Reading al-Koni in English

Kudos to the panel of judges for the Man Booker International Prize whose 2015 Finalists' List is to applauded both for the depth of talent it marks and the breadth of literary accomplishment it acknowledges. I cannot remember ever before seeing a list that so well reflected the fact that the literature was a global, and not just Euroamerican thing. There are many personal favorite writers on that list, with Hoda Barakat, Amitav Ghosh, César Aira, and Fanny Howe foremost among them. (Arabic Literature in English has a great round-up of the authors on the list with ties to the Arab world.)

I want to make a special pitch for the talents of one of the giants who appears on that list. Ibrahim al-Koni's oeuvre is well celebrated in the Arab world but still largely unknown in English. His life experience—from the Sahara to Moscow, from Tripoli to Warsaw and Barcelona—and his voracious reading in Arabic and Russian make him a very global figure. Reading him is like discovering a continent where Tolstoy and al-Jahiz are drinking companions, and where Dostoevsky can't get over al-Ma'arri.

For English-language readers wanting to catch up on al-Koni, I would most highly recommend two short novels widely available in English translation, The Bleeding of the Stone (trans. M. Jayyusi and C. Tingley), and Gold Dust, (trans. E. Colla). 

If you are hesitant about reading a novel, here are some FREE of CHARGE short stories and excerpts that will give you a sense of why everyone loves al-Koni:

In "Tongue," a harrowing short story from al-Koni's story collection Kharif al-darwish (Autumn of the Dervish), men are forced to confront the burden of unwanted speech.

In "The Teacher," excerpted from al-Koni's magnum opus novel, al-Majus (The Animists), men and Sufis struggle against the black magic of the desert. 

"The Cloak" is an excerpt from al-Koni's 2012 novel, al-Waram (The Tumor), an allegory of the Qaddafi dictatorship. 

And finally, here are three thought pieces about al-Koni, translation, and the place of his fiction in Arab and African writing:

"Translating al-Koni"

"Al-Koni's Homes"

"Ibrahim al-Koni's Atlas."