Rania's Picks

Bookseller and Writer-in-Residence Rania's thoughts on some of her favorite books 

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River Spirit By Leila Aboulela Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802162755
Availability: In stock at publisher: Usually Ships to store in 3-5 Business Days.
Published: Grove Press - March 12th, 2024

River Spirit: A Gateway Peek into Sudanese History
Drawing inspiration from an actual bill of sale housed in the Sudan Archive at Durham, Leila Aboulela intricately crafts a multi-layered historical novel in "River Spirit." As the first Caine Prize for African Writing winner, Aboulela introduces readers to the compelling narrative of Akuany, a Southern orphan girl whose life takes a troubled turn when their village is raided for the slave trade before she and her younger brother are rescued by Yassin, a Muslim Northern merchant. Then later she finds herself enslaved.

Set against the backdrop of the 19th century, a pivotal period in Sudanese history marked by The Mahdist Revolution (1881-1899) resisting Ottoman colonization, the novel becomes a window into the complexities of the time.

Leila places Akuany at the narrative forefront, spotlighting women in a society where their experiences are often sidelined.

Within the pages, Akuany's journey, or Zamam - the Muslim name given to her-, unfolds a captivating tale that encapsulates the social, political, slave trade, religious, racial boundaries, and gender dynamics of Sudan during that transformative period. The narrative weaves through the fabric of love, intertwining Akuany's fate with Yassin, the Muslim merchant, against a backdrop rich with historical intricacies.

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The Sea Cloak: And Other Stories By Nayrouz Qarmout Cover Image
ISBN: 9781905583782
Availability: In stock at publisher: Usually Ships to store in 3-5 Business Days.
Published: Comma Press - October 1st, 2020

In her remarkable short stories collection "The Sea Cloak & Other Stories", Nayrouz Qarmout- who grew up in a Syrian refugee camp before returning to Gaza - offers an exceptional and poignant perspective on the daily lives of individuals in Palestine and within the confines of refugee camps. These narratives, delicately woven with emotion, vividly depict moments of resilience and defiance amid the relentless challenges faced by Palestinians, embodying a powerful spirit and unwavering determination in the face of profound adversity.

Qarmout's exquisite use of poetic language serves as a vehicle, transporting readers to a world where tragedy and hope intertwine seamlessly. Her stories serve as windows into the lives of Gaza's inhabitants, portraying the profound impact of relentless bombings on the fabric of daily existence. Simultaneously, the narratives delve into the intricacies of social relationships and cultural tensions across different generations within the vast tapestry of Gaza's society.

Central to these tales are the resilient female characters who confront challenges and societal constraints with remarkable courage. Their narratives unfold as stories of struggle against oppressive restrictions and the relentless brutality of Israeli authorities. Qarmout's artistic touch adds a unique dimension to this literary work, making "The Sea Cloak" not merely a collection of stories but an immersive experience that leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of its readers.

In this collection, Qarmout transcends the ordinary, offering readers a profound glimpse into the complexities and nuances of life in a turbulent region. The stories act as a mirror, reflecting the strength and fragility of the human spirit in the face of adversity. "The Sea Cloak" becomes a literary exploration, providing readers with a nuanced understanding of the human experience in a landscape marred by conflict, ultimately inviting them to reflect on the universal themes of resilience, courage, and the enduring pursuit of hope in the most challenging circumstances.

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Minor Detail By Adania Shibli, Elisabeth Jaquette (Translated by) Cover Image
By Adania Shibli, Elisabeth Jaquette (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780811229074
Availability: In stock at publisher: Usually Ships to store in 3-5 Business Days.
Published: New Directions - May 26th, 2020

Last October, there was a significant literary uproar in the global literary scene following the cancellation by the Frankfurt Book Fair of the honoring of the Palestinian novelist Adania Shibli with the German LiBeraturpreis Award 2023 for her novel Minor Detail (Eine Nebensache), as well as the cancellation of the public discussion with Shibli and her German translator, Günther Orth.

More than 1300 publishers and writers from around the globe, including three Nobel laureates, signed an open letter denouncing the prevention of the prize-giving ceremony for Adania Shibli at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The fair issued a statement saying it aims "to make Israeli voices “especially visible at the fair”. Publishers and writers in the open letter viewed this as an attempt to silence the Palestinian voices.

Shibli’s UK publisher, Jacques Testard of Fitzcarraldo, wrote, “One of the purposes of literature is to encourage understanding and dialogue between cultures. At a time of such horrific violence and heartbreak, the world’s biggest book fair has a duty to champion literary voices from Palestine and Israel. We stand in solidarity with Adania Shibli and her German publishers, Berenberg Verlag.”

As for Adania, she said If the ceremony were to have gone ahead, she would have taken the opportunity to reflect on the role of literature in these cruel and painful times.

Minor Detail which was a finalist for the National Book Award 2020, and translated by Elisabeth Jaquette based on true events and unfolds in August 1949. It depicts a military battalion leader and his soldiers camp in a spot in the Negev desert suspected to be a route used by Arab infiltrators. Over five decades later, a Palestinian woman embarks on a journey to the Negev seeking to uncover the details of an incident that occurred in that camp, relying on various minor details.

The novel is divided into two parts, the first is narrated in the third-person voice, revealing details about the rape and murder of an Arab girl by an Israeli military battalion leader in the Negev in 1949.

However, the second part begins with a sense of the present, with equally detailed details, but this time about a woman from Ramallah, an employee who reads about the incident in an Israeli newspaper "Haaretz," where an Israeli journalist documents the gang rape of the girl. The woman from Ramallah is seized with passion to search for the traces of the crime because there is a minor and personal detail that concerns her, which is that the date of the murder is her birthday a quarter of a century later.