Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2016. In the wake of resettlement from the desert to the hills overlooking Jerusalem, aging Bedouin patriarch Mannan wants his son Muhammad al-Asghar (the Youngest) to take on leadership and hold the clan together. But the youngest of eighteen sons is unable to follow in his father’s footsteps. Like others in the al-Abd al-Lat clan, he is torn between old customs and new choices. Muhammad al-Asghar is married—with affection and loyalty—to open-minded Sanaa, a childless divorcee. He works as a clerk in a sharia court, recording marriage contracts and divorce papers. But he wants to become a writer and gets drawn into stories: of his mate, of unhappy co-wives in the sharia court, of his storytelling mother Wadha (his father’s sixth wife), of his brothers and relatives. Listening to them, he becomes aware of the impossibility of equality for women in a clan culture caught in the grip of a suffocating foreign occupation, following the Palestinian exodus of 1948. And while he fails to bring the clan together, as his father had hoped, he manages to honor Mannan’s legacy request and record the life of the clan. A family album imbued with disaster, warmth and humor, Praise for the Women of the Family captures vivid snapshots of shifting intimate bonds, taken in the shadow of the patriarch by a youngest son, in search of his people’s story. The Al-Abd al-Lat clan has left the desert and is preparing to leave its Bedouin customs behind. Some of the women of the clan are drawn to the allure of modern life, while others scorn it and fear the loss of their traditional lifestyle and values. When Rasmia accompanies her husband to a party, Najma wears a dress and Sana gets a tan on her white legs, they set malicious tongues wagging. Meanwhile, Wadha, the sixth wife of Mannan, the chief of the clan, still believes that the washing machine and television are inhabited by evil spirits. Set in the tumultuous time after the nakba (the Palestinian exodus from what is now Israel), Praise for the Women in the Family portrays the rapid advance of modernity and the growing conflict in 1950s Palestine. It also reveals the impossibility of political equality in a society that treats its women unjustly and denies them the right to dignity and equality with men.
Mahmoud Shukair is a Palestinian writer, born in Jabal al-Mukabbar, Jerusalem, in 1941. He writes short stories and novels for adults and young adults. He is the author of forty-five books, six television series, and four plays. His stories have been translated into several languages, including English, French, German, Chinese, Mongolian, and Czech. He has occupied leadership positions within the Jordanian Writers' Union and the Union of Palestinian Writers and Journalists. In 2011, he was awarded the Mahmoud Darwish Prize for Freedom of Expression. He has spent his life between Beirut, Amman and Prague and now lives in Jerusalem. Paul Starkey has translated works by Adania Shibli, Mansoura Ez Eldin, Youssef Rakha, Edwar al-Kharrat, and others. He was Winner of the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for his translation of The Book of the Sultan’s Seal by Youssef Rakha.
"The character development in this novel is exemplary and fresh ' Perhaps what makes this novel an important work is the way in which the role of women in the family is depicted, not in isolation but rather within its wider social and economic dynamics ' Through the main characters, the author has managed to brilliantly place us in the nomadic life of the southeastern desert of Jerusalem, documenting the community habits, customs, and societal traditions that shape the lives of both women and men. But he also highlights the changes of such norms over time. Politics, the economy, and modernity, among other factors, have been important in the transformation of these traditions ' Paul Starkey's English translation adds charm and fluidity. Keep your eye on this author. After this elegant and captivating novel, many more of his works will be translated into English."