A free spirit in Mecca

Jonathan Wright enjoys a Saudi woman writer’s literary inventiveness

The World Today
3 minute READ

Jonathan Wright

Translator of Arabic literary fiction, most recently ‘The Televangelist’ by Ibrahim Essa and ‘The Bamboo Stalk’ by Saud Alsanousi

The Dove’s Necklace
Raja Alem, Duckworth Overlook, £18.99

When a Saudi novel that has won the prestigious International Prize for Arab Fiction finally appears in English translation, it is only natural that people with an interest in the wider world should browse through it in the hope it might throw light on what our media often portrays as an alien culture. When the writer is a woman and the woman comes from Mecca, the birthplace of Islam and physical omphalos of the Islamic cosmos, they might be doubly intrigued.

The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem, joint winner of the IPAF prize in 2011, was published by Duckworth Overlook this summer in a polished translation by Katharine Halls and Adam Talib, to the relatively subdued kind of reception that translators of contemporary Arabic fiction, like myself, have come to expect after many months of labour.

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