19 Arab Authors on Their Favorite Reads of 2017

Saud Alsanousi (Kuwaiti novelist)
I think the Arabic translation of The Book of Lies: Twins Trilogy (The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie) by Ágota Kristóf (released by Dar-Gamal) is one of the most important I’ve read this year. They were not published recently, but I have to mention how affected I was by the four books, especially Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the third in the series. I reread The Return by Hisham Matar, which at first reading struck me with the elegance of its prose, and in the second with the depth of its anguish, an anguish we all better get used to. I reread the complete works of Nietzsche, The Art of Always Being Right by Arthur Schopenhauer, and Repetition by Søren Kierkegaard. Almost all of its stories deal with boundary-events, with characters negotiating two worlds, having one leg in reality, the other in dreams. The non-compromising approach is also manifested in the language of writing: Saleh not only uses dirty slang and swearwords openly, he writes entire segments with spoken-Arabic, the colloquial Ammani dialect, with nice flow and complete absence of pretention. This collection is dedicated to the theme of love, which pushes its content to a challenging direction, in order to discover inner feelings and high aesthetics. all that mixed with charl personal story and his lovely style in writing. Both works open up onto very particular worlds, and draw us in, and in the process the works draw on many rich layers of mankind and our violence in Maan’s novel, and the city and the book-printing profession, in Jabbour’s. Donia Kamel (Egyptian novelist)
My Name is Light,   by   Elsa Osorio
This novel was published in 2010, but the Arabic translation came out in 2017. In each chapter there’s an idea, or information, or a deep view on a theme Manguel discusses. Narrative and Gender in the Storytelling of the Bani Hilal,   by   Dr. The poems in this collection are written with raw nerve without giving up a calm, contemplative tone. He died before seeing his book published, but his son carried out this mission. The Book of Sleep by Haytham Wardani (published by Dar al-Karma)
Yasser Abdellatif (Egyptian novelist, poet, short-story writer)
I think this year’s excellence was to be found in its nonfiction. Charles takes us on a deep trip inside Coptic cuisine: What the Copts eat when they feast, and what the connection between that food and the egyptian history. Deep, transparent sadness engulfs this excellently-written short story collection, styled in a simple, yet lyrical, language. The collection My House Has Two Doors, by Fatima Qandil (Dar al-Ain). Given his creative and innovative powers at the genre, I can’t agree with him more. From the Window,   by   Ahmed Khair ElDeen
I loved this collection of stories. Every time I find something new and different. Ginsburg is an ingenious writer who has mastered the art of ambiguity, concealment, and hinting as the doorways to her art. The difficulties the writer, who is an academic professor, has found on his way toward gathering information and documents are of great importance, especially as he’s talking about a nation which is said to have a considerable amount of transparency and a trustworthy political system. Political Science: Arabic translation of   Why Leaders Lie,   by John J. The collection 77 by Ahmed Shafei (Kotob Khan). And indeed, the book didn’t disappoint. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that writers from the 90s generation, such as Mersal and al-Wardani, approached this genre with such boldness. He is a poet who belongs to a small group of contemporary Arab poets who have a special style and mature ways of writing. it is an amusing book, rare in its genre among scientific books in Egypt. On its face,   Coptic Food   is a book on cooking and the Coptic cuisine, yet it’s also a deep dive into the sociology and anthropology of insular groups, as well as a new move within Arabic literature. Ahmed Shafei is one of my favorite poets, and what I enjoy about his poetry is that it always prompts me to think about the nature of poetry and how we define it as a literary genre. I reread this book because of the exciting way in which he talks about writing as an art, demonstrating a deep love of novels and novelists. Through narrative and culture, Schipper deals with the problematic relationship between the body and the history of its covering, as well as the different ideas of shame through different times and cultures. Many places turn to grief, but never self-pity. I reread “The Five Wounds” by Kirstin Valdez Quade, several times. He attempts to explain what Beckett tried to say in his works from a philosophical perspective. The nonfiction (well, sort of) books that I enjoyed were also two: How to Heal: Motherhood and Its Ghosts, by Iman Mersal and The Book of Sleep by Haytham Wardani. Sátántangó, by   László Krasznahorkai, translated by Al-Harith Al-Nabhan (Dar Al-Tanweer). Violent at times, magically realistic at others, Her Body and Other Parties is an original piece. I reread Salter for pleasure, I memorised some passages by Barry Hannah, I reread Philip Roth to learn how to rage without ranting, Conrad for construct, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian for everything. It’s a very refreshing novel, with a new rhythm and narrative. Barakat exhibits one of his characteristic features, which is high tension and dense metaphors with a poetic essence in the narration. I liked the novel, particularly the author’s intimacy with the two main characters, not only their shared biography, but also their philosophical ideas about art and its relationship to selfhood, life, myth, and metaphysics, based on Hughes’ visions, in contrast with Plath’s. This rereading meant I did not read any 2017 releases, although I intend to start before the year is out with Omar Robert Hamilton’s The City Always Wins. It’s about an Egyptian psychiatrist obsessed with the composer Baligh Hamdy, who he sees as a reflection of his dramatic life and his broken relationship. This book was a happy surprise for me. Their Libraries, by Moroccan author-translator Mohammed Ait Hanna (Dar Toukbal). Baligh,   by Talal Faisal
This is a story that takes place mainly in Paris and moves to Berlin. I wasn’t able to move it from my desk. Both of these books are a deeply personal experience of literary contemplation, and unique treatments of isolated islands of experience, such as maternity as a wound and sleep as a mystery. It is a story about identity, family drama and a quest to find a long lost parent. I also finished reading the four novels of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series at the beginning of this year. She knows what she wants, and goes after it with no concessions. This is the first novel by Saudi novelist and writer Aziz Mohamed. Mansoura Ezz Eldin (Egyptian novelist)
I read the collection Fear of Objects, by Yasser al-Zayyat, in manuscript form, and it will be issued in January 2018 by Dar al-Mutawasit. Geography and birds:   Tuyoor Masr (Egypt’s Birds), by Mohamad Mohamad Anany (1993)
A scientific book that gives the story of birds in general, their lives and migration processes, and then focuses on the birds which are considered Egyptian birds, those that live most of their lives in the north or south Egypt, giving their names, origins, characteristic behavior, and periods of migration. Maan Abu Taleb (Palestinian-Jordanian novelist)

This has been a year of slow and deliberate rereading for me. Thanks to him. Here, he tells about his political experience first as a university student, as a man working among laborers, and then connected to other respectable, leftis, thinkers and public intellectuals. Advertisements

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In poetry, Secret Rain   by the Palestinian writer Zuhair Abou Shaieb. The book has been translated into Arabic and published by Alam Al Ma’arefa. But if there are three books inspired me lately, they are:
The Arabic translation of Collected Articles, by Serge Daney. The self here is observed, as if from a calculated distance, separated from her life, seen as though it’s a building and it’s her role to guard the door. It is a beautiful piece about Argentina’s history, the dirty war and the enforced disappearance of 30,000 political prisoners in the 70’s. The father/daughter relationship is beautifully written. From my personal experience as a psychiatrist, the detailed description of symptoms throughout the novel is so accurate, and it pays so much sensitive attention to the psychological suffering and the feelings of the patient himself, as well as his way of dealing with the illness and the surrounding environment, the atmosphere of the hospital. In Egypt, too, there is a clear quantitative and qualitative superiority of women poets over men. It’s the author’s reflections on writing, reading, authors, and readers, and about the idea of the library and its various iterations. A sensitive dissection that’s wise to the self and the collective. It is a courageous novel, especially when the reader can note the areas of similarity between the hero and the author, which are plenty. Both of these are prose poetry, each taking its own path without resembling any other on the questions of humanity, isolation, and distance from the world and from each other. Golan Haji (Syrian poet and translator)
Homo Poeticus, by   Danilo Kiš
Conversations with Lev Shestov, by Benjamin Fondane  
All Things are Possible,   by   Lev Shestov
Bissan Al-Sheikh (Lebanese writer)
The Good Spy,   by Kai Bird
1984, by George Orwell (second time)
American Neighborhood by Jabbour Douaihy
Abdullah Nasser (Saudi writer)
The Anatomist, by Federico Andahazi
Juegos de la edad tardía, by Luis Landero
Their Eyes Were Watching God,   by Zora Neale Hurston
Mamdouh Azzam (Syrian novelist)
A Reader on Reading, by Alberto Manguel. I read about him 15 years ago in Karmal magazine in an article by Edward Said. I think this may be one of the most important reasons why the Irish playwright and novelist became a universal writer, through his basic strategy: the absolute futility of the circle that his characters inhabit, which is deeper than the traditional binaries. A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. Abdel-Salam Saleh, More Than an Illusion أكثر من وهم (Fada’at, 2017)
Departing from the over-used clichés of the weak, subordinate, hesitant, exploited, shy, woman, the protagonist of this novel is nothing but. This novel reconstructs the thorny relationship between the English poet Ted Hughes and the American poet Sylvia Plath. Once Upon a Time, Tomorrow,   by   Hilal Chouman
These are stories about post-war Beirut told by authentic Lebanese characters in a bittersweet — almost cynical — tone. From Syria alone, recent years have brought forward dozens of distinguished poets, among them a large number of Kurdish women writing in Arabic, and sometimes Kurdish. Altogether a thoughtful and interesting book. Ahmed Naji (Egyptian novelist and short-story writer)
My three choices are:
Coptic Food, by Charles Aql (published by Kotob Khan)
This is a unique book in the Arabic library. In this continuous yet separated trilogy, first, I found a new world for myself as a reader. An interesting docu-drama about the late composer which intersects with the writer’s own biography. There were three very distinguished books in this genre:   The Book of Sleep,   by Haytham al-Wardani,   How to Heal: Motherhood and Its Ghosts, by Iman Mersal, and   Coptic Food, by Charles Aql. And also I reread Ibn Kathir’s   exegesis of the Quran,   تفسير القرآن لابن كثير, for the second time in eleven years. His new, fifth, collection maintains the “newness” of approach and form that he explored in his previous works, moving brilliantly within the current that I call “New” Arab Writing. This book is phenomenal historical writing. It seems to me there’s been a wonderful female invasion of poetic territory. As for a novel, I’d point to Shadow Roar in Zeinobia’s Gardens,   by Salim Barakat. The original English book was published in 2013. The stories of women’s friendships and competitiveness, the violent environment, and the changes that happened to women’s conditions through the years are all things with which I can personally relate. How to Mend: On Motherhood and Its Ghosts, by Iman Mersal. Because of the intensity of my enjoyment, I read this book very slowly, and in stages. There is no order for events, no chronological pattern, only stories of traumatized, resisting characters trying to survive their own post-war trauma. Not wanting to marry or have children, she seeks to build her career with resolve, while her “lover”, a depressed, withdrawn, defeated, leftist militant, is struggling to maintain sanity on the backdrop of malformed, soul-killing city: Amman. This is a clever and astute book that’s difficult to slot within a particular genre. I reread Macbeth about sixty-two times. In her work, the dialogue plays a key role, and here she says a great deal with the fewest possible words, through which we learn about the characters’ interior worlds, their emptiness, and the tendency of some of them to gossip endlessly while their interlocutor is silent. In its theme and techniques, it’s wonderful, pushing you to understand yourself and the confused characters who you may say are guilty without concern for the causes of their actions. Often setting the seeker of such explorations on a turbulent, unyielding path,   Safia Elhillo, a Sudanese-American, or an American-Sudanese, or someone lost in the distance between them, manages, with poetic intelligence, to transform an extremely personal, internal experience, that takes its anchor in the Egyptian pop-cult icon singer of the 1970s, Abdelhalim Hafez, and one of his famous songs: Asmar   Ya Asmarani, into and external   exploration of gender, race,   politics, society, and power structures. But this year and the last one, there was nothing that made me surprised or that it could be an extraordinary start of a writer’s career. The best poetry collections I’ve read this year are two: 77 by Ahmed Shafei and My House Has Two Doors by Fatima Qandil. The poetic voice Elhillo utilizes, mobilizing Arabic words, phrases, and sometimes written directly in Arabic within the otherwise English poems, also serves as an exploration of language and language (cross)boundaries, making this surprising first collection a very worthy read in both subject and form. Safia Elhillo, The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017)
This poetry collection, the recipient of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, is a powerful and fresh exploration of “identity” and “color” as social, manufactured, constructs. Muhammad Abdelnabi (Egyptian novelist and translator)
Among the best novels I’ve read this year were Printed in Beirut, by Jabbour Douaihy, and All the Battles, by Maan Abu Taleb. A prominent example is how George Bush Sr. This year’s list was co-edited and -translated by Mahmoud Hosny and M Lynx Qualey:
Salim Barakat (Syrian-Kurdish poet and novelist)
I didn’t get many books this year. Abbas, in many of the stories of this collection, writes about extremely violent and painful subjects employing a single, neutral, narrator, almost devoid of emotions (bringing to my mind Yasunari Kawabata’s magnificent, dissective, approach in his Palm of the Hand Stories); as if it was an elderly voice that has seen it all, the memories now distant, transformed into some kind of contemplated questioning, or wisdom. Or, as my friend Alaa Khaled said, Poetry lately has recovered its female character. The author attempts to a new approach to how previous researchers have linked to the popular biography of the male world, presenting the narrative of Bani Hilal as a tale of the creation and creativity of women, “while men are the guardians of hymns, narrators, and performers, allowing them the freedom to reformulate the work in poetic forms characterized by difficulty.” From their position as guardians, men have the power to confuse feminine traits and patterns within the work, and to label them in accordance with their vision. The Craft of Fiction, by Percy Lubbock. Basma Abdelaziz (Egyptian novelist, psychiatrist, and columnist)
Fiction:   Haffat Al Kawthar (The Edge of al-Kawthar), by Ali Atta (2017)
A charming novel, which I guess is more likely the personal experience of the writer himself, as many critics have noted. Naked or Covered: From a Simple String to a Three-piece Suit, by Mineke Schipper, translated by Abdel Rahim Youssef (Dar Safsafa). In this book, the author of My Blood is Tainted by Love creates a poetic composition characterized by a brilliant imagination rarely found in poetry and a high narrative sense that doesn’t diminish the poetry of the texts. You Said It, by the Dutch novelist Connie Palmen, translated by Lamia al-Mokadem. I reread Rakha’s the Sultan’s Seal, a severely underrated achievement in my opinion, to take a closer look at how Rakha moves between different registers in Arabic – something I try to do in my own writing – and inhabits the diction and syntax of different characters across geographies and centuries. Nonfiction:   Hezb Balata (Flag Party), by Nabil Noor Al-Din (2017)
For me, it was of great importance to read this book, because the author is one of the well-known Egyptian leftists. They have experience with similar writing, such as Mersal’s academic writing and al-Wardani’s on Walter Benjamin and other attempts. Mohammed Hassan Abdul Hafez (Sharjah Heritage Institute). In poetry, I read several notable books, including   77   by Ahmed Shafei   and   A Box of Colorful Stones   by Asmaa Yasin,   and two collections that emerged at the end of 2016, but I didn’t see them until this year, and they are veteran Syrian poet Rasha Omran’s She   Who Lived in the House Before Me and the collection   Naive and Cinematic   by Egyptian poet Hoda Omran. Dialogue here is not a tool for communication, but for revealing the self and other. Also: The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett, by British critic and publisher John Calder. Yet it’s surprising to find a young writer such as Charles Aql coming out with a debut in this genre, with such audacity, amidst censorship and the shininess of the novel and the temptations of its prizes. Haytham El-Wardany (Egyptian writer)
Actually, I feel confused by “book lists,” and I feel we need another, better way to value literature. Rasha al-Ameer (Lebanese author and publisher)
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
The Prophetess,   by Inaam Kachachi  
Challenge of the Gods,   by Mahmoud Hussain
At the Right Hand of the Lord,   by Gérard Haddad
Walid El Khachab (Egyptian writer and poet)
A Box of Colorful Stones, by Asmaa Yasin
A re-reading of Akabilla, by Mai Telmessany
Solidiers, Spiers and Men of the Statem, by Hazem Qandil, is a book about Egyptian revolution. The more I read that story, the more I am unsettled by the stunning beauty that takes shape towards its end. The author states that Egyptians are not really interested in watching birds as other people are in the West, and I guess he is somehow right, I rarely meet someone whose hobby is to follow birds. Merscheime (2016)
This book is based on a very interesting and creative idea, tackling the American presidents’ lies in the foreign affairs and their consequences. Realistic and intense. It is a rich story, full of hopes and failures, as one would expect. Each year, ArabLit knocks on the doors of a range of Arab novelists, poets, and memoirists, asking for their favorite reads os 2017. The revival and the creative power of nonfiction Arabic prose, to me, clearly indicates the crisis of the Arabic novel, and stands at the crossroads between what is literary and what is a literary commodity. So I reread:   Interpretation of the Qu’ran by Ibn Arabi (تفسير القرآن لابن عربي) for the third time in nine years. Basically, it’s a documentary series of different occurrences that happen inside a police van to different sorts of people who – mostly – have been illegally detained. Here, Sama’ (a female name meaning: sky) is wicked, lustful, daring, approaches and uses men sexually and professionally. Jawdat Fakhreddine (Lebanese poet)
I continue to follow the publishing developments in poetry and the novel each year. Years ago, I read Never Marry a Woman With Big Feet, by Schipper, and I liked it so much that I didn’t hesitate to read Naked or Covered as soon as its Arabic edition was published. lied to lead the US to the war on Iraq. Hisham Bustani (Jordanian short-story writer)
Luay Hamza Abbas, Near the Tall Tree قرب شجرة عالية (Azminah, 2017)
Although he has three published novels, Luay Hamza Abbas identifies himself, first and foremost, as a short-story writer. I don’t think it will get the attention that Saudi novels usually get, because it’s not about social gossip, but its artistic values will announce itself. In this novel, Saleh deconstructs and questions not only patriarchy, but also its political and authoritarian material roots; an excellent accomplishment in an era where the trend is to blame it all on “culture”. Voices in the Evening,   by   the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg, translated by Amani Fawzi Habashi (Dar al-Karma). The Case of the Movements of K, by Aziz Mohamed (published by Dar al-Tanweer)
So finally the Saudi novel has gotten away from history and boring realism. The Shell, by Mustafa Khalifa. The protagonist is a man with a psychiatric disorder who is working in a newspaper, and who passes short periods of his life in a mental hospitals. So I always go back to “Turath” التراث in poetry and criticism, to read and reread. Her Body and Other Parties,   by Carmen Maria Machado
A collection of short stories mostly connected with the intense, sometimes magical, tales of women exposed to different kinds of abuse.