That Pile

Posted by sepoy on April 01, 2010 · 1 min read

Recently, I have started reading again. Just finished Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin - which was profoundly sad and completely human. An email prompted me to make a shortlist of books I would like to tackle next. The following list is of Arabic (largely Egypt-centric) literature in translation. Some I read a while back and would like to re-visit. Others are on that proverbial pile.

If you have read these, would love your comments. Or add others which you recommend.


biryanilady | April 01, 2010

Season of Migration, yes, but why not (also?) Wedding of Zein?

Nikolai | April 01, 2010

Sepoy, I haven't read it, but I have heard that "Cities of Salt" is one of the most important novels of all time. It actually forms the first part of a trilogy, about how the find of oil changes the lives of people in an arabian village (not really for the better, you can imagine). Angry Arab mentioned once that every student in the arab world would read the work in the future. Also, I'm surprised to see nothing by Naguib Mafouz. I hear his modern cairo trilgoy is specacular. One thing that I have read some of, and that I really recommend is "Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology" It's a great buy, over 1000 pages, edited by Salma Jayyusi. It features short stories and novel exerts. She's also done anthologies on modern arabic poetry, m arabic drama, palestinian lit, saudi lit, and arabian (anything from saudi borders to yemen) lit. A review: "Who is this incredible woman who has managed to do what has eluded entire institutions... another magnum opus." -- Ferial J. Ghazoul, Al-Ahram Weekly

sepoy | April 01, 2010

Biryanilady: Yes, why not. Nikolai: I have taught Cities of Salt, it is indeed amazing. Mafouz leaves me rather cold. I know, blasphemy

Nikolai | April 01, 2010

everyone should have blasphemos opinions on one or two things

lapata | April 02, 2010

I thought In the Eye of the Sun was kind of eh. How about the Story of Zahra by Hanan al-Shaykh? Re Mahfouz....sepoy just doesn't go for the fetish for large, gelatinously fleshed ladies, I bet. My fave Mahfouz is Miramar. Quite different from the others.

Jihad | April 02, 2010

Season of Migration to the North - blows all your stereotypes of the Sudan away. Cities of Salt was Meh. I get the idea that no one is a hero, but a thousand pages of it gets tiresome. Plus, they didn't even bother to translate the final two books (it's a five-part series in Arabic, but apparently they figured that English readers wouldn't be able to keep focus that long). Hard for me to say that, as I actually met Munif once and liked him a lot. I think his best work is one that is not translated - Sharq al-Mutawassit (East of the Mediterranean), a tight, gripping story in Arabic about a political prisoner in an unnamed Arab country. If you think that your collection is too Egypt-centric, then you really should check out Ghassan Kanafani, the legendary Palestinian author assassinated by the Israelis in the 70's. He writes beautifully about Palestinian culture and life. You would probably like the collection of short stories that includes his best known, "Men in the Sun," which sets the table for the rise of Palestinian resistance.

Qalandar | April 02, 2010

Re: "...sepoy just doesn't go for the fetish for large, gelatinously fleshed ladies, I bet..." Whoa, so no Fellini either?

Qalandar | April 02, 2010

I haven't read (or had even heard of) most of the non-Mahfouz books mentioned in this thread, so apart from being embarrassed, the Jayyusi anthology is a good place to begin for me (thanks Nikolai). I have heard a lot about Cities of Salt, although I recall Fouad Ajami not thinking too highly of it (in "The Dream Palace of the Arabs", from back in the day when I read Ajami, before he sold out to the "they will respect us if we whack 'em" crowd).

lapata | April 02, 2010

Men in the Sun gets five stars from lapata

Nikolai | April 02, 2010

that's what i get for knowing no arabic, forgeting that cities of salt isn't a trilogy. still havent read it but, as sepoy said, 'it's on the proverbial pile' i hope you enjoy ms jayyusi's anthology qalandar. even my mom started to read some of it. PS - there's another important anthology, and i don't like how some of it is structured, but it is certainly servicable and the best we have. Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature it's everything before the modern period, though the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries are not well served (though honestly this is not because of the editor, but because of both a lack of awarness in western scholarship about arabic lit in the period and because, from my understanding, the concesus among arab scholars is that this period is one of stark decline in arabic lit (though i think that this opinion will change slightly when people appreciate classical arabic popular fiction more - maybe, just a layman's opinion!))

elizabeth | April 03, 2010

Kanafani is a must, and people keep recommending Sahar Khalifeh's "Wild Thorns" to me as well. And if you are not insistent on sticking to fiction, Mourid Barghouti's "I Saw Ramallah" (translated by Soueif) is one of my favorite books from anywhere. "The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction" is a good anthology, and the good people at Saqi ( are publishing all kinds of marvels I've only begun to explore. They have a bookshop in London, if you want to make a pilgrimage during your trip to the UK.

Sean | April 25, 2010

This is a bit long, but here goes: Here's a list of Arabic lit blogs that I've found useful. - the most important one - not so much the blog as the reviews - march 24 2010 Also, here's a series that's just started on the Arab Writers' Union's top 100 Arabic language books: - this is fantastic. I'm studying advanced Arabic and I've read good chunks of three books and alot of short stories, but I've been looking for books to read on my own or with my Arab friends. I tried reading Palace Walk in Arabic with the English version as a crutch, but the translation is terribly inexact. Humphrey Davies, who translated The Yacoubian Building, did a fantastic job (I've closely read about a quarter of the book in Arabic so far) - the text is really close to the original. So I've been looking at other books he's done. Here's an interview with him: Denys Johnson-Davies is another good translator, and although I don't know much his work, he's the most respected in the field and was something of a pioneer, and every book published by the New York Review of Books Press is AWESOME, so: --> Anyways, here's Humphrey Davies translations that I'm considering Also, about Ahlam Mosteghanemi - Davies translated her second book, Chaos of the Senses, although Memory of the Flesh, her first, is more highly regarded and won a major literary prize. It is claimed that she is something like first major female Algerian literary figure to write in Arabic. This next book isn't Davies, but I've heard that this book is FANTASTIC and is also a short read. Someone else recommended it in the comments. Cities of Salt looks cool, but exceedingly daunting in Arabic. I kind of want to read this too in English when I get the chance - I'm a sucker for North Critical Editions and think that it's a fabulous idea for 1001 Nights because it has had such an influential effect on Western culture. This might be cool, too.

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