The labourer

My review of Hamdi Abu Golayyel's newly translated novel just came out in The Review. A Dog with No Tail is his second book, after Thieves in Retirement, and it won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature last year, given out by AUC Press (part of the award is to be translated and published by the press).
Abu Golayyel emigrated to Cairo from his Bedouin village in the early 80s, and worked in construction. This experience informs the book and inspired its original Arabic title, as I note:
Yet in the years spent lugging sacks of cement, smashing walls, pouring foundations and sleeping in empty buildings at night – building the residences of others without a home to call his own – Abu Golayyel found both material and metaphor. The novel’s resonant title in Arabic, Al Fa’il, is derived from the verb “to do”. It means “the doer”, “the actor” or, used as an adjective, “the efficacious, efficient”. In a grammatical sense, it means “the subject” – but in common parlance the world simply means “the labourer”. The English title is derived from a quip in the story, and works well enough. But the original Arabic title is particularly fitting for a book about the unstable edifice that is identity and the constant act of construction that is writing.
The novel was translated by our good old friend, and one-time member of the Arabist household, Robin Moger. Mr. Moger did an above-par job, his translation is a pleasure to read, and I expect we'll see more from him soon.
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