“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.
Shortlisted for the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation
In 1980s Casablanca, Farah arrives from her small town life with big dreams: she wants to sing. She meets Outhman, but he longs to leave the city, to seek his fortune elsewhere. They fall in love, but trouble brews on the horizon.
A bitter struggle rages over construction of the monumental Hassan II Mosque—it will destroy their neighborhood but the government insist this is a necessary sacrifice for the good of Morocco. The two young lovers find themselves caught up in events beyond their control, and in a world that seems to work against their happiness at every turn. A Shimmering Red Fish Swims with Me is a narrative tour de force: one of power plays and petty jealousies, deceit and corruption, written with masterful attention to detail.
Shortlisted for the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation
In the shadows of great wealth, and among Cairo’s famous monuments, runs a world of street children. Mustafa, a former student radical who never really believed in the slogans, sets out to tell their story through a documentary he is making with his American girlfriend, Marcia.
Alienated from a corrupt and corrupting society, Mustafa watches as the Cairo he cherishes crumbles around him. His former leftist comrades are now all either capitalists or Islamists, while his friends and acquaintances struggle to find lovers worthy of their love and causes worthy of their sacrifice, in a country that no longer deserves their loyalty. Meanwhile, the children of the streets wait for the city to take notice. Cairo Swan Song weaves together a patchwork narrative of overlapping lives, dreams, and realities all centering on Cairo’s famous downtown neighborhood.
Tucked away in a rundown quarter, just out of sight of downtown Cairo, a group of intellectuals gather regularly to smoke hashish in Hakeem’s den. The den is the center of their lives, both a refuge and a stimulus, and at the center of the den is the remarkable man who keeps their hashish bowls topped up—Rowdy Salih.
While his former life is a mystery to his loyal clientele of writers, painters, film directors, and even window dressers, each sees himself reflected in Salih; but without his humor, humility, or insight, or his occasional passions fueled by hootch. And when the nation has to face its own demons during the peace initiative of the 1970s, it is Rowdy Salih who speaks for them all.
This is a comic novel with a broken heart, very like Salih himself, whose warm rough voice calls out long after we have recovered from the novel’s painful conclusion.
Hawa is a child of the grinding hardship of a Palestinian refugee camp. She has had to survive the camp itself, as well as the humiliation and destruction of an abusive family life. But now, later in life, something most unexpected has happened: she has fallen in love. Velvet unfolds over a day in Hawa’s life, as she makes plans for a new beginning that may take her out of the camp. She sifts back through her memories of the past: the stories of her family, her childhood, and her beloved mentor, who invited her into the glamorous world of the rich women of Amman.
This is a novel of enormous power and great beauty. Rich in detail, it tells of the women of the camp, and the joy and relief that can be captured amid repression and sorrow.
Khaled, the spoiled idle son of a pasha, meets Malim, carpenter’s apprentice and son of a scoundrel, when he comes to fix a broken window. In the course of his work, Malim stumbles across a stash of money and dutifully hands it in. Khaled cooks up an overly elaborate plot to see that his dastardly father pays Malim his due, but the plot backfires and Malim is thrown in jail.
Khaled’s guilt over Malim’s misfortune, made worse by his ridiculous attempts to defend him, result in a decisive moment: he breaks ties with his cruel and tyrannical father, seeking to leave behind the upper-class lifestyle he finds so suffocating.
They meet again years later, when Malim has been released from prison and given up on earning an honest living. Khaled gets caught up in Malim’s latest scam and is drawn into joining his commune of eccentrics and failed artists living in a derelict Mamluk citadel.
With a sharp satirical voice Adel Kamal’s masterful novel is filled with compelling drama, vivid characters, and subtle humor.
Gold Dust is a classic story of the brotherhood between man and beast, the thread of companionship that is all the difference between life and death in the desert. It is a story of the fight to endure in a world of limitless and waterless wastes, and a parable of the struggle to survive in the most dangerous landscape of all: human society.
Rejected by his tribe and hunted by the kin of the man he killed, Ukhayyad and his thoroughbred camel flee across the desolate Tuareg deserts of the Libyan Sahara. Between bloody wars against the Italians in the north and famine raging in the south, Ukhayyad rides for the remote rock caves of Jebel Hasawna. There, he says farewell to the mount who has been his companion through thirst, disease, lust, and loneliness. Alone in the desert, haunted by the prophetic cave paintings of ancient hunting scenes and the cries of jinn in the night, Ukhayyad awaits the arrival of his pursuers and their insatiable hunger for blood and gold.