The Penguin's Song (Paperback)

By Hassan Daoud, Ohasan Daawaud, Marilyn Booth (Translator)

City Lights Books, 9780872866232, 184pp.

Publication Date: December 16, 2014



"I loved this book when I read it in Arabic. The Penguin's Song is a classic novel of the Lebanese civil war."--Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman

"Sixteen years after appearing in Daoud's native Lebanon, this elegiac novel has finally arrived in English . . . Daoud's novel seems to have inherted its sensibilities--its recursive and dense sentences, its damaged narrator, its poignant obsession with lost time--from Remembrance of Things Past or Notes From the Underground. . . . This is a novel about the trap of poverty--but also an affirmation of the Underground Man's noted maxim: 'I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is an illness.'"--Paul Toutonghi, The New York Times Book Review

"In The Penguin's Song, a city falls, a father dies, two women walk the same road over and over, a boy with a broken body dreams of love. Like Agota Kristof's Notebook Trilogy, this spare yet lyrical parable tells us more about exile, loss and the wearing away of hope than most us want to know. I love this beautiful book."--Rebecca Brown, author of American Romances and The End of Youth

"Daoud's novel is an elegiac account of loneliness and separation. . . . This is a haunting story inhabited by the ghosts of past lives and demolished buildings, where desires are left unfulfilled and loneliness sweeps through every soul."--Publishers Weekly

"Daoud's claustrophobic novel hauntingly conveys one family's isolation after being relocated during the Lebanese civil war. . . . Daoud's evocation of history as it is experienced is excellent. His characters live through momentous events, but their struggles to survive land them in a kind of purgatory. A novel that defies expectations as it summons up the displacement and dehumanization that can come with war."--Kirkus Reviews

" . . . deftly explores how people cope with the aftermath of war and the tremendous struggle of rebuilding not only with bricks and concrete but with heart, hopes, and dreams."--Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH, and Library Journal

"Hassan Daoud is one of Lebanon's most important living writers. With her usual empathy and elegance, veteran translator Marilyn Booth brings out the idiosyncrasies and pathetic charm of this unlikely protagonist in his suffocating world. This is a heartbreaking novel that shines a light with empathy onto small lives lived humbly on the margins."--Max Weiss, Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University and author of In the Shadow of Sectarianism: Law, Shi'ism and the Making of Modern Lebanon

As war wreaks havoc on the historic heart of Beirut, tenants of the old city are pushed to the margins and obliged to live on the surrounding hillsides, where it seems they will stay forever, waiting. The dream of return becomes a way of life in the unending time of war.

"The Penguin" is a physically deformed young man who lives with his aging mother and father in one of the "temporary" buildings. His father spends his days on the balcony of their apartment, looking at the far-off city and pining for his lost way of life. Mother and father both find their purpose each day in worrying about the future for their son, while he spends his time in an erotic fantasy world, centered on a young woman who lives in the apartment below. Poverty and family crisis go hand in hand as the young man struggles with his isolation and unfulfilled sexual longing.

Voted "The Best Arabic Novel of the Year" when it was first published, The Penguin's Song is a finely wrought parable of how one can live out an entire life in the dream of returning to another.

About the Author

Hassan Daoud was born in the village of Noumairieh in southern Lebanon in 1950 and moved as a child to Beirut, though like so many Lebanese families, his retained strong links to the village and returned there every summer. Daoud studied Arabic literature at university and worked as a reporter throughout Lebanon's civil war. He is the editor of the 'Nawafidh' cultural supplement of the Beirut daily al-Mustaqbal and the author of two volumes of short stories and eight novels, four of which have already appeared in English translation. He is widely respected throughout the Arab world, and his work 180 Sunsets was longlisted for the Arabic Booker Prize. Marilyn Booth holds the Iraq Chair in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh, where she is also Joint Director of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW). Her recent and forthcoming scholarly books are (as editor) Harem Histories: Envisioning Places and Living Spaces (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010) and Classes of Ladies of Cloistered Spaces: Writing Women's History through Biography in Fin-de-Siecle Egypt (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014). She has translated over a dozen works of Arabic fiction and memoir, including Elias Khoury's As Though She Were Sleeping (Archipelago, 2011). In addition to having won prizes for her translation she has been a judge for the University of Arkansas Press Arabic Translation Prize and the Saif al-Ghobashi-Banipal Prize. She considers herself a 'translation activist', mentoring and training emerging literary translators, organising internships for them (through CASAW) and participating in studies and events on literary translation from and into Arabic.