• The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars

     

    It’s hard to imagine a debut more thrilling than Youssef Rakha’s groundbreaking The Book of the Sultan’s Seal. The novel is made up of nine chapters, each centered on a drive our hero, Mustafa Çorbacı, takes around greater Cairo—city of post-9/11 Islam. In a series of visions, Çorbacı encounters the spirit of the last Ottoman sultan and embarks on a mission the sultan assigns him. Çorbacı’s trials shed light on the contemporary Arab Muslim’s desperation for a sense of identity: The Book of the Sultan’s Seal is both a suspenseful, erotic, riotous novel and an urgent, unparalleled examination of accounts of Muslim demise.

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  • Always Coca-Cola

     

    Always Coca-Cola is the story of three very different young women attending university in Beirut: Abeer, Jana, and Yasmine. The narrator, Abeer Ward (fragrant rose, in Arabic), daughter of a conservative family, admits wryly that her name is also the name of her father’s flower shop.

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  • Sarmada

     

    Three women struggle against the forces of society, family, and passion in a small Druze village in the south of Syria as the country itself struggles against the forces of the Ottoman Empire, the French Empire, and then the Baath. The village of Sarmada is an enchanting place, but the people who live there don’t much notice it.

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  • The Book of the Sultan’s Sea...

  • Always Coca-Cola...

  • Sarmada...

 

Praise for Youssef Rakha Novel

“This complex novel from Rakha is set in 2007, and follows 30-year-old Mustafa Çorbaci, a disgruntled Cairo newspaperman who is having an affair with a woman named Yildiz. Rather impulsively, he divorces his pregnant wife after their one-year marriage. He moves back into his mother’s house, where he writes a series of detailed letters to his émigré friend, the psychiatrist Rashid Jalal Siyouti, who practices in London. Mustafa tells his friend about the nine events he participates in over the next three weeks that reshape his life. The first is his mystical experience of meeting the last Ottoman sultan, who tasks the willing Mustafa to perform a mission that sends him deep into Cairo’s rich Islamic history through different sites in greater Cairo, and Mustafa worries over how to fulfill his quest. Meantime, he quarrels with his confused and alarmed mother when he’s not romancing Claudine, the elder sister of Yildiz. While the ‘semi-madman’ Mustafa may strike some readers as an unsympathetic protagonist, Rakha’s novel is quite inventive, with colorful Ottoman history lending ample pizzazz to the narrative.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Published in Arabic in the spring of 2011, Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal gave him an immediate spot in the Hall of Fame of modern Arabic literature: a stunning achievement for a first novel. This novel realizes, at long last, one of the dreams of modern Arabic novelists since the mid nineteenth century: to formulate a seamless style of modern narration that places the novel in the world, Faulkner-style. A special tip of the hat should go to Paul Starkey, the bold and masterful translator.”
—Anton Shammas author of Arabesques

“Youssef Rakha employs classical Arabic literary strategies—an enfolding of narratives, misdirection, and mixture of colloquial and high diction—in service of the most postmodern of narratives set in contemporary Egypt. He’s easy to see as an heir of Mahfouz, but he’s equally associated with the compelling storytelling techniques of Mohamed Mrabet, the smart structures of Rabih Alameddine, the fabulist tradition of Rashid al-Daif, the political commitments of Etel Adnan and the poetic turn of language of Venus Khoury-Ghata. This is a brilliant novel from an exciting new writer.”
—Kazim Ali is author of Sky Ward and Bright Felon

“A chronicle of the decay of the city and a call to arms… the inter-textual references in this thoroughly hybrid text are astonishing … [The Book of the Sultan’s Seal] is an outstanding first novel by an author who has a special ability to deal with modern and classical material, both Arab and western, with equal ease.”
—Mona Anis, Al-Ahram Weekly

“A great novel, the ultimate in eloquence…”
—Muhammad Salim ‘Abbada

“What happened in Egypt around its second revolution was a mixture of grandeur and pettiness, of sorrow and mirth, of expectation and despair, of theory and flesh. All of which may be found in The Crocodiles, a novel where reality sheds its veil to reveal its true face—that of a timeless mythology.”
—Amin Maalouf, Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Samarkand on The Crocodiles

The Book of the Sultan’s Seal

Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars

by Youssef Rakha

translated from the Arabic by Paul Starkey

A PROFOUNDLY ORIGINAL DEBUT FROM HIGHLY ACCLAIMED EGYPTIAN WRITER

Youssef Rakha’s extraordinary The Book of the Sultan’s Seal was published less than two weeks after then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, following mass protests, in February 2011. It’s hard to imagine a debut novel of greater urgency or more thrilling innovation.

         Modeled on a medieval Arabic manuscript in the form of a letter addressed to the writer’s friend, The Book of the Sultan’s Seal is made up of nine chapters, each centered on a drive our hero, Mustafa Çorbaci, takes around greater Cairo in the spring of 2007. Together these create a portrait of Cairo, city of post-9/11 Islam. In a series of dreams and visions, Mustafa Çorbaci encounters the spirit of the last Ottoman sultan and embarks on a mission the sultan assigns him. Çorbaci’s trials shed light on the contemporary Arab Muslim’s desperation for a sense of identity: Sultan’s Seal is both a suspenseful, erotic, riotous novel and an examination of accounts of Muslim demise. The way to a renaissance, Çorbaci’s journeys lead us to see, may have less to do with dogma and jihad than with love poetry, calligraphy, and the cultural diversity and richness within Islam.

         With his first novel, Rakha has created a language truly all his own—an achievement that has earned international acclaim. This profoundly original work both retells canonical Arabic classics and offers a new version of “middle Arabic,” in which the formal meets the vernacular. Now finally in English, in Paul Starkey’s masterful translation, The Book of the Sultan’s Seal will astonish new readers around the world.

Youssef Rakha is the author of seven books in Arabic. His fiction, criticism, and journalism have appeared widely, including in the New York TimesMcSweeney’s, the Kenyon Review, and the Atlantic. His novel The Crocodiles is forthcoming in English.

Paul Starkey served as head of the Arabic department at Durham University, UK, and a co-director of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World, until his recent retirement. His translations include works by Adania Shibli, Mansoura Ez Eldin, and Edwar al-Kharrat.