New Books in October: An Egyptian Prison Novel, a Lebanese Comic, & More

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

The House of the Coptic Woman, by Ashraf El-Ashmawi, tr. Peter Daniel (Hoopoe Fiction)

From the publisher: “Nader, an idealistic public prosecutor at the outset of his career, leaves Cairo to start a new posting in rural upper Egypt. On his first night, a mysterious woman named Hoda shows up at his lodgings. She is on the run from an abusive husband and, harboring a dark secret, seeks a new start in this small village and hopes to escape her harrowing past.

Nothing is to be easy for Hoda or Nader, and the dramatic circumstances of their first meeting signal the disquiet to come. It is not long before tensions between Copts and Muslims, already on a knife-edge, spiral into a spate of unexplained killings and arson attacks. The locals blame the trouble on the supernatural, and Nader is thrown into a quagmire of sectarian conflict and superstition that no amount of formal training could have prepared him for. His investigations are thwarted at every turn, by uncooperative witnesses and an obstructive police force. As Nader and Hoda each pursue happiness and justice, their parallel journeys struggle against the forces of ignorance, poverty, hatred, and greed.”

Rotten Evidence: Reading and Writing in an Egyptian Prison, by Ahmed Naji, tr. Katharine Halls (McSweeney’s)

From the publisher: “In February 2016, Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for “violating public decency,” after an excerpt of his novel Using Life reportedly caused a reader to experience heart palpitations. Naji ultimately served ten months of that sentence, in a group cellblock in Cairo’s Tora Prison.

Rotten Evidence is a chronicle of those months. Through Naji’s writing, the world of Egyptian prison comes into vivid focus, with its cigarette-based economy, homemade chess sets, and well-groomed fixers. Naji’s storytelling is lively and uncompromising, filled with rare insights into both the mundane and grand questions he confronts.”

Shadow of the Sun, by Taleb Alfrefai, tr. Nashwa Nasreldin (Banipal Books)

From the publisher: “Impoverished Egyptian teacher Helmy is desperate to find a better life for himself, his wife and little boy, seeing no future at home in Cairo. He dreams of working in oil-rich Kuwait and its boom in construction being the answer, just like many thousands before him.  He manages to borrow the huge cost of a visa and is at last on his way to Kuwait City. 

He has no idea of the nightmare, instead of the dream, that awaits him – the relentless summer sun with temperatures of 56ºC and more, the choking dust and sweat, having to do construction work instead of teaching. And always, no money, and no answers from the many managers Helmy comes up against. Instead of achieving his dream, he falls into trap after trap. The author is himself a character in the novel, an engineer with the construction company who is writing a story about the humiliating and degrading experiences of the migrant foreign workers arriving in Kuwait to make their fortunes.”

Yoghurt and Jam (or How My Mother Became Lebanese), by Lena Merhej, tr. Nadiyah Abdullatif and Anam Zafar (Balestier)

From the publisher: “Lena Merhej’s Yoghurt and Jam is set in Lebanon, where tradition pairs yoghurt with cucumber and salt. Discovering how her mother likes her yoghurt sparks a captivating exploration of what led her mother from Germany to Lebanon, as well as triggering Lena’s quest for self-discovery. Blending humour with poignant reflections, Lena delves into her mother’s life as a doctor during the Lebanese civil war, challenging East-West clichés and embracing the complexities of hybrid identity.”