Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681376929
Pages: 324
Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Arabesques

by Anton Shammas, translated from the Hebrew by Vivian Eden, afterword by Elias Khoury

Paperback
Available as an e-book from these retailers
This title can be purchased from your favorite e-book retailer, including many independent booksellers.

Buy on Amazon Buy on iBooks Buy on Barnes & Noble
Arabesques was a literary and political astonishment when it first came out in 1986, a book that showed how sophisticated fiction could engage the urgent political issues of the day not as propaganda but as and through the imaginative and linguistic means of literature itself. The astonishment began with the language in which the book was written. Anton Shammas, from a Palestinian Christian family and raised in Israel, wrote his novel in Hebrew, as no Arab novel had been before, a choice that was provocative to both Arab and Jewish readers. The novel is written in an elegant and elaborate style, alive with echoes, and is divided into two sections: “The Tale” and “The Teller.” “The Tale” tells of several generations of family life in a rural village, of the interplay of past and present, of how memory intersects with history in a part of the world where different people have both lived together and struggled against each other for centuries. “The Teller” is about the writer’s voyage out of that world to Paris and the United States, as he comes into his vocation as a writer, and raises questions of the authority of the storyteller and the nature of the self that have come to preoccupy so many writers. Shammas’s tour de force is both a personal and a political narrative, as well as a reinvention of the novel as a way of envisioning and responding to historical and cultural legacies and conflicts.

Praise

Intricately conceived and beautifully written. . . . A crisp, luminous, and nervy mixture of fantasy and autobiography . . . [and] an elegant example of postmodern baroque.
—John Updike, The New Yorker

This book is a history of its author’s youth and the memoir of a family and a fabled region—Galilee. . . A beautifully impressive piece of prose.
—William H. Gass, New York Times Book Review

Arabesques is a classic of the exploration of identity. . . A Palestinian master of Hebrew, living at the seam between the ancient and the modern, between loyalties and appetites, Shammas has written beautifully about his search for design. He transforms fact into fantasy without changing a thing.
—Leon Wieseltier

Arabesques really brings, as novels were once supposed to bring, ‘news’ from elsewhere. . . This book has already added something notable to Israeli literature.
—Irving Howe, The New York Review of Books

If Hebrew literature is at all destined to have its Conrads, Nabokovs, Becketts and Lonescos, it could not have hoped for a more auspicious beginning.
—Muhammad Siddiq, Los Angeles Times Book Review