American Quarter, The
Jabbour Douaihy; translated by Paula Haydar
published 2017 • 5.25" x 8" • 170 pages
ISBN 9781566560306 • paperback • $15.00 •
Jabbour Douaihy’s The American Quarter is set in the Mediterranean port city of Tripoli, on the northern coast of Lebanon. Unfolding at the height of the US-led invasion of Iraq, it revolves around the radicalization of an ordinary youth named Ismail and his struggle to decide whether to carry out an assigned deadly mission. But the evolution of Ismail’s decision is part of a larger story entailing his father Bilal, a massacre survivor; his young disabled brother, whom Ismail looks after; his spirited mother Intisar, a maid like her mother before her in the wealthy, powerful Azzam household; and Abdelkarim, the Azzam family’s only son, addicted to poetry and opera, and pining for his lost Serbian ballerina—all candidly depicted by Douaihy with touching irony, warmth, and humor. As well, Ismail’s crisis is entwined with the disappointments and meager prospects of those around him in the deteriorating enclave of stairways known as the American Quarter, and of others like him forced to crisscross the neighboring conflict-scarred lands.
Ismail’s reckoning with his mission somehow comes to reflect our own struggles—for redemption, for faith in life in the face of destructive forces that can erase in an instant what is dear to us. A suspenseful classic, in a superb translation by Paula Haydar, The American Quarter is a powerful, compassionate work of surprising beauty. A love letter in homage to the spirit of an old city of one’s childhood and her people, it bolsters us with a gifted writer’s long view of the threats to tolerance and trust we now face.
Jabbour Douaihy is a celebrated Lebanese novelist born in the town of Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in 1949. He holds a PhD degree in comparative literature from the Sorbonne and works as a professor of French literature at the Lebanese University. He has published seven works of fiction, including June Rain, which was shortlisted for the inaugural International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008 and The Vagrant, shortlisted for IPAF in 2012. The American Quarter reached the IPAF long list in 2015. His latest novel, Printed in Beirut, will be published by Interlink in 2018.
Paula Haydar is Clinical Assistant Professor of Arabic at the University of Arkansas. She holds a PhD degree in comparative literature and an M.F.A. degree in literary translation. She has translated numerous novels by contemporary Lebanese, Palestinian, and Jordanian authors. Her translation of Lebanese novelist Jabbour Douaihy’s June Rain was selected as the highly commended runner-up of the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation and also made the Daily Star’s list of Top Middle East Novels of 2014. Her translations of Lebanese authors also include three novels by Elias Khoury (Gates of the City, The Journey of Little Gandhi, and The Kingdom of Strangers) and three novels by Rashid al-Daif (This Side of Innocence , Learning English, and Who’s Afraid of Meryl Streep?). Her translations of novels by Palestinian writers include Sahar Khalifeh’s The End of Spring and Adania Shibli’s Touch (Interlink). Her most recent translation is What Price Paradise by Jordanian writer Jamal Naji.
Praise for The American Quarter:
“The work of a remarkable writer…imbued with intelligence and humanity…deep empathy with those he writes about…Not only does Douaihy love his city, but…its people…His heroes, ordinary people, struggle in the middle of a story that extends beyond them, in search of a sense of dignity…"
—Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun, En attendant Nadeau
“A novel the power of which many documentarians would envy…”
—William Irigoyen, La Cité
“Douaihy’s writing is of extreme beauty, concise but full of life…with the fate of its characters intersecting and intertwining…‘Transforming the mediocrity of everyday life’ says Douaihy, ‘is the miracle that writing can accomplish.’ When it comes to The American Quarter, the miracle truly occurs…”
—Eglal Errera, Le Monde des livres
“Douaihy’s work should reach, and charm, wide…audiences.”
—Marcia Lynx Qualey, Qantara
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