Here are two new publications translated from Arabic to English worth checking out.
Oh, Salaam! by the established Lebanese novelist Najwa Barakat, and translated by Luke Leafgren, addresses difficult themes with dark humor and gritty realism. The depictions of civil war, torture, oppressive gender roles, and sexual exploitation are challenging to read, but unfortunately they remain very relevant. Full of antisocial yet compelling characters, the fast-reading plot is shocking throughout, and has been compared to No Exit and A Clockwork Orange as it generates an addictive pull to observe the ultimate consequences of violence and sexual exploitation.
The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha, and translated by Paul Starkey, is the long-awaited English debut of a major young writer. The Book of the Sultan’s Seal is one of the first post-Arab Spring novels, and a study of the contemporary Arab Muslim’s search for a sense of identity that does not mean accepting fundamentalism, or the neocolonial Western influence. Its protagonist asks: how can one create a relevant, empowered identity as an Arab Muslim that honors and engages with his people’s and language’s own history? Drawing on Ottoman history to create an epic of contemporary and secular Islam, Rakha has created a language truly all his own—this profoundly original work both retells canonical Arabic classics and offers a new version of “middle Arabic,” in which the classical meets the street vernacular. It aims to bridge the gap between written (standard) and spoken (colloquial) Arabic, which has widened in the course of the postcolonial Arab nationalist project. It is also a rollicking good tale, by turns suspenseful, riotous, and erotic!
What people saying:
“Without any taboos or limits Barakat depicts here the return to life after war with a remarkable freedom of tone and evocative power…one has the feeling of being caught in the net of a work that is suffocating but enthralling, which fascinates with the resplendence of its images and the clarity of its vision.”—Le Monde Diplomatique on Oh, Salaam!
“A stunning achievement for a first novel…a seamless style of modern narration that places the novel in the world, Faulkner-style.” —Anton Shammas on The Book of the Sultan’s Seal
“An heir to Mahfouz…This is a brilliant novel from an exciting new writer.”
—Kazim Ali on The Book of the Sultan’s Seal