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.


December 9, 2014

“It is this intent seriousness of purpose, driven by the fierce, forensic intelligence behind it, that lifts [The Crocodiles] above much contemporary western writing.” —Niall Griffiths, The New Welsh Review

“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

“The Crocodiles is also a long poem, an elegiac wail singing the sad music of a collapsing Egypt.” —Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?


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.

“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 again​

“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





Azhar ash-shams (Arabic: أزهار الشمس; Flowers of the Sun), short stories, Cairo: Dar Sharqiyat, 1999


The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars (Arabic: كتاب الطغرى: غرائب التاريخ في مدينة المريخ), novel, Cairo: Dar Al-Shorouk, 2011. ISBN 978-9-77092-988-9. Beirut: Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-6-14419-868-1. USA: Interlink, 2015. ISBN 978-1-56656-916-3. Geneva: Éditions Zoé, 2016. ISBN 978-2-88927-378-2


The Crocodiles (Arabic: التماسيح), novel, Beirut: Dar Al-Saqi, 2012. ISBN 978-1-85516-878-7. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2015. ISBN 978-160980-571-5


Paolo (Arabic: باولو), novel, Cairo-Beirut-Tunis: Dar Al-Tanwir, 2016. ISBN 978-977648-358-3



Beirut shi mahal (Arabic: بيروت شي محل; Beirut Some Place), photo travelogue, Alexandria: Amkenah Books, 2006


Bourguiba ala madad (Arabic: بورقيبة على مضض; Bourguiba Reluctantly), part two of Beirut shi mahal (without photos), Beirut: Riyad El-Rayyes, 2008. ISBN 995-3-21334-8


Shamal al qahira gharb al filibbin (Arabic: شمال القاهرة غرب الفلبين; North of Cairo, West of the Philippines), travel essays, Beirut: Riyad El-Rayyes, 2009. ISBN 978-9-95321-422-1


Kull amakinina (Arabic: كل أماكننا; All Our Places), poems and essays, Cairo: Dar Al-Ain, 2010. ISBN 978-9-77490-022-8


Yadhhar malak (Arabic: يظهر ملاك; An Angel Appears), poems, ebook only, 2011


Diwan 90: Articles on Arabic Literature, ebook only, 2014


Arab Porn, essay (ebook only), 60Pages (long-form collective), 2016. ASIN B01J4YMPZK. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2017. ISBN 978-3-95757-382-7


Intermittent noise from Youssef Rakha and Cairo's Coolest Cosmopolitan Hotel




©2019 by Youssef Rakha