December 9, 2014

“What happened in Egypt around its second revolution was a mixture of grandeur and pettiness, of sorrow and mirth, of expectation and despair, of theory and flesh. All of which may be found in The Crocodiles, a novel where reality sheds its veil to reveal its true face — that of a timeless mythology.” —Amin Maalouf, Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Samarkand

“Youssef Rakha’s The Crocodiles is a fierce ‘post-despair’ novel about a generation of poets who were too caught up in themselves to witness the 2011 revolution in Egypt. Or is it? With its numbered paragraphs and beautifully surreal imagery, The Crocodiles is also a long poem, an elegiac wail singing the sad music of a collapsing Egypt. Either way, The Crocodiles—suspicious of sincerity, yet sincere in its certainty that poetry accomplishes nothing—will leave you speechless with the hope that meaning may once again return to words.”

– Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

“Rakha writes with keen authenticity and imbues each scene in this kaleidoscopic, intelligent, and unconventional novel with unparalleled verisimilitude, essential reading for our turbulent times.”

– Booklist

“From its opening depiction of a suicide to its final pages, the author paints a disquieting picture of wild young people who can only look forward to a future that remains unresolved.”

– Publishers Weekly

“In poet/journalist Rakha's brilliant novel, set in Cairo between 1997 and 2011, the suicide of an iconic female activist, the founding of the Crocodiles Movement for Secret Egyptian Poetry by a bunch of young idealists, and the birthday of Nayf, who's struggling to translate Allen Ginsberg's "The Lion for Real," all converge on a single June day. Whether Ginsberg's lion is God or love, revolution or fate, the young people here aren't quite ready, though they're full of talk. The numbered paragraphs read like prose poems and flow like the best fiction.”

– Library Journal

“Youssef Rakha has channeled Allen Ginsberg's ferocity and sexual abandon to bring a secret Cairo poetry society called The Crocodiles to life. He's done something daring and not unlike Bolaño in his transforming the Egyptian revolution into a psychedelic fiction thick with romantic round robins, defiant theorizing and an unafraid reckoning with the darkest corners of the Egyptian mentality.”

– Lorraine Adams

"I found myself absolutely mesmerized by the poignancy and power created by Rahka's unrestrained style; the heightened moments of beauty, despite their sequestration, are beautifully balletic in their structure and come fast and often."

– Skyler Vanderhoof, The Review Lab


"Think Roberto Bolaño's modern classic 'The Savage Detectives' with its creative sense of plot and pacing, relocated from Mexico City to Cairo. Renegade poets, bursts of violence, sex and love, all of it bubbling over alongside the revolution in Tahrir Square."


A ferocious and urgent novel of the Arab Spring that begins with a suicide and ends with a doomed revolution, covering sex, violence, metafiction, deception, lost youth, and the last thirty years of a living, breathing, daring, burning, culturally infested Cairo.

This novel is narrated by a man who looks back on the magical and explosive period of his life in which he started a secret poetry club with two friends, doing the things that all young men ought to do: messy drugs, fierce older-woman-activist lovers, violent sex and passive politics, clumsy but determined intellectual bravado, retranslations of the Beat poets, growing up into and growing out of the city. One difference between The Crocodiles and any other novel is that it's set in Cairo between 1997 and 2011, against the backdrop of a burning Tahrir Square and a revolution that we know, even then, will fail. Read and you may well weep.

“Influenced by Roberto Bolaño’s 'ultrarealist' group of young poets in The Savage Detectives, and also by the American 'Beat Generation,' Rahka’s book is a collage-form account, told in paragraph-length, numbered passages that read like diary entries, about a generation of young writers and artists in Cairo. This novel is exuberant with the passions and energies of youth, and what young people endured to become artists and activists during the Mubarak regime from just before the turn of the millennium until the revolution and disillusioning aftermath of the Arab Spring. The form of it, too, is most welcome, as it can be read in very short bursts without losing anything.”

– Words Without Borders

"An electrifying, cubist portrait of a classic film’s place in the world. Youssef Rakha says that Shadi Abdel Salam’s 'The Mummy' embodies 'a twilight zone of Egyptian modernity.' By writing about patriotism, grief, visual beauty, political entropy, colonialism, and sexuality, he brilliantly takes us into that modernity, that zone. Few people write about cinema with such zigzagging bravura or impertinent seriousness; not often do we get such a three-dimensional context for a film. This book will be as valuable to creative writers as it is to devotees of cinema or Egypt."   

—  Mark Cousins, The Story of Film





December 1, 2014 

Youssef Rakha's extraordinary The Book of the Sultan's Seal was published less than two weeks after then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, following mass protests, in February 2011. It's hard to imagine a debut novel of greater urgency or more thrilling innovation.

Modeled on a medieval Arabic manuscript in the form of a letter addressed to the writer's friend, The Book of the Sultan's Seal is made up of nine chapters, each centered on a drive our hero, Mustafa Çorbaci, takes around greater Cairo in the spring of 2007. Together these create a portrait of Cairo, city of post-9/11 Islam. In a series of dreams and visions, Mustafa Çorbaci encounters the spirit of the last Ottoman sultan and embarks on a mission the sultan assigns him. Çorbaci's trials shed light on the contemporary Arab Muslim's desperation for a sense of identity: Sultan's Seal is both a suspenseful, erotic, riotous novel and an examination of accounts of Muslim demise. The way to a renaissance, Çorbaci's journeys lead us to see, may have less to do with dogma and jihad than with love poetry, calligraphy, and the cultural diversity and richness within Islam.

With his first novel, Rakha has created a language truly all his own - an achievement that has earned international acclaim. This profoundly original work both retells canonical Arabic classics and offers a new version of ''middle Arabic,'' in which the formal meets the vernacular. Now finally in English, in Paul Starkey's masterful translation, The Book of the Sultan's Seal will astonish new readers around the world.

“Two novels in translation by the Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha have just come out in English, and this will, I believe, prove to have been a real event.” —Hilary Plum, author of They Dragged Them through the Streets


“Joyce has Dublin; Modiano has Paris; Rakha has Cairo.” —Georgia de Chamberet


“Essential reading for our turbulent times.” —Booklist

“Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal gave him an immediate spot in the Hall of Fame of modern Arabic literature: a stunning achievement for a first novel.” —Anton Shammas​

“Rakha’s books are an education.” —Seth Messinger

“Youssef Rakha employs classical Arabic literary strategies in service of the most postmodern of narratives. [The Book of the Sultan’s Seal] is a brilliant novel from an exciting new writer.” —Kazim Ali, author of Bright Felon

''A chronicle of the decay of the city and a call to arms…the inter-textual references in this thoroughly hybrid text are astonishing …The Book of the Sultan's Seal is an outstanding first novel by an author who has a special ability to deal with modern and classical material, both Arab and western, with equal ease.'' —Mona Anis

''A great novel, the ultimate in eloquence...'' —Muhammad Salim 'Abbada

Rakha, Masr Station, 2007
Rakha, Masr Station, 2007

Piri Reis's Egypt
Piri Reis's Egypt

Rakha, Dokky in Winter, 2019
Rakha, Dokky in Winter, 2019

Rakha, Masr Station, 2007
Rakha, Masr Station, 2007

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©2019 by Youssef Rakha