New Releases in June & July 2023: A Focus on Syria

Book publication dates shift, and thus we are supplementing the annual list of forthcoming literature in translation with monthly lists, which we hope are more accurate. If you know of other works forthcoming this month, please add them in the comments or email us at

Wild Poppies, by Haya Saleh, tr. M Lynx Qualey (Levine Querido)

Jordanian author Haya Saleh’s Wild Poppies (شقائق النعمان)which won the 2020 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature, YA category, is a compelling story of teen and pre-teen children struggling to grow up—and survive—during the Syrian civil war.

From the publisher: “Since the passing of their father, Omar has tried—and in his little brother Sufyan’s eyes, failed—to be the man of his family of Syrian refugees. As Omar waits in line for rations, longing for the books he left behind when his family fled their home, Sufyan explores more nontraditional methods to provide for his family. Ignoring his brother’s warnings, Sufyan gets more and more involved with a group that provides him with big rewards for doing seemingly inconsequential tasks. When the group abruptly gets more intense—taking Sufyan and other boys away from their families, teaching them how to shoot guns—Sufyan realizes his brother is right. But is it too late for Sufyan to get out of this?

“It’s left to the bookish Omar to rescue his brother and reunite his family. He will have to take charge and be brave in ways he has never dared to before.”

Sour Grapes, by Zakaria Tamer, tr. Alessandro Columbu and Mireia Costa Capallera (Syracuse University Press)

In an interview about the collection, Columbu said:

The beauty of Sour Grapes is that you could read it as a novel. The characters appear in more than one story. Most stories are set in an imaginary quarter of Damascus. Sometimes, the stories are very short. Reading Syrian literature, you might expect to find a lot of politics, or authoritarianism—which you do find, but it’s not the only thing. The most enjoyable thing about the book is the irony and sarcasm. There is a lot of dark sarcasm. There are also stories that are peculiar. They also talk about the history of Syria, and one story is set in the 1920s, when the battle of Maysalun is happening, when the French took control of Syria and created the mandate. 

You have to keep in mind that the collection was originally published in 2000. You can never tell if the things are happening in the past or in the present. Tamer always liked to play with history, to make satiric and sarcastic comments. A lot of stories explore sex and sexuality and the dynamics of marriage. We have a lot of women characters who perform their sexuality in an open way; express sexual desire, and are vocal about their sexuality. This is typical in all of his collections, but it shows in this collection in particular. The other collection I translated is a bit darker; Sour Grapes is more entertaining. 

And the publisher writes:

Set in the Syrian neighborhood of al-Qaweyq, Sour Grapes is a collection of fifty-nine wry, satirical short stories loosely connected by a cast of rotating characters living at society’s margins. Tamer captures their everyday lives, weaving the attendant cruelties and ironies of living under an oppressive regime with the residents’ irreverence and small acts of defiance. Inspired by the heroines of Arab mythology, the women of al-Qaweyq navigate the patriarchal community with brash confidence and dark humor while the younger generation of children inherit a bitter cynicism from their fathers. Evoking under-ripened and immature fruit, the collection’s title serves as a bittersweet metaphor for a world that possesses the seeds of change but is unprepared for the harvest. 

This Thing Called Love, by Alawiya Sobh, tr. Max Weiss (Seagull Books)

The publisher writes:

Just before the outbreak of the July 2006 war in Lebanon, a middle-aged woman named Nahla has gone missing. Distraught, besieged, and without any leads, Nahla’s dearest friends—Suad, Azizeh, Hoda, Nadine, and the narrator Alawiya—band together to console one another. They reminisce about the better days of their youth, lifetimes of romantic turmoil, the trouble with love, and their inescapable confrontation with death. Unsure whether Nahla has been killed in the fighting, fled the country, or disappeared into the oblivion of Alzheimer’s, Alawiya pieces together Nahla’s intimate past, simultaneously illuminating the jagged history of modern Lebanon. Through searching discussions with Nahla’s closest confidante Suad, tenacious investigation, and an imaginative effort to reconstruct the life of another, Alawiya might just find a way to bring Nahla back.

In This Thing Called Love, celebrated Lebanese novelist Alawiya Sobh takes the war between Israel and Hizballah as the backdrop for a heart-wrenching story about love, loss, sex, the friendship between women, and the universal struggle to come to terms with mortality.

No One Prayed Over Their Graves, by Khaled Khalifa, tr. Leri Price (FSG US, Faber & Faber UK)

The publishers write:

From the National Book Award finalist Khaled Khalifa, the story of two friends whose lives are altered by a flood that devastates their Syrian village.

On a December morning in 1907, two close friends, Hanna and Zakariya, return to their village near Aleppo after a night of drunken carousing in the city, only to discover that there has been a massive flood. Their neighbors, families, children―nearly all of them are dead. Their homes, shops, and places of worship are leveled. Their lives will never be the same.

Hanna was once a wealthy libertine, a landowner who built a famed citadel devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and excess. But with the loss of his home, wife, and community, he transforms, becoming an ascetic mystic obsessed with death and the meaning of life. In No One Prayed Over Their Graves, we follow Hanna’s life before and after the flood, tracing friendships, loves and lusts, family and business, until he is just one thread in the rich tapestry of Aleppo.

Khaled Khalifa weaves a sweeping tale of life and death in the hubbub of Aleppine society at the turn of the twentieth century. No One Prayed Over Their Graves is a portrait of a people on the verge of great change―from provincial villages to the burgeoning modernity of the city, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews live and work together, united in their love for Aleppo and their dreams for the future.