Sabrina Mahfouz to edit anthology of writing by British Muslim women

We are delighted to have acquired world rights to Hear Us Now: Writings by British Muslim Women, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz.

Hear us Now brings together the works of over twenty women writers of Muslim heritage, from established literary heavyweights, such as Adhaf Soueif, Leila Aboulela and Kamila Shamsie, to young emerging artists currently leading the way on the UK’s spoken word scene, such as Asma Elbadawi, Amina Jama and Nafeesa Hamid.

Edited by award-winning poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, Hear Us Now showcases the talent and tenacity of Muslim women writers in Britain today. It includes new poetry, fiction and prose exploring questions of love, identity and belonging, as well as immigration and the rights of women.

This anthology is a creative call to arms for Muslim women in Britain, with an aim of encouraging the next generation of writers. An extensive PR campaign will be planned on publication, with events and readings in bookshops, theatres, community centres and women’s shelters, as well as a series of writing workshops for Muslim women and girls throughout the UK, in collaboration with Arts Council England.

Lynn Gaspard, publisher, said ‘We’re very excited to be working with Sabrina Mahfouz, and proud to be publishing such exceptionally talented women writers. This will be a vitally important anthology, especially in light of the terrible rise in hate crimes against Muslim women in this country. I hope that Hear Us Now will help widen the discussion about what it means to be a Muslim woman today and encourage more women to express themselves without fear of discrimination.’

Hear us Now: Writings by British Muslim Women, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz will be published by Saqi Books in April 2017.

Saqi responds to Faziah Shaheen incident

The Independent reported today that a British Muslim NHS worker, Faziah Shaheen, was detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act on 25 July following suspicions about the book she was reading. Ms Shaheen was reading Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, published by Saqi Books in 2014. This extraordinary anthology brings together the work of over 50 Syrian artists and writers, and is  testament to the courage, creativity and imagination of the Syrian people.

Lynn Gaspard, publisher and managing director, Saqi Books, said:
“Syria Speaks is a book that represents everything Saqi Books, as a Middle East interest publisher, has sought to champion over the years: it celebrates freedom of expression and creativity in the face of horror and oppression. The anthology was supported by the Prince Claus Fund for Art and Culture in Amsterdam, CKU, the British Council, the Arts Council, English PEN and the Arab British Centre, among others. It received glowing reviews and endorsements from Brian Eno and AL Kennedy, who described it as ‘a wise, courageous, imaginative and beautiful response to all that is ugly in human behaviour.’

I am in this business because I passionately believe in the power of words to affect change. However, our government seems to have taken the old adage ‘the word is mightier than the sword’ a bit too literally. We have to do our outmost to ensure that books and other art forms are protected from censorship. I feel sorry for Faizah Shaheen who should not have been singled out for reading Syria Speaks – if Faizah gets in touch I would be happy to invite her to our bookshop in West London and offer her any of our titles.”

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said:
“Thomson Airways should be highly embarrassed about this gross act of misjudgment. The current culture of anxiety around extremism now means that even our reading material has become grounds for suspicion of terrorist activity. The freedom to read any book, no matter the subject, is a fundamental cornerstone of our liberty. No one should ever be detained or questioned by the police on the basis of the literature they’re reading.

Syria Speaks is one of the most remarkable books to have been published since the uprising in Syria in 2011. It gives a remarkable insight into Syrian culture, celebrating the undaunted spirit of the Syrian people. It’s highly ironic, and deeply disturbing, that possessing a work that showcases one of the few remaining areas of freedom for the Syrians, the creative space, should lead to the detention of a British Muslim citizen.

This case also highlights the continuing problem of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, under which the police can detain individuals without grounds of suspicion of involvement in terrorism or other criminal activities. It is overdue for reform.”

Zaher Omareen, co-editor, Syria Speaks said:
“This despicable incident reflects the deep and widespread misunderstanding towards Syria today. It shows how far stereotypes influence our cities under the otherwise understandable security and terror concerns. Judging individuals and even taking measures against them based on their race, their looks, their language, or the printed words they carry is unacceptable and unjustifiable.

It was enough to carry a book which includes the word ‘Syria’ in its title for its owner to be under suspicion as a potential terrorist. I would like to remind the people and the government that Syria must not be reduced to the politicised and power-constructed sound bites carrying simplistic messages of violence and horror. This systematic misrepresentation distorts the common humanistic meaning which we all hold against oppression and tyranny across the world. Syria is no exception. It is a country desperate to heal and find peace, in order to become more culturally enriched and enlightened than ever, thanks to its numerous artists and cultural thinkers who are represented in a modest sample in my seemingly notorious book, Syria Speaks. Syria is not an accusation. And we, the Syrians, must not be constantly under suspicion.

The UK government speaks of integration, tolerance, and understanding the ‘other’. This is indeed a pressing and inevitable process for a democratic, modern, and multi-cultural society. However, it can never happen without reading about the other, not through outlets of mainstream misrepresentation, but through the words of the other. This is a right we should take for granted in a democracy and must not need to defend it.

I stand in solidarity with Faiza Shaheen who faced this humiliating situation because she carried a book on Syria. We must learn from this incident to make sure that no one faces similarly hideous situations in the future.”

Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, edited by Malu Halasa, Zaher Omareen and Nawara Mahfoud was published by Saqi Books in 2014.

Women in Translation Month 2016

It is August and we’re excited to be celebrating Women in Translation Month alongside a host of booksellers, bloggers, publishers and libraries. With only 30% of translated fiction being written by women, it is as important as ever to encourage readers to seek out translated texts by women.

SO, we’ve delved into our backlist and put together a list of our top titles written by women for your reading pleasure. We are also offering a discount on all of these titles through Al Saqi Books so get clicking and reading!

Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Translated from Arabic by Trevor LeGassick and Elizabeth Fernea
RRP £7.99 • #WITMonth price: £4.99

Originally published in Jerusalem, Wild Thorns was the first Arab novel to offer a glimpse of social and personal relations under Israeli occupation. Featuring unsentimental portrayals of everyday life, its deep sincerity, uncompromising honesty and rich emotional core plead elegantly for the cause of survival in the face of oppression.

Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic 
Translated from Croatian by Michael Henry Heim
RRP £7.99 • #WITMonth price £4.99

Shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, this is a brave, accomplished, witty novel about a young woman who leaves Zagreb for Amsterdam and finds herself teaching the literature of ex-Yugoslavia to ex-Yugoslavs. It is a beautiful meditation on lost homes and territories, and our ability to survive and to tell the stories of our survival, even when scarred and deprived by war and banishment of those myths we once claimed as signifiers of our identity.

The Bird by Oh Jung-Hee
Translated from Korean by Jenny Wang Medina
RRP £7.99 • #WITMonth price £4.99

A magical concoction of fairy tale and poem. Exquisitely translated by Jennifer Wang Medina, Oh Jung-Hee’s shining tale of a childhood trapped between ancient and modern worlds in late twentieth century Korea delights with its imagery and the spirit of its characters even while it disturbs with a dark vision of freedom curtailed.

While the Shark is Sleeping by Milena Agus
Translated from Italian by Brigid Maher
RRP £7.99 • #WITMonth price £4.99

Set on the Sardinian coast, While the Shark is Sleeping tells the story of the unconventional Sevilla Mendoza family and a young girl in the throes of a dangerous affair with a married man. It is a violent and enchanting story about the loss of innocence and the desire to be loved.

The Fall of the Imam by Nawal El Saadawi
Translated from Arabic by Sherif Hetata
RRP £7.99 • #WITMonth price £4.99

Nawal El Saadawi is an internationally renowned, award-winning Egyptian writer and activist that has come to embody the trials of Arab feminism. This powerful and poetic novel reveals the underlying hypocrisy of any male-dominated religious state, and the insufferable predicament of women in a society.

AND as a special treat, you can read a short story by Rasha Abbas as featured in Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline. 

A Plate of Salmon is Not Completely Cleansed of Blood

Raba’i al-Madhoun wins the 2016 IPAF

We are delighted to announce that Raba’i al-Madhoun, author of The Lady from Tel Aviv, has won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2016 for his novel Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba.

Written in four parts, each representing a concerto movement, al-Madhoun’s Destinies is a sweeping story chronicling the holocaust, the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948, and the Palestinian right to return. Commenting on the novel, this year’s Chair of Judges, Amina Thiban, said that it had achieved ‘a new fictional form in order to address the Palestinian issue, with questions of identity underpinned by a very human perspective on the struggle’.

Al-Madhoun’s novel will be translated into English as part of winning the prize, which was established in 2007 to encourage the recognition of high quality Arabic fiction, and lead to increased international readership through translation.

About My Mother receives PEN Promotes Award

We are pleased to announce that About My Mother by award-winning Moroccan novelist, essayist and playwright, Tahar Ben Jelloun, has been awarded a PEN Promotes Award.

Ben Jelloun’s novel, described by English PEN as ‘an evocative tribute to his mother and his homeland of Morocco’, is one of four titles to receive the award. The other recipients are Alpha: Abidjan–Gare du Nord by Sandrine Bessora and Stephane Barroux, The Sorrows of Mexico by Lydia Cacho and The Winterlings by Cristina Sánchez-Andrade.

Originally published in French by Gallimard (2008), About My Mother is a delicate portrait of a woman and a world left behind, exploring themes of love, loss, family and illness, reliability of memory, and the subjugation of women in post-war Morocco. Written in tender and compelling prose, the novel has been translated by Ros Schwartz and Lulu Norman and will be published by Telegram in July 2016.

This is the final round of the PEN Promotes awards scheme in its current form, supported by Bloomberg. The PEN Promotes award has supported 95 books in ten years, including Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu, translated from Mandarin by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin, The Lady from Tel Aviv by Rabai al-Madhoun, translated from Arabic by Elliott Colla, and The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from Croatian by Michael Heim. The grant will be redeveloped in consultation with publishers, venues and retailers.

Dar Al Saqi wins Sheikh Zayed Book Award

We are thrilled to announce that our sister company, Dar Al Saqi, has won the prestigious Sheikh Zayed Publishing and Technology Award 2016. The judges praised Dar Al Saqi for having adopted, since its establishment in London in 1979, a ‘broad-minded cultural project’ and for having published ‘a wide spectrum of serious books in thought, science, and art’.

The Beirut branch of Saqi Books was founded in 1987 by Andre Gaspard, and has since made a name for itself as publisher of progressive and ground-breaking works, as well as the best in new Arabic literature and non-fiction. Several of its publications won awards in various categories covered by the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

Amongst the other categories of this year’s award, Egyptian Roshdi Rashed, author of Al-Khwarizmi: The Beginnings of Algebra (Saqi Books, 2009), was awarded the Arab Culture in Other Languages Award for Angles et Grandeur, a study of the concept of angle and its relation to Archimedean and non-Archimedean theories of measurement.

The Sheikh Zayed Book Award, now in its tenth year, commemorates the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, Founding President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966 until his death in 2004. The award is presented to outstanding writers, intellectuals and publishers, as well as young talent whose writing and translation in humanities objectively enriches Arab intellectual, cultural, literary and social life.