What are the best 105 Arabic books of the 20th century?
Below, you’ll find the best hundred 105 Arabic novels as selected by the Arab Writers Union and presented with some editorial observations. We've provided links to all books available in English, and whenever available, links to information about the writers and even excerpts from some of the works. The original source for this material was: Arabic Literature (in English); http://arablit.wordpress.com/for-readers/top-105/.
1 The Cairo Trilogy by Egyptian (Nobel-prize winning) author Naguib Mahfouz. Yes, of course it’s available in English: Trans. William Maynard Hutchins, Everyman’s Library, 2001. The late Edward Said writes about Mahfouz in translation in “The Cruelty of Memory.”
2 In Search of Walid Masoud by the Palestinian author Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. This is available in English, translated by by Adnan Haydar and Roger Allen. Syracuse University Press, 2000. Also, Ghassan Nasr’s translation of Ibrahim Jabra’s The Journals of Sarab Affan, published by Syracuse University Press, was a runner-up for the Banipal translation prize in 2008.
The Ship and Princesses’ Street are also available in translation, although not, disappointingly, A World Without Maps. Read a tiny excerpt of In Search of Walid Masoud.
3 Honor, by the great Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim. As far as I can turn up, this has never been translated into English. Ibrahim’s Zaat, The Committee, andStealth are easily available from AUC Press, AUC Press, and the now-defunct Aflame Books. The Smell of It was translated, too, but it’s since out of print.
For French-readers, Honor is available in French as Charaf ou l’honneur, ActesSud, 1999, translated by the acclaimed Richard Jacquemond.
4 War in the Land of Egypt, by the Egyptian Yousef Al-Qaeed, was published by Interlink in 1997, translated by Olive and Lorne Kenny and Christopher Tingley. I believe this is the only of al-Qaeed’s works in (English) translation.
5 Men in the Sun, by the celebrated Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani, was translated by Hilary Kilpatrick and published by Lynne Rienner Publishers in 1998. Kanafani’s “Return to Haifa” has also been turned into a controversial play (in Palestine's Children).
6 The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, by Palestinian Emile Habibi, was translated by Salma Khadra Jayyusi and published by Interlink in 2001. Habibi’s Saraya, the Ogre’s Daughter was also published in English in 2006 by Ibis Editions.
8 Rama and the Dragon, by the Egyptian Edwar al-Kharrat, was translated by Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden and published by AUC Press in 2002. Al-Kharrat’s Stones of Bobello is also available from AUC Press, and Girls of Alexandria was published by Quartet.
9 Thus Spoke Abu Huraira, by the Tunisian author Mahmoud Messadi. The novel is available in French – Ainsi parlait Abou Hourayra, Actes Sud 1996 and in German – Und es sprach Abu Hurairata, Hamouda. 2009. I have not been able to find anything of Messadi’s available in English.
10 Beirut Nightmares, by Syrian author Ghada Samman, was translated by Nancy N. Roberts and published by Quartet Books in 1998. The book fell out of print, but Quartet Books re-released Beirut Nightmares this past September.
11. The Animists, by Libyan author Ibrahim al-Koni, translated by Elliot Colla. Available June 2012. A number of al-Koni’s books are now available in translation: The Bleeding of the Stone, Gold Dust (also translated by Colla), The Seven Veils of Seth, and others.
12. Tattoo, by Iraqi author Abdul Rahman Majeed al-Rubaie.
An excerpt of Tattoo was translated by Shakir Mustafa and published in Banipal 17, and again in Contemporary Iraqi fiction: an anthology, but a full version has not been published. Mustafa notes in his 2008 anthology that “also notes thatThe Tattoo “which went into a sixth printing in Morocco in 2002, has never been published in Iraq.”
13. The Long Way Back, by Iraqi author Fouad Al-Takarli, AUC Press, 2007, translated Catherine Cobham.
14. The Sail and the Storm, by Syrian author Hanna Mina.
The Sail and the Storm is not available at this time in English, although Mina’s Sun on a Cloudy Day was translated by Bassam K. Frangieh. And Fragments of Memory: A Story of a Syrian Family was translated by Olive E. Kenny and Lorne Kenny and published by Interlink in 2004. The Sail and the Storm was translated into Italian – La vela e la tempesta, Jouvence 1993.
15. Zayni Barakat, by the Egyptian author Gamal al-Ghitani, is available in numerous editions, including Penguin (non-classics), 1990. Translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab Mustafa.
16: The trilogy by Libyan author Ahmad Ibrahim al-Faqih, which consists of: I Shall Present You With Another City, These Are The Borders of My Kingdom and A Tunnel Lit by A Woman.
The trilogy was published as Gardens of the Night by Quartet in 1995. You can find numerous works in translation (free) on al-Faqih’s website, as well as photos of al-Faqih unfortunately shaking hands with the Brother Leader.
17. I Live, by Lebanese author Leila Baalbaki. Published in French – Je vis! Seuil 1958 and in German – Ich lebe, Lenos 1994
18. No One Sleeps in Alexandria, by Egyptian author Ibrahim Abdel Meguid. AUC Press, 2007, translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab Mustafa. You can also read Abdel Meguid’s The Other Place and Birds of Amber in English, both published by AUC Press.
19. Love in Exile, by Egyptian author Bahaa Taher, AUC Press, 2001, translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab Mustafa. I would have chosen Taher’s Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery for the list, myself. Other works of his in translation include the International Prize for Arabic Fiction-winning Sunset Oasis (trans. Humphrey Davies, published by Sceptre) and As Doha Said.
20. The Cycles of the East, by the Syrian novelist and critic Nabil Suleiman. Suleiman's work has not been translated into English.
21 The Epidemic, by Syrian author Hani al-Raheb, was excerpted in Banipal 9, translated by Bassam K Frangieh. I can find none of al-Rehab’s fiction outside this excerpt. However, I did see that his The Zionist Character in the English Novel was translated into English and published by Third World Books. It’s out of print.
22 The Taboo, by Egyptian author Yusuf Idris. Al-Haraam has not been translated, but these have: The Sinners was translated by Kristin Peterson-Ishaq and published by Three Continents Press, The Cheapest Nights and Other Stories, Rings of Burnished Brass, City of Love and Ashes, R. Neil Hewison, AUC Press. There’s also The Essential Yusuf Idris, edited by Denys Johnson-Davies and newly out from AUC Press.
23 The Night of Ten Years, by Tunisian author Muhammad Salih al-Jabri. I find nothing by Muhammad Salih al-Jabri in English.
24 Season of Migration to the North, by the celebrated, world-renowned Sudanese author Tayeb Salih. Available in many editions; here from NYRB classics, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies. The Wedding of Zein unfolds in the same village as Season of Migration.
25 Memory in the Flesh, by the Algerian writer Ahlam Mostaghanmi, was published by AUC press in 2003. The book was translated by Baria Ahmar and revised by Peter Clark; neither translation is particularly lauded. Mostaghanmi’s Nessyane.Com is coming out from Bloomsbury-Qatar this year.
26 For Bread Alone, by much-banned Moroccan author Mohamed Choukri, was translated by Paul Bowles and is available from Telegram Books.
27 Legislation of Al Murr by Syrian author Abdul-Karim Nassif. Nothing. Not available in English
28 House of Pleasure, by Syrian writer Walid Ikhlassi. Not available in English, but University of Texas Press has published Iklhassi’s Whatever Happened to Antara. Also, Iklhassi’s play “The Path” is in the collection Modern Arabic Drama, edited by Salma Khadra Jayysusi and Roger Allen. It’s available from Indiana University Press. Ikhlass also has two short stories in Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Jayyusi. More about Ikhlassi here.
29 Death in Beirut, by Lebanese author Tawfiq Yousef Awad, was translated Leslie McLoughlin and published by Three Continents Press.
30 The Elephants is a novel by one of my favorite authors, the Egyptian Fathi Ghanem (1923?-1999). The Elephants is not available in English; however, you can find The Man Who Lost His Shadow, translated by Desmond Stewart and published by AUC Press.
31 Najran Below Zero, by the Palestinian Yaha Yakhlaf is not available in English, but Buhayrah Wara’ al-Rih, translated as A Lake Beyond the Wind by May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley, published by Interlink.
32 Lovers, by Palestinian author Rashad Abu Shawar, has been called “the finest novel to describe the misery of Palestinians in the refugee camp setting,” is unfortunately not available in English but an excerpt from Abu Shawar’s A Memoir of Return in Banipal issue 12. Also, you can read an excerpt from Abu Shawar’s memoir O Beirut in An Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi.
33 Recognition, by Emirati author Ali Abu Al-Rish is not available in English. He is profiled here, as a “creative person of the month.”
34 The Palm and El-Jabran, by Iraqi author Gha’ib Ti’ma Firman is not available in English.
35 The Return of the Absent, by Saudi author Munther al-Qabbani is not available in English.
37 Return to Exile, by Egyptian author Abu El Maati Abu El Naga is not available in English.
38 The Lodging House, by Egyptian author Khairy Shalaby. This Naguib Mahfouz-medal winning novel is, yes, available in English. If you like it, AUC Press has more Shalaby: Time Travels of the Man Who Sold Pickles and Sweets and The Hashish Waiter.
39 Contact, by Tunisian author Aroussia Naluti is not available in English. However, the short story by Naluti, “You taught me to love life, Father,” is in Banipal 24.
40 Sultanah, by Jordanian author Ghalib Halasa. Jadaliyya published a chapter from the novel, translated by Ali Issac. Banipal collected several of his newspaper columns in 26, and translated his short story “The Birthday” and an excerpt from his novel Al Khamasin in issue 6.
41 The Heron, by the Egyptian author Ibrahim Aslan, translated by Elliot Colla and published by AUC Press.Read the eloquent Baheyya’s homage to Aslan here. Aslan’s Nile Sparrows is also available in translation, but not, disappointingly, his more recent work.
42 Gate of the Sun, by the Lebanese author Elias Khoury, translated by Humphrey Davies and published by Archipelago. You can also read Khoury’s Yalo, Little Mountain, White Masks, The Journey of Little Gandhi, The Kingdom of Strangers and The Gates of the City in English. And As Though She Were Sleeping is forthcoming this year, in translations by Humphrey Davies (Quercus) and Marilyn Booth (Archipelago).
43 Latin Quarter, by the Lebanese author Suhail Idriss. Banipal has an obituary for Idriss in 31.
44 Return of the Soul, by the Egyptian Tawfiq al-Hakim. Here we have the first mention of the great Tawfiq al-Hakim, who unfortunately died the year before the “Arab” Nobel was handed out. It looks like Return of the Soul was translated as Return of the Spirit by William Hutchins and published by Three Continents Press in 1991.
Certainly, you should acquire The Essential Tawfiq al-Hakim, edited by Denys Johnson-Davies and published by AUC Press. Three Continents Press also put out a short-story collection by al-Hakim, In the Tavern of Life and Other Stories.
45 The Hostage, by Yemeni novelist Zayd Mutee Dammaj. This novel was translated by May Jayyusi and C. Tingley and published by Interlink.
46 The Game of Forgetting, by the Moroccan author Mohammed Berrada. The novel was published by Quartet Books in 1987, as translated by Issa Boullata. Berrada’s Like a Summer Never to Be Repeated was published by AUC Press, translated by Christina Phillips.
47 Winter Wind, by Moroccan writer Mubarak Al-Rabih. Winter Wind is talked about in The Modern Arabic Novel: Bibliography and Critical Introduction, 1865-1995, by Hamdi Sakkut, but is not available in English.
48 Return to Dar al-Basha, by the Tunisian author Hassan Nasrallah, was translated by William Hutchins and published by Syracuse University Press.
49 The Windy City, by Mauritanian Moussa Ould Ebnou, was originally published in French in 1994 as Barzakh. An Arabic version by the author, titled Madinat al-Riyah, appeared in 1996. Neither Barzakh nor The Windy City has been translated into English, as far as I can find.
50 The Seven Days of Man, by Egyptian Abdel-Hakim Qasim was translated by Joseph Bell and published by Northwestern University Press. Also, Qasim’s Rites of Assent: Two Novellas, were translated by Peter Theroux with an introduction by Samia Mehrez, and published by Temple University Press.
51 The Crane, by Syrian author Halim Barakat, was translated by Bassam Frangieh and Roger Allen and published by AUC Press. Barakat, bless him, has a website, where he lists, among other things, all his translations.
52 The Story of Zahra, by the popular Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh. The book, which I fell in love with on first reading, was translated by translated by Peter Ford and is out in numerous editions.
53 Wind from the South, by Abdelhamid Ben Haddouka, was the first Algerian novel published in Arabic. It was translated into French as Vent du Sud (Société nationale d’édition et de diffusion, 1975)
54 Crazy Paradise, by the Syrian writer Ahmed Youssef. Nothing in English. One book in French – Journal inachevé d’une étudiante voilée à Paris (la Pensée universelle, 1991)
55 Wasmiya Comes Out of the Sea, by the Kuwaiti author Laila al-Othman, was excerpted in Banipal 3. Al-Othman also has a story in the collection Oranges in the Sun: Short Stories from the Arabian Gulf, edited by Deborah S. Akers and Abubaker A. Bagader, from Lynne Rienner Publishers.
56 Confessions of a Silencer, by Jordanian writer Mu’nis al-Razzaz (1951–2002), was excerpted in Banipal 13.
57 Rubaiyyat Bahari, by Egypt’s Mohamed Gibreel. It is not available in English.
58 Sana’a: An Open City, by Yemeni author Mohammed Abdul Wali. The book is not available in English.
From the Yemen Times: In 2000, the al-Thaqafiah weekly editor-in-chief, Samir al-Yousofi, was imprisoned and prosecuted for republishing “Sana’a: an Open City” by famous Yemeni short story writer Mohammed Abdul Wali who died in the 1970s. He was accused of blasphemy and insulting Islam. The then Minister of Information Abdul Rahman al-Akwa stood by al-Yousofi who was harassed by the Islah party. The case was later dropped as high ranking officials intervened to settle it.
Abdul Wali’s They Die Strangers is, however, available in English. It was translated by Abubaker Bagader and Deborah Akers and published by the University of Texas Press.
59 Granada, by the Egyptian author Radwa Ashour. Granada was translated by William Granara (sometimes Bill Granara) and published by Syracuse University Press. You can also find Ashour’s Specters and Siraaj, and she also worked with her husband Mourid Barghouti to translate a collection of his poems, Midnight and Other Poems.
60 The Call of the Curlew or The Call of the Plover by Egypt’s Taha Hussein was translated by A.B. As-Safi and published by Palm Press.
61 Seeds of Corruption, by the Egyptian author Sabri Moussa, translated by Mona Mikhail, published by Interlink in 2002.
62 Al-Saqqa Mat (The Water Carrier is Dead), by the Egyptian author Yusuf al-Sibai. I didn’t find any novels, but I did find a book about al-Sibai’s novels: The novels of an Egyptian romanticist Yysuf al-Sibai, by Gail Ramsay. Published by Edsbruk. And his The Cobbler and Other Stories (Cairo, Permanent Bureau of Afro-Asian Writers, 1973) was published in English.
Al-Sibai also has a story in Egyptian Short Stories, a collection edited by Denys Johnson-Davies.
63 The Emigration to the North of the Children of Hathoot, by the Egyptian writer Majid Tubia was translated by Wadida Wassif and published by the State Publishing House, 1995.
64 After the Sunset, by Egyptian Mohamed Abdel-Halim Abdulla.
65 Hearts on a Wire, by Syrian author Abdel-Salam Ajili. Nothing.
66 Aisha, by the Tunisian Al-Bashir bin Salamah. Nothing.
67 The Shadow and the Echo, by the Lebanese writer Yusuf Habashi al-Ashqar. Roger Allen translated an extract from Al-Zill wa-al-sada (The Shadow and The Echo), for Banipal 4 (Spring 1999). Also, there is a story of al-Asqar’s in Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, out from Columbia University Press.
Al Ahram Weekly, on the translationg of al-Ashqar:
Perhaps one of the most challenging tasks for the translation of fiction is the rendering of the tone and dialogue of the original. The two short stories by Yusuf Habashi al-Ashqar and Ibrahim Aslan are good examples of this. In al-Ashqar’s short story entitled “The Banquet” (translated by Adnan Haydar and Anthony Thwaite) lyrical prose and symbolic overtones convey the theme of the destructive Lebanese civil war and sectarian strife. Educated at St. Joseph University and at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts, al-Ashqar’s prose is thick and multi-layered as in the following:
Jiryas put his hands on my shoulders . . . His seventy years glowed in his eyes like seventy candles lit in celebration of his sons’ return.
“Every time they return I light the seventy candles. Every time I am born again with them and I dance on the roof for the prodigal who is found.”
68 Al-Daqqala in Arajenha, by the Tunisian author Al-Bashir Khareef. Nothing.
69 The Slaver, by another Tunisian, Salah al-Din Bujah. Again, nothing.
70 Door to the Courtyard, by the internationally known Palestinian writer Sahar Khalifeh. Bab el-Saha, however, has not been translated into English. You can find it in German – Das Tor (Unionsverlag, 2004) and French – L’impasse de bab essaha (Flammarion, 1998). Still, you can find at least these four novels by Khalifeh in English: The Inheritance (translated by Aida Bamia, AUC Press); Wild Thorns (Trevor Legassick, and Elizabeth Fernea, Interlink); The End of Spring (Paula Haydar, Interlink); The Image, the Icon and the Covenant (translated by Aida Bamia, Interlink).
71 Seventh day of Creation by Iraqi writer Abdel Khaliq al-Rikabi. Al-Rikabi’s acclaimed novel Sabi’a Ayaam al-Khalq (Seventh Day of Creation) was excerpted in Banipal 32, translated by Wen-chin Ouyang.
72 A Touch of Fear, by Egyptian Tharwat Abaza. Published by the General Egyptian Book Organization, 1992.
73 The Ace, by Algerian Tahar Wattar. You won’t find The Ace in English, but you can find Wattar’s The Earthquake translated by Bill/William Granara and available from Saqi Books. You can find it in French as L’as (Temps Actuel,1983).
74 The Woman and the Rose, by Moroccan author Mohamed Zafzaf. This novel of Zafzaf’s apparently has been translated into Spanish, but “the godfather of Moroccan writers‘” novel has not made its way into English. I did find one story of Zafzaf’s, “The Sacred Tree,” in English translation. It’s in Modern Arabic Short Stories, a Bilingual Reader, which was published by Saqi Books.
75 A Thousand Years of Nostalgia, by Algerian writer Rachid Boudjedra. The book is in French, although not English. Two of Boudjedra’s other books were excerpted in Banipal 7: Turmoil and The Stubborn Snail.
76 Unknown Grave, by Mauritanian author Ahmed Ould Abdel-Qader. Not available in English,
77 Murder and Anger, by Iraqi author Muwaffaq Khidr.
78 The Whirlpool, by Syrian Qamar Kilani.
79 The Blockade, by Bahraini author Fawzia Rasheed.
80 There Is a Man in our House, by Egyptian Ihsan Abdul Quddus.
Abd al-Quddus wrote more than sixty novels and collections of short stories, many of which were made into films. His works of Arabic literature were characterized by psychological studies of political and social behavior. Among his works translated into English are I Am Free, The Bus Thief, and A Boy’s Best Friend.
81 Symbols of Modernity, by Iraqi writer Abdul Amir Khadir.
82 And My Share of the Horizon, by Tunisian author Abdel Qader Ben Shaikh.
83 The Theocrat, by Moroccan writer Bensalem Himmich, translated by Roger Allen and published by AUC Press. I would’ve chosen Himmich’s The Polymath for this list, but, in any case, go read Himmich: He’s a fascinating stylist. And there’s now a paperback edition of The Polymath from AUC Press.
84 Al-Khamasseya, by Kuwaiti Ismail Fahd Ismail.
According to the Gulf Film Festival website: Ismail Fahad Ismail is the founder of the Novel Art in Kuwait, and he is one of the biggest novelists in the Arab region. His first novel When the Sky was Blue was published in 1970. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in literature and critical studies from the Higher Institute of Theatre Arts in Kuwait, has worked in teaching and managed an art production company. He is a full time writer since 1985.
85 Wandering Wings, by Lebanese author Jawad Al-Sidawi.
86 The Days of Ashes, from Moroccan writer Mohammad Ezzeddine Tazi. His story “Myth of North” in anthology Sardines and Oranges.
87 Ras Beirut, by Syrian author Yasin Rifa’ieh. I didn’t find any evidence of Ras Beirut in English, but I did find a story by Rifai’eh/Rifa’iyya in Modern Arabic Fiction : An Anthology, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, and in Modern Syrian Short Stories, edited by Michel Azrak and M. J. L. Young.
88 Eye of the Sun, by the Libyan author Khalifa Hussein Mustapha.
89 Longa and the Ghoul, by Algerian author Zahwar Wanissi.
90 Clamor of the Lake, by the Egyptian Mohammed El-Bisatie. Translated by Hala Halim, published by AUC Press. There are a number of El-Bisatie’s works in English: Over the Bridge, A Last Glass of Tea and Other Stories, Houses Behind the Trees, Hunger, Drumbeat. I recommend Houses Behind the Trees.
91 The Sleepwalkers, by Egyptian Sa’ad Makkawi (1916-1985). It’s set in Mameluke Egypt, and is Makkawi’s best-known work. But it’s not in English.
92 1952, by Egyptian Jamil Atiyah Ibrahim. Not available in English. God bless writers who have their own websites. On Emilynasrallah.com, I found that “Although translated into several languages, [Birds of September] is still to appear in English.”
94 The Conspiracy, by Tunisian author Faraj Al-Huwar
95 The Learned ‘Ala, by Moroccan author Abdul Karim Ghalib. His Le passé enterré (Publisud, 1990) in French
It looks like they’re still trying to move the English-language rights to his books, but you can read three of Farkouh’s short stories in Banipal 30: “Creation, A Man I Don’t Know” and “A Very Long Short Story.”
97 Birds of The Dawn, by the Lebanese author Lily Osseiran
98 Jisr Banat Yacoub, by Palestinian author Hassan Hamid
99 Al Wasmiya, by the Saudi Abdel-aziz Mishri. You won’t find Al Wasmiya in English (I don’t think), but you can find one of Mishri’s stories in the collectionOranges in the Sun: Short Stories from the Arabian Gulf, published by Lynne Rienner Publishers.
100 A Man from Bashmour, by the Egyptian Salwa Bakr, was published by AUC Press in a translation by Nancy Roberts. If you like Bakr, you might also read The Golden Chariot, and The Wiles of Men and Other Stories, both of which have been translated into English.
101 The Fallen Knight Alights, by the Lebanese author Elias al-Diri.
102 The Berries of Murr, by the Tunisian writer Mohamed Al Aroussi Al Matuie. In Spanish as Las moras amargas (Agencia española de cooperación internacional, 1996)
103 Sound, Water and Fire, by the Bahraini author Abdulla Khalifa. His Lune solitaire (Non-lieu, 2006) is available in French. Khalifa’s Omar . . . A Martyr has apparently been banned for its portrayal of Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. Khalifa’s earlier novel, Husain’s Head, was also prohibited in Bahrain.
104 The Open Door, by Egyptian author Latifa Al-Zayat, translated by Marilyn Booth, AUC Press. Ahdaf Souief lists this as one of the great Arabic love stories, along with Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy (#1). The three other books on her list are not here: Colette Khoury: Ayyam Ma’ah (1959), Enayat el-Zayyat: Al-Hubb w’al-Samt(1967), Layla al-Juhani: Jahiliyya (2006).
105 The Cities of Salt quintet by Saudi author Abdul Rahman Munif.