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Book of the Sultan's Seal, The
Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars
by Youssef Rakha; translated from the Arabic by Paul Starkey

Published 2015 • 5 ¼” x 8 • 374 pages
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“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, author of "Sky Ward" and "Bright Felon"

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

“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


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.

Youssef Rakha is the author of seven books in Arabic. His novel The Crocodiles is also available in English.

Paul Starkey has translated works by Adania Shibli, Mansoura Ez Eldin, Edwar al-Kharrat, and others.

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