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Learning English
Rachid al-Daif; translated by Paula Haydar and Adnan Haydar

5 1/4" x 8" • 224 pages
ISBN 9781566566742 • paperback • $12.95

No matter how hard Rachid tries to recreate himself, to become educated and worldly—to “learn English”—it is impossible for this hip Beiruti with his cell phone and high-speed internet to sever the connection to his past in the Lebanese village of Zgharta, known for its “tough guys” and old-fashioned clan mentality. When the news of his father’s murder, a case of blood revenge, reaches him by chance through a newspaper report, it drags him inescapably back into the world of his past. Suddenly he is plunged once again into the endless questions that plagued his childhood: questions about his parents’ marriage and his own legitimacy, questions he would rather have forgotten and which threaten not only his new lifestyle, but now, according to the protocol of vendetta culture, his very life.

The accomplished al-Daif hooks his readers from page one of this, his ninth, novel—partly with pieces and fragments of suspense-filled plot and partly with his typically idiosyncratic narrator, whose bizarre stories, comical asides and uncannily perceptive comments on human nature lead us through this tantalizing, funny, and sober book about the hold the past has on Lebanon, and on us all.

Born in Lebanon in 1945, Rachid al-Daif is the acclaimed author of eleven novels and three volumes of poetry. Of the novels, three have been translated into English: Dear Mr. Kawabata, This Side of Innocence, and Passage to Dusk.

Paula Haydar is professor of Arabic at the University of Arkansas and the translator of al-Daif’s This Side of Innocence and Elias Khoury’s The Kingdom of Strangers. Her most recent project is a translation of Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh’s A Hot Spring.

Adnan Haydar is professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of Arkansas. He has authored, co-authored, or co-edited six books, including Naguib Mahfouz: From Regional Fame to International Recognition. He has published many translations from Arabic, including Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s celebrated The Ship.

Media Reviews

"A riveting interior monologue by Lebanese novelist al-Daif penetrates the deep-seated anxiety of a middle-aged Beirut-based literature professor after he hears about his father's tribal murder...The Haydars' pristine translation captures Rashid's conflictedness and leaves intact al-Daif's wordplay, making this a fine introduction to Arabic fiction."
-- Publishers Weekly

"[The] translation is a fluent rendering of the Arabic original and abley follows its meandering style, which imitates the inner thoughts of the novel's protagonist, Rashid. The reader is not hooked to the story by a plot, for there is none that is developed in the manner of the traditional novel; the reader is rather hooked by the suspenseful narration itself which represents the thinking of Rashid. The novel's action takes place entirely in Rashid's head before he comes to a decision on what to do. Once he decides, the novel ends. ...In the meantime, we as readers [are] enthralled by novelist Rachid al-Daif's art of suspense, learn from Rashid's train of thought and his memories. Paula and Adnan Haydar are to be congratulated for rendering into beautiful English a version of an interesting novel with symbolic meanings about the hold of the past on modern beings.
--Issa J Boullata, Ph.D., Digest of Middle East Studies

"This novel... carries the reader along by clear, flowing narrative, unbroken by chapters but touched with mystery and a dark humor. Suggestive of autobiography, it constructs an intriguing portrait of an individual fettered by his past and uncertain of his present, caught in an unending awareness of senseless violence."
--Elsa Marston, Multicultural Review

Click Here to Read Author Interview in Banipal Magazine

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Of Related Interest:
B as in Beirut
This Side of Innocence
Dear Mr. Kawabata
Qadi & the Fortune Teller, The
Stone of Laughter, The