by Najwa Barakat; translated from the Arabic by Luke Leafgren
Published 2015 • 5 ¼” x 8 • 208 pages
ISBN 9781566569927 • paperback • $15.00 •
“A worthwhile, entertaining, and intelligent novel… It shifts from suspense to romance, from melodrama to psychological thriller, with a few confusing and self-defeating twists, and Luke Leafgren’s slick translation captures the range of registers that Barakat deploys. Sometimes it’s outrageous, sometimes it’s cheesy, and sometimes it jolts with horror and flashes with beauty and pathos, just as pulp lit can and ought to do. The colorful architectures of the novel attest to Barakat’s bold insistence on broaching topics, from the normalization of sexual violence to the questioning of grief and mourning as central to our humanity, among broad audiences. She is a force to be reckoned with in the Arab literary scene… Reading Oh, Salaam! today, the first English translation of Barakat’s acclaimed and award-winning work as a novelist, is an occasion to reconsider how to grieve, how to mourn, and to identify and confront, head on, the destructive impulses that humans, predatory as rats as we can be, have the capacity to reinvent.”
—Oye! Times, Toronto, Canada
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A BRAVE, COMPELLING NOVEL ON THE ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCES OF WAR AND GENDER VIOLENCE
Najwa Barakat’s Oh, Salaam! tells the story of three friends—an explosives expert, a sniper, and a torturer—whose lives are transformed by their involvement in a civil war in an unnamed Arab country, and by their relationship with the novel’s anti-heroine, Salaam. Two of the friends live to see the end of the war but struggle to survive the arrival of peace and to make a life for themselves in a society that has no use for ex-paramilitaries. As the characters seek to find love, make it rich, or get out of the country alive, they use and torment each other, revealing the ultimate consequences of war and gender violence in a “city that no longer resembles itself.”
First published in Arabic (Yaa Salaam!, 1999) and translated into Italian and French, Oh, Salaam! has been acclaimed for its skillful, unflinching treatment of antisocial characters, gender roles, and the effects of civil war.
Najwa Barakat is a prominent and active voice in the Arab literary world, addressing difficult themes with dark humor and gritty realism. Born in Beirut, she has written five novels in Arabic and one in French. In addition to her work as a novelist and journalist, Barakat has translated Camus’s Notebooks into Arabic and founded Mohtaraf, a program to encourage and train young Arab writers.
Luke Leafgren currently teaches Arabic at Harvard University. He translated Muhsin Al-Ramli’s Dates on My Fingers (AUC Press, 2014).
"'Oh, Salaam!' succeeds in gripping the reader with its dark humor and bold realism... a war novel that will be remembered as one of the best in war literature, not because of its unforgettable descriptions of scenes of violence, but primarily because of its graphic methods of revealing how war affects human beings: civilians, soldiers, mercenaries, and merchants — male and female alike. It is a disturbing novel, but it is well worth reading."
—Middle East Media and Book Reviews Online
“Ms. Barakat has woven together a narrative, at once complex and straightforward, in which the grotesque becomes commonplace and shocking events cease to jolt us. Luqman and Salaam, have, as Luqman claims, “won the war against peace” as they fall into depravity, and we, the readers, become complicit in their war. Oh, Salaam! convicts us of our voyeurism while implicating us in the horrors of war with an unabashedly candid view of the lives it affects and corrupts. Barakat accomplishes all of this while avoiding the heavy-handed and didactic constructs that so easily diminish the impact of similar stories.”
“Oh, Salaam! is a fast, engaging, and rich read. It’s a book to be swallowed at one setting, and then chewed over for weeks and months to come.”
“Without any taboos or limits Barakat depicts here the return to life after war with a remarkable freedom of tone and evocative power…The strangest thing is that upon finishing the book, one has the feeling of being caught in the net of a work that is suffocating but enthralling, which fascinates with the resplendence of its images and the clarity of its vision.”
—Le Monde Diplomatique
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