Sixteen Books to Read in 2016

January 3, 2016

By Marcia Lynx Qualey

(This post was published on Arabic Literature on January 1, 2016)

However grim the political landscape, there’s still much to anticipate and enjoy in 2016’s literature, starting with blockbuster works by seasoned writers like Elias Khoury, Khalid Khalifa, and Iman Humaydan, as well as sharp new writers like Ma’n Abu Taleb issuing debut novels. There are also short-story collections, important (and fun) translations into Arabic and into English, poetry, and bilingual books.

We look at 16 to read 2016.

New Out Now

Between December’s Beirut Book Fair releases and the Cairo Book Fair’s in January, there’s a small flood of new reads at the turn of each year. A few of the highlights from 2015-2016:

Elias Khoury’s “أولاد الغيتو- إسمي آدم” (Children of the Ghetto – My Name is Adam)This is the story of Adam Danoun, a Khoury par excellence, as it’s Adam Danoun’s novel, “stolen” by Khoury, a continuation of the Gate of the Sun. The narrative is knotted around the 1948 Lydda massacre and, according to early reviews, it is told in Khoury’s characteristic, circling style, intertextual with his previous novels, as Sinalcol was, using his fictional worlds — particularly, in this case, Gate of the Sun, to stand on his own shoulders. More.

Iman Humaydan’s  خمسون غراماً من الجنة,  (Fifty Grams of Paradise). Originally titled Letters from Istanbul, this novel moves between Istanbul, Damascus, and Beirut. It’s the fourth novel by the award-winning and acclaimed author of Other Lives, B as in Beirut, and Wild Mulberries.It’s currently being translated into English by Michelle Hartman. More.

Ma’n Abu Taleb’s  كل المعارك, (All the Fights). This is short-story writer Abu Taleb’s debut novel. Abu Taleb is one of the founders of the online magazine Ma3azef, and his first novel tells the story of a young man with a “promising future in a prestigious global company” who finds himself caught between opposing worlds: “the world of offices, meetings, and money, and the world of the boxing ring.” Abu Taleb’s novel promises a narrative that’s lean, fast, and occasionally treacherous, an echo of the world of boxing. To be published by Kotob Khan Books.

Khaled Khalifa’s «الموت عمل شاق», (Death is Hard Labor). This novel follows Khallifa’s tremendously successful International Prize for Arabic Ficiton-shortlisted In Praise of Hatred and There Are No Knives in the Kitchens of This City.In Death is Hard Labor, a car makes its way from Damascus to al-‘Annabiyah. Inside it is a body to be buried in a home village, two men, and a woman. Outside there’s a war. More.

Short-story collections of 2016

عراق + ١٠٠ (Iraq + 100), ed. Hassan Blasim. This collection of SF short stories is set to appear in 2016 in Arabic and in English translation. The collection brings together work by a variety of Iraqi voices, including established writers like Ali Bader and up-and-coming writers like Muna Fadhil. All of the stories imagines Iraq in the year 2103. From Comma Press.

Book of Khartoum, ed. Raph Cormack and Max Shmookler. This collection has won a “PEN Translates” award, and is scheduled for release by Comma Press in January 2016. Previously uncollected Sudanese short stories from a wide variety of authors. Unfortunately, it’s to appear in English only.

Also: Unscheduled, but perhaps out in 2016 will be Marrakesh Noir, ed. Yassin Adnan and Baghdad Noir, ed. Samuel Shimon, from Akashic Books. These two collections are set to follow on the heels of the successful Beirut Noir, issued in December 2015, ed. Iman Humaydan. Beirut Noir brought together tightly woven, dangerous stories of Beirut from the Arabic, French, and English languages. More.

Novel Translations of 2016

George R.R. Martin’s “لعبة العروش”, translated by Hisham Fahmy and issued by Dar Al Tanweer. For fans of SFF, Martin’s globally popular books, which spawned the television series of the same name, are finally coming in Arabic.

Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue, translated into English by Elisabeth Jaquette. This surrealist first novel by psychiatrist-writer Abdel Aziz, which appeared in Arabic in 2013, describes Egyptians queueing for hours in front of a mysterious gate. Forthcoming with Melville House Press in May 2016.

Arwa Saleh’s The Stillborn, translated by Samah Selim. Saleh was a key 1970s activist and a writer, and her powerful criticism of Egypt is forthcoming from Seagull Books in Fall 2016.

Mustafa Khalifa’s The Shell, translated by Paul Starkey. Issued in 2008, Khalifa’s The Shell continues to be a best-seller among Syrians in exile. This autobiographical novel, about Khalifa’s thirteen years in a Syrian prison, has already appeared in strong French translation from Stéphanie Dujols (La Coquille), and in 2016 will be issued in English, published by Interlink.

Ibrahim Eissa’s The Televangelist, translated by Jonathan Wright. This popular novel, shortlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and translated by award-winning Jonathan Wright, will appear under AUC Press’s new imprint this spring. It’s a fun political thriller set in the world of top TV preachers.More.

Abdelilah Hamdouchi’s Whitefly, translated by Jonathan Smolin. Moroccan detective novelist Hamdouchi’s police procedural, Whitefly, is a fast-paced thriller set against the backdrop of migration across the Mediterranean.

Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, translated by Jonathan Wright. This 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction-winning novel tells the story of a What’s-Its-Name, a monster sewn together from the body parts of Iraqi bomb victims. More.

Alessandro Spina’s The Confines of the Shadow, Vol. II, translated from the Italian into English by André Naffis-Sahely. Spina is the pen name of Syrian-Italian-Libyan writer Basili Shafik Khouzam. Spina’s classic “Confines of the Shadow” novels chronicle modern Libya, from Ottoman times through Ghaddafi’s takeover. From Darf Books in 2016. An Arabic translation is also forthcoming.


Ghareeb Iskander’s Gilgamesh’s Snake and Other Poems, translated from the Arabic by John Glenday and Ghareeb Iskander. This bilingual manuscript was the winner of the University of Arkansas’ 2015 Arabic translation award, and is set to appear in 2016 in facing-page translation. It’s a collaboration between London-based Iraqi poet Ghareeb Iskander and Scottish poet John Glenday, who began translating each other’s work during the Reel Iraq festival in 2013. More.


Yusuf al-Shirbini’s Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded, edited and translated by Humphrey Davies. This satire on seventeenth-century Egyptian rural society gets a new Arabic edition and facing-page English translation from renowned translator-scholar Humphrey Davies, who recently brought Ahmad al-Shidyaq’s brilliantly funny nineteenth-century Leg over Leg into English. More.

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