Books We Have Read

These links will take you to more information about the books we have read and their authors. You can also scroll down to read more on each book.

Sitt Marie Rose (الست ماري روز) by Etel Adnan

Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa I

On Monday, September 12th we discussed Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa I: A bilingual reader edited by Peter Clark. This bilingual volume brings together eight pieces by a younger generation of Arab writers from Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. The work was  produced during a 2009 Emirates Foundation International Prize for Arabic Fiction workshop and reflects a range of styles and themes: from Egyptian social realism to a tale from the deserts of Darfur, a grim Tunisian allegory, family drama in Saudi Arabia, and a story about home and exile in Sana’a.

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Cities without Palms (Mudun bila nakhil) by Tarek Etayeb – translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Kutub’s July selection honored the translator Kareem James Abu-Zeid, who was one of the runner-ups of 2010’s Saif Ghobash – Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his work with Cities without Palms (Mudun bila nakhil) by Tarek Etayeb.  Eltayeb’s first novel, Cities without Palms offers an uncompromising depiction of poverty in both the developed and the developing world. With its simple yet elegant style, it tells of a tragic human life punctuated by moments of true joy.

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Saddam City ( أنا الذي راء ) by Mahmoud Saeed

On Monday, October 3rd we discussed Saddam City  ( أنا الذي راء )  by Mahmoud Saeed, in which Iraqi schoolteacher and novelist Mahmoud Saeed, arrested numerous times by former dictator Saddam Hussein, recalls the harrowing months he spent in prison.  Translated into English by Lake Forest College sociology professor Ahmad Sadri, Saddam City was penned in the early 1980s as a “condemnation of all dictators and all tyrants wherever they are.”
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The Locust and the Bird by Hanan Al-Shaykh

On Monday, June 6th we discussed The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story by Hanan Al-Shaykh. A slight departure for Kutub’s specifically fiction repertoire, here Al-Shaykh, a Lebanese journalist and author of six novels (including Story of Zahra), recounts the life story of her mother Kamila. The result falls somewhere between memoir and biography as she recreates her mother’s history and the author’s journalistic talent reveals itself in her ability to get past her own abandonment to paint Kamila as a vivid, willful girl who lived as though she were the heroine of a great film.

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Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine by Hassan Daoud

On Monday, May 2nd we held a discussion of the Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine by Hassan Daoud, translated by Randa Jarrar. A poignant, wry portrait of a 1960s Beirut as it burgeons into the future, the book rests around a bakery which acquires a new bread-making machine,  changing the lives and directions of those working and living around it.  A Beirut journalist, Daoud’s writing is elegant, laconic and often very funny.

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Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

On April 4th we met to discuss Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1999.   Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love is a massive family saga, a story that draws its readers into two moments in the complex, troubled history of modern Egypt. Soueif weaves an account of the consequences of British imperialism and the fierce political battles of the Egyptian Nationalists through the gorgeously romantic love story of Anna Winterbourne and Sharif al-Baroudi. Told through the voice of Amal, Sharif’s grandniece, Anna and Sharif’s story is echoed by the love affair between Isabel, their American great-granddaughter, and ‘Omar, Amal’s brother, set against the continuing political turmoil of the Middle East.

Adhaf Soueif is a political and cultural commentator, writer and translator.

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Kalila Wa Dimna

On Monday, March 7th we discussed Kalila wa Dimna (Kalila and Dimna), a bestseller for almost two thousand years in countless languages (first written in Arabic in 750 AD – the first work of literary prose narrative in Arabic). These charming and humorous animal fables have found their way into the folklore of every major culture and tradition.

Author’s Discussion: We were joined by the author Hooda Shawa Qaddumi, whose latest book, The Animals vs the Humans at the Court of the King of the Jinn, is an ecological tale inspired by an offshoot of the Kalila wa dimna tales – the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity and the animal fable genre, and beautifully illustrated by the calligrapher Hassan Musa.

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The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist (Al-Waka’i al gharieba fi ikhtifa Said Abul Nahs al-Mutasha’il) by Emile Habiby

On Monday, February 7th we gathered to discuss The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist (Al-Waka’i al gharieba fi ikhtifa  Said Abul Nahs al-Mutasha’il) by Emile Habiby

This contemporary classic by  Emile  Habibi (إميل حبيبي‎), tells the story of a Palestinian who becomes a citizen of Israel, combines fact and fantasy, tragedy and comedy. Saeed is the comic hero, the luckless fool, whose tale tells of aggression and resistance, terror and heroism, reason and loyalty that typify the hardships and struggles of Arabs in Israel. An informer for the Zionist state, his stupidity, candor, and cowardice make him more of a victim than a villain; but in a series of tragicomic episodes, he is gradually transformed from a disaster-haunted, gullible collaborator into a Palestinian — no hero still, but a simple man intent on survival and, perhaps, happiness.

Widely read throughout the Arab world and translated into more than a dozen languages, including Hebrew, Habibi’s novels and stories explored the conflicts of a people caught between their Arab identity and their Israeli citizenship. Habibi was a Palestinian writer and politician who, while asserting his Arab identity and heritage, was also an advocate of Jewish-Arab coexistence and mutual recognition. Continue reading

Stealth by Sonallah Ibrahim

On Monday, December 6th we met to discuss Stealth (Al Talassus) by Sonallah Ibrahim. A coming-of-age story is given a creative twist in this intimate, offbeat, and strangely affecting novel. The young narrator, age 11, lives with his aged father in a disheveled furnished flat in Cairo. Exceptionally attuned to the moods, habits, and silent yearnings of the adults around him, the boy decides to get organized and become an expert on adult behavior. Surreptitiously, he listens in on adult conversations, observes adult mannerisms, and guesses about comments he’s not supposed to understand—and then he starts to sneak into neighboring apartments to watch adults napping, copulating, bathing, cooking, and all the other activities normal to their lives.

Sonallah Ibrahim is an Egyptian journalist, the author of eight novels, and a former visiting associate professor in the department of Near Eastern studies at the University of California–Berkeley. In 2003 he was awarded a prestigious prize by the Arab Novelist Assembly, which he turned down in protest of government policies.

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