The Yacoubian Building holds all that Egypt was and has become over the 75 years since its namesake was built on one of downtown Cairo’s main boulevards. From the pious son of the building’s doorkeeper and the raucous, impoverished squatters on its roof, via the tattered aristocrat and the gay intellectual in its apartments, to the ruthless businessman whose stores occupy its ground floor, each sharply etched character embodies a facet of modern Egypt—one where political corruption, ill-gotten wealth, and religious hypocrisy are natural allies, where the arrogance and defensiveness of the powerful find expression in the exploitation of the weak, where youthful idealism can turn quickly to extremism, and where an older, less violent vision of society may yet prevail. Alaa Al Aswany’s novel caused an unprecedented stir when it was first published in 2002 and has remained the world’s best selling novel in the Arabic language since.
In a small town in the Nile Delta lives Houda the deaf and mute butcher’s apprentice. Revealing the town’s private stories through public sign language, Houda articulates the unspoken and the forbidden, to unsettle the apparent quietude of rural society. But his own unrestrained desire threatens to scandalize the town and rock its codes of public behavior. When it is reported that he has violated the sanctity of his employer’s own house, the whole town, with the butcher and Shaykh Saadoun, the pretending Sufi, in the lead, rises to avenge itself and publicly humiliate and ridicule Houda. The elaborate ruse planned by the butcher and the shaykh, playing on Houda’ s hopes, dreams, and fantasies, is foolproof—but while Houda may be a dreamer, he is certainly no fool. This original, satiric novel, introducing the reader to every public and private corner in the life of a small town, is both a daring critique of contemporary Egyptian reality and a thoroughly good read, a remarkable novel of sustained carnivalesque suspense and wicked black humor that marks the arrival of a true literary talent.
When a fourth corpse in three days washes up in Tangier with a bullet in the chest, Detective Laafrit knows this isn’t just another illegal immigrant who didn’t make it to the Spanish coast. The traffickers. The drug dealers. The smugglers. They know what it takes to get a gun into Morocco, and so does Laafrit. As his team hunts for the gun, Laafrit follows a hunch and reveals an international conspiracy to unlock the case. Whitefly is a fast-paced crime thriller from the Arab west.
In a Riyadh bus station, Turad, a bitter older man, resolves to leave the city he has come to loathe. Born into a Bedouin family, Turad left his desert home as a young man to work in the city—as a tea-boy, car-washer, security guard, and office messenger—after a traumatic event that cost him his left ear. By chance, he happens upon a green folder left behind by another traveler, containing official reports about an abandoned baby born outside wedlock and found in a cardboard box, and documents about his subsequent years in an orphanage and a foster home. As Turad imagines the life of this abandoned child, his memories stray into the secrets of his own past, and that of his friend Amm Tawfiq, an old Sudanese man brought to Saudi Arabia as a child, castrated, and sold into servitude. In this elegantly constructed narrative, Yousef Al-Mohaimeed reveals the surprising connections in the life stories of three damaged people—the Bedouin, the orphan, and the eunuch—to tell a haunting tale of modern Saudi society. Confounding stereotypical images of life in Saudi Arabia, Wolves of the Crescent Moon is a moving, troubling, and ultimately redemptive story of pain remembered and hope restored.
Back in the dog days of the early twenty-first century a pair of lovebirds fleeing a murder charge in Cairo pull in to Alexandria’s main train station. Fugitives, friendless, their young lives blighted at the root, Ali and Injy set about rebuilding, and from the coastal city’s arid soil forge a legend, a kingdom of crime, a revolution: Karantina. Through three generations of Grand Guignol insanity, Nael Eltoukhy’s sly psychopomp of a narrator is our guide not only to the teeming cast of pimps, dealers, psychotics, and half-wits and the increasingly baroque chronicles of their exploits, but also to the moral of his tale. Defiant, revolutionary, and patriotic, are the rapists and thieves of Alexandria’s crime families deluded maniacs or is their myth of Karantina—their Alexandria reimagined as the once and future capital—what they believe it to be: the revolutionary dream made brick and mortar, flesh and bone? Subversive and hilarious, deft and scalpel-sharp, Eltoukhy’s sprawling epic is a masterpiece of modern Egyptian literature. Mahfouz shaken by the tail, a lunatic dream, a future history that is the sanest thing yet written on Egypt’s current woes.
Then, she looked at me assiduously, “What is it that you do exactly?” I replied, savoring my last sip of coffee, with all the sass of a gypsy, “A novelist.” How to write a novel? Where to find inspiration? What is it that novels do for us? What is the nature of love? And most importantly, how and where to find it? Embarking on a literary and romantic journey, an aspiring novelist guides the reader through the streets of Damascus to bookstores, libraries, historical landmarks, cafés, and neighborhoods that carry the traces of history and the possibilities of the future. Mining the rich and divergent histories, narratives, texts, memories, and people that occupy the narrator’s mind and everyday life, Writing Love casts a critical eye on contemporary society and offers a playful testament to the tangential nature of writing and the many ways to fall in love. Writing Love was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature.
“In the course of my long travels I have never seen a city so devastated. After a long time I ventured out into the streets. Death, cold and heavy, hung in the air. Walls have no value here, doors have been eliminated. No one is certain that they will see another day.” The Egypt of the Mamluk dynasty witnessed a period of artistic ostentation and social and political upheaval, at the heart of which lay the unsolved question of the ruler’s legitimacy. Now, in 1516, the Mamluk reign is coming to an end with the advance of the invading Ottomans. The numerous narrators, among them a Venetian traveler and several native Muslims, tell the story of the rise to power of the ruthless, enigmatic, and puritanical governor of Cairo, Zayni Barakat ibn Musa, whose control of the corrupt city is effected only through a complicated network of spies and informers.
Born into a working-class Coptic family in the provincial town of Tanta, in Egypt’s lush Nile Delta, Yusuf Tadrus is fascinated from a young age by light and shadow, spending his time drawing, making toys out of discarded objects he finds in the alley, and dreaming of becoming an artist and stepping into a broader world.
As he grows into adulthood, he hones his talent, but his ambitions are checked: by the responsibilities of family, marriage, and work; by his own lack of self-confidence, his ambivalence, and at times his recklessness; and by society’s expectations and prejudices.
Adel Esmat provides an intimate glimpse into Egyptian Christian life and, with sensitivity and honesty, tells of the struggles faced by an artist who seeks to remain true to his calling.
Aspiring photographer Dunya Noor discovers early on that her curious spirit, rebellious nature, and very curly hair are a recipe for disaster in 1980s Syria. And at the tender age of thirteen, she is exiled to live with her grandparents in England.
Many years later in London, she meets Hilal, the son of a humble tailor from Aleppo and no match for Dunya, daughter of a famous heart surgeon. But, dreamy, restless Dunya falls in love with Hilal and they decide to return to Syria together, embarking on a journey that will change them both forever.
Rana Haddad’s vivid and satirical debut novel captures the essence of life under the Assad dictatorship, in all its rigid absurdity, with humor and an unexpected playfulness.
Palestinian–Armenian Ivana eloped with a British doctor in the 1940s, in the midst of the Nakba, and emigrated to England. Over half a century later, her daughter Julie has been tasked with Ivana’s dying wish: to take her ashes back to their old home in Acre. She and her husband Walid leave London and embark on a journey to Palestine.
Written in four parts, each as a concerto movement, Rabai al-Madhoun’s pioneering new novel explores Palestinian exile, with all its complex loyalties and identities. Broad in scope and sweeping in its history, it lays bare the tragedy of everyday Palestinian life.
It is the winter of 1915 and Iraq has been engulfed by the First World War. Hungry for independence from Ottoman rule, Ahmad leaves his peaceful family life on the banks of the Tigris to join the British-led revolt. Thousands of miles away, Welsh teenager Carwyn reluctantly enlists and is sent, via Gallipoli and Egypt, to the Mesopotamia campaign.
Carwyn’s and Ahmad’s paths cross, and their fates are bound together. Both are forever changed, not only by their experience of war, but also by the parallel discrimination and betrayal they face.
Ruqaya Izzidien’s evocative debut novel is rich with the heartbreak and passion that arise when personal loss and political zeal collide, and offers a powerful retelling of the history of British intervention in Iraq.
November 1979. Violence has broken out in the holiest site of Islam after a charismatic rebel and his devoted followers have announced the coming of the Mahdi and seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Among the insurgents is a young woman, Sarab, disguised as a man. As the horror and chaos of the siege reach their peak, she escapes and encounters a French officer from the opposing side. They form an unexpected bond, as hostility turns to attraction, but the violence of both of their pasts will return to haunt them.
Award-winning writer Raja Alem’s extraordinary narrative stretches from Saudi Arabia’s Najd desert to the heart of Paris. In her typical bold and captivating style, this most unusual of love stories unpicks faith and fanaticism, alienation and redemption, and ultimately what it means to be human.
Hani was out for an evening stroll near Cairo’s Tahrir Square when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. An informant had identified him, and he was thrown into the back of a police truck. There began a seven-month nightmare as he was swept up, along with fifty other men, in the infamous Queen Boat affair that targeted Egypt’s gay community.
Finally free, but traumatized into speechlessness, Hani writes down the events of his life—his first sexual desires, his relationship with his mother, his marriage of convenience, and his passion for Abdel Aziz, the only man he ever truly loved. In the Spider’s Room is a sensitive and courageous account of life as a gay man in Egypt.
Egyptian Muslims and Jews were not always at odds. Before the Arab–Israeli wars, before the mass exodus of Jews from Egypt, there was harmony.
Spanning the 1930s to the 1960s, this sweeping novel accompanies Galal, a young boy with a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, through his childhood and boyhood in a vibrant popular quarter of Cairo. With his schoolboy crushes and teen rebellions, Galal is deeply Egyptian, knit tightly into the middle-class fabric of manners, morals, and traditions that cheerfully incorporates and transcends religion—a fabric about to be torn apart by a bigger world of politics that will put Galal’s very identity to the test.
Gabriel Sherlock arrives in Oman in 1982, fleeing shame and disaster back home in Ireland, and begins an intense affair with a woman whom no one else has seen. Locals insist she must be one of the jinn—a supernatural being—but Gabriel refuses to buy into the folklore, despite her sudden, unexplained disappearance.
Twenty-six years later, Irishwoman Thea Kerrigan lands in Muscat, chasing her own ghosts from the past, and is approached by Gabriel, who believes she is his lost lover. Certain that they have never met before, Thea is nonetheless drawn to this deluded, and perhaps dangerous, stranger and the rumors that surround him.
Palestine. For most of us, the word brings to mind a series of confused images and disjointed associations—massacres, refugee camps, UN resolutions, settlements, terrorist attacks, war, occupation, checkered kuffiyehs and suicide bombers, a seemingly endless cycle of death and destruction. This novel does not shy away from such painful images, but it is first and foremost a powerful human story, following the life of a young girl from her days in the village of al-Tantoura in Palestine up to the dawn of the new century. We participate in events as they unfold, seeing them through the uneducated but sharply intelligent mind of Ruqayya, as she tries to make sense of all that has happened to her and her family. With her, we live her love of her land and of her people; we feel the repeated pain of loss, of diaspora, and of cross-generational misunderstanding; and above all, we come to know her indomitable human spirit. As we read we discover that we have become part of Ruqayya’s family, and her voice will remain with us long after we have closed the book.
In the 1970s, once-cosmopolitan Alexandria was at the forefront of the clash between Nasser’s socialist-era principles and the burgeoning fundamentalist movement. Five idealistic students find themselves caught up in this tangled web, as their leftist activism makes them a target both from government surveillance and the Islamist groups seeking to curtail the city’s social life. The group of friends’ participation in the explosive ‘bread riots’ is swiftly followed by the crushing experience of prison, and the course of their young lives changes irrevocably.
The final part in Ibrahim Abdel Meguid’s Alexandria trilogy conjures up this turbulent era in rich detail. This story of young love, aspiration for social change, disillusionment and frustration will resonate with readers today.
Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction
Abir scrapes a living in a Beirut hospital morgue, stealing from both the bodies he tends and his bosses. But he has a dark history that continues to haunt him. Earlier in the civil war, he fled his village for Beirut and, lost in the big city, joined a political party to survive. When he is kidnapped from the hospital, he knows he has not escaped his past and the many crimes he witnessed. But what or who is still chasing him?
George Yarak’s gripping mystery novel captures the tragi-comic disorder of war with a dark sense of irony.
Fatima loves poetry and wants to study French literature—both of which are anathema to her strict and conservative much older brother, Saqr. While living under his roof, Fatima’s hopes and dreams are scrutinized, mocked, and slowly crushed as she is forced into his narrow vision of the right path.
Then Fatima meets Isam, a poet like her; they email love letters to each other and meet in secret. Saqr, however, has other ideas: she is married off to Faris, a complete stranger. He is not the cruel tyrant her brother was, but still she did not choose him.
Will she escape her past to live the life of love and poetry she craves?
A lifetime ago, Fakhreddin had been a naive young lawyer, seeking to fight corruption from his modest quarter of Cairo. Then, a botched attempt on his life forced him to flee the country, propelling him on a wild journey that would take him to Afghanistan’s jihadi training camps.
Just as crushed idealism morphs into a vicious cycle of violence and revenge, so Fakhreddin is transformed into a trained killer.
But, at the very core of Fakhreddin’s bold, militant exploits are his broken dreams and his family, most of all his son Omar—who he left behind.