Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Mommy and Daddy's Day with The Book Censor's Library by Bothayna Al-Essa!

It's Mommy and Daddy's Day! What is that? Well, every so often, I post a book, which is intended for adult readers—after all, Moms and Dads like to read, too. These books do not contain anything 'worse' than the usual young adult read. So, these don't need to be hidden under the bed and can be read by YA readers if desired.

Today's read comes from a publisher I'm always keeping my eyes on, since it specializes in reads translated into English from other languages/cultures. These titles have already proven themselves in their own countries (and sometimes, more than that). Today's read comes from Kuwait (Arabic) and swings into a dystopian world. The main theme surrounds the question of censorship and freedom of speech, and should leave with plenty of food for thought.


by Bothayna Al-Essa
Translated by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain
Restless Books
272 pages

APRIL 2nd!!!

A perilous and fantastical satire of banned books, secret libraries, and the looming eye of an all-powerful government. The new book censor hasn’t slept soundly in weeks. By day he combs through manuscripts at a government office, looking for anything that would make a book unfit to publish―allusions to queerness, unapproved religions, any mention of life before the Revolution. By night the characters of literary classics crowd his dreams, and pilfered novels pile up in the house he shares with his wife and daughter. As the siren song of forbidden reading continues to beckon, he descends into a netherworld of resistance fighters, undercover booksellers, and outlaw librarians trying to save their history and culture.

Reckoning with the global threat to free speech and the bleak future it all but guarantees, Bothayna Al-Essa marries the steely dystopia of Orwell’s 1984 with the madcap absurdity of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland , resulting in a dreadful twist worthy of Kafka. The Book Censor’s Library is a warning call and a love letter to stories and the delicious act of losing oneself in them.



These pages catch readers in a whirlwind of literary delights, while revealing the danger of censorship's dark claws.

The New Book Censor was hoping to be on the frontline of dangerous book defense and scope out illegal finds in bookstores. Instead, he's placed on the more hidden position as a book censor. No book is allowed into the world without passing a censor's strict and controlled rulebook. While it might seem like a safe and tedious job, the risk is deadly. Books have been known to suck their readers into their ideas and nonsense...so much so that readers, who enjoy books, are driven to madness. The New Book Censor refuses to let this happen to him, especially since he has a wife and child. But he also harbors secrets. Not only does his child have a strong imagination, which should have been reported long before, but a book wormed its way into his heart and started the madness censors fear most.

The translators deserve special kudos on this one. The read is packed to the gills with literary Easter eggs, metaphors, and other devices. Plus, it holds clever humor and more than a few nods and sayings, all of which flow smoothly without any obvious hiccups or stutters.

Books and their censorship fall into a dystopian world, where imagination isn't allowed any more than thoughts of improvement or individualism. The message concerning the danger of the control of speech is clear and loud, and that while weaving an original tale with quite a few unexpected moments. While it's always clear what the author's message is, the tale is like jumping down a rabbit's hole. Fantasy, words, and reality collide with a fever-dream atmosphere, which borders on ridiculousness but plants enough roots in life struggles to keep the tension and danger clear.

While the literary end is a reader's treat, the story of the New Censor also grabs. His hopes to simply do his new job well meet one unexpected hurdle after the next. It's hard not to feel for him as he tries to fight for his daughter, keep his sanity, and not follow the ill-fallen footsteps of some of his predecessors. The heavier side of the story hits hard against the unexpected humor and situations. It's an interesting balance, which questions the border between dream and reality, while adding fuel for deeper thought. It's not a light read but propels forward at a steady pace, keeping the readers in the pages until the very end.

And here they are...

Bothayna Al-Essa is the bestselling Kuwaiti author of nearly a dozen novels and additional children’s books. She is also the founder of Takween, a bookshop and publisher of critically acclaimed works. Her most recent book, The Book Censor’s Library won the Sharjah Award for Creativity in the novel category in 2021 and is her third novel to appear in English, after Lost in Mecca and All That I Want to Forget. Al-Essa was author-in-residence at the British Centre for Literary Translation for the summer of 2023, and the recipient of Kuwait’s Nation Encouragement Award for her fiction in 2003 and 2012. She has written books on writing and led writing workshops throughout the Arab world.

Sawad Hussain is a translator from Arabic whose work has been recognised by English PEN, the Anglo-Omani Society and the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, among others. She is a judge for the Palestine Book Awards and the 2023 National Translation Award. She has run translation workshops under the auspices of Shadow Heroes, Africa Writes, Shubbak Festival, the Yiddish Book Center, the British Library, and the National Centre for Writing. Her most recent translations include Black Foam by Haji Jaber (AmazonCrossing) and What Have You Left Behind by Bushra al-Maqtari (Fitzcarraldo Editions). She was selected to be the Princeton Translator in Residence in 2025. She is based in Cambridge, U.K. and her website is sawadhussain.com.

Ranya Abdelrahman is a translator of Arabic literature into English. After working for more than sixteen years in the information technology industry, she changed careers and joined the Emirates Literature Foundation to pursue her interest in books and promoting reading. She discovered her passion for translation during her time at the Foundation, where she worked as Programme Manager, and later Head of Education and Publishing. Abdelrahman has published translations in ArabLit Quarterly and The Common, and is the translator of Out of Time, a short story collection by iconic Palestinian author Samira Azzam. She is based in Dubai in the U.A.E.


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