships, and belonging. Weaving together past and present in Oman and the UK, Alharthi spins an exquisite tale that leaves as much to the imagination as it uncovers.
عصير البرتغاليين (The Prisoner of the Portuguese), by Mohsine Loukili
A novel that uses “history to serve” it, in Loukili’s words, The Prisoner of the Portuguese uses its historical setting in 16th century Morocco to discuss universal themes of human experience, hardship, and suffering. Featuring a Schehrazade-like narrator who tells tales for his life, the book awed me with its beautiful language that showcases the full literary breadth of Arabic.
Editor M Lynx Qualey
M Lynx Qualey is a regular contributor to this site. She read a lot of incredible books in 2022 and has tried to narrow this list to just a few favorites.
FAVE FICTION: خبز على طاولة الخال ميلاد (Bread on Uncle Milad’s Table), by Mohammed Elnaas
It’s difficult to write about this book without giving spoilers; as I wrote about Elnaas’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction-winning debut for Hadara magazine, I danced around a few of the major twists and turns. Elnaas deftly weaves together the multiple timelines of the protagonist’s life, ratcheting up the black humor and suspense until the very last page of the novel. Wonderfully detailed, deeply felt, completely devastating — I am so pleased that the English rights were signed by Harper Collins.
FAVE NONFICTION: Radius, by Yasmine Elrifae
This category was difficult, as there were several outstanding nonfiction works published this year in Arabic and in translation. But Radius was the book I scrambled to recommend and buy for friends. This extraordinary work of nonfiction — a luminous work of history, gender studies, political science, and memoir — takes us to Tahrir Square and tells the story of the women and men who formed Opantish (Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment), an organization that tried to fight back against sexual violence targeting women during the mass protests that took place in Cairo. If you missed it, hear Yasmine talk about this book on the BULAQ podcast.
FAVE POETRY COLLECTION: Three-way tie
This is an impossible category to choose just one, so I will declare a tie between Iman Mersal’s Threshold, in translation by Robyn Creswell, Maya Abu al-Hayat’s You Can Be the Last Leaf, translated by Fady Joudah, and Zeina Hashem Beck’s O. All three of these collections deeply marked me as a reader and as a person.
FAVE GRAPHIC NOVEL (NONFICTION): It Won’t Always Be Like This, by Malaka Gharib
A tender, funny, and deeply moving story about the ways in which we create family, language, and try (and sometimes fail) to reach one another. Read an exerpt at the Penguin Random website.
FAVE GRAPHIC NOVEL (FICTION): شبيك لبيك (Shubeik Lubeik), by Deena Mohamed
A graphic novel trilogy in Arabic and a single work in three parts (appearing January 2023) in English, this work takes you on a fantastic journey through Deena’s sometimes-dangerous world of wishes and wish-fulfillment. For more, listen to a recent episode of BULAQ where we talk to Deena about creating the book and self-translating to English.
FAVE CHILDREN‘S: طائر الرعد – الجزء الثالث (Thunderbird, Part Three), by Sonia Nimr
The exciting conclusion to Sonia Nimr’s Thunderbird trilogy came out this year (the translation of Book Two made Kirkus’ Best Middle Grade Books of 2022), and it’s wild. Not only do we travel back in time (back to a time before the residents of Jerusalem spoke Arabic, so language is a challenge), we also cross into the world of djinn and other creatures, and Noor and her companions must fight for their survival, as well as the survival of some of the beings she finds there. Will she ever get back to Ramallah and the present day? Well . . .
FAVE HIDDEN GEM: Firefly, by Jabbour Douaihy, translated by Paula Haydar and Nadine Sinno
I am not sure how this funny, sweet, charming book about the funny, sweet, charming Nizam has not been more widely discussed and reviewed in its English translation. In Arabic, شريد المنازل was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and of course was widely discussed; not enough has been said about this exploration of history and identity (collective, interpersonal, and personal) in English.