For English-Speaking Readers

This post originally appeared at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair blog.

After spending a week in Abu Dhabi talking with Arabic publishers, looking at Arabic stands, I’m personally very interested in reading a few contemporary Arabic works. As most everybody knows, translation ain’t a specialty of American/UK publishers, so unfortunately outside of a handful of Mahfouz titles and Munif’s Cities of Salt, it’s unlikely you’ll find many other books on the shelves of your local bookstores.

That said, there are a few good sources and publications (which your bookstores should be able to order for you at least) that are worth checking out:

American University of Cairo Press is probably the cream of the crop. They publish upwards of 100 titles a year about the Middle East, ranging from academic books to general novels. Their three big categories are “Islamic Art & Architecture,” “Middle East Studies,” and “Modern Arabic Literature in Translation.” As more of a fiction reader than anything else, I picked up a copy of Gamal al-Ghitani’s The Zafarani Files, which was published just after it was announced that al-Ghitani won this year’s Sheikh Zayed’s Book Award for Fiction. (Instead of an overview or teaser about the book, I’ll just say that a full review will be available on the Three Percent website in the not too distant future.)

Saqi Books. The Alsaqi Bookshop is the UK’s largest bookshop specializing in Middle Eastern titles. And in addition to selling, they also publish books about the Middle East. Saqi Books publishes a wide range of titles from a number of languages and countries, and across a number of categories, including history, biography, culture & society, literature, philosophy & religion, and food & drink. Their “short stories by ___ women” series is a great introduction to writing from around the world. And in terms of the Middle East, Afsaneh: Short Stories by Iranian Women looks quite good.

In a Fertile Desert: Modern Writing from the United Arab Emirates was specially published for the ADIBF by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. Featuring twenty stories by UAE writers, this is the first collection of Emirati short fiction to be published. As mentioned on the flap copy, fiction writing is a very new genre for UAE writers, having traditionally worked within the poetry tradition. Selected and translated by Denys Johnson-Davies–one of the best Arabic translators working today–this book in a fantastic introduction to the literature of the region.

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