Awakened Press, in Boston, the U.S. publishing division of Dubai's Dar-El Shams Books, just published its first book in the U.S., and the company's first book in English, Rise Up and Salute the Sun. This collection of writings by U.S.-Egyptian writer and filmmaker Suzy Kassem will be released worldwide in the late fall in both English and Egyptian Arabic.
In addition to its Dubai headquarters, Dar-El Shams has a large office in Cairo and new offices in London and Mumbai. "We like to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western cultures. If you look at both cultures, they have always borrowed and taken. We want to show there's a lot of similarity," said director of publicity Jeremy Martin, who heads the Boston office.
Kassem, a first-generation American born to Egyptian parents in Toledo, Ohio, attempts to do a similar kind of bridge-building between East and West with her writings, a mix of poetry, short stories, and lessons dealing with eternal questions of truth, love, and friendship. Editor Mary Ann Epstein said Rise Up and Salute the Sun is a mix between Khalil Gibran's The Prophet and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. The book also spans generations. According to Martin, Kassem is influential among young people in Egypt and was denied a filming permit in that country to direct a project she wrote about the lack of opportunities for Egyptian youth.
After test marketing Rise Up and Salute the Sun to a random sampling of 100 general readers of various ages last December, Awakened decided to launch it as a paperback original with a 3,000-copy first printing. In addition to the trade, Martin plans to market the book to U.S. libraries with strong YA collections and to literature departments for women's colleges. Kassem, who has a home in Phoenix, Ariz., will be available to do bookstore and library readings on both coasts when she returns from India later this summer.
Dar-El Shams (Behind the Sun) was launched in the late 1990s by two Dubai venture capitalists when they acquired the rights to many of the titles carried by a pushcart operator who worked in a suburb of Alexandria, Egypt. Although those books are now widely published in Arabic, they may not resonate with an American audience even if they are translated into English. Other issues confronting Dar-El Shams as it works to establish a foothold in the U.S. is communication. Martin lived in Egypt after college, but speaks only a little Arabic and can't write it. On top of that, the revolution in Egypt this spring affected phone lines. "We couldn't get in touch with each other for a week by phone," said Martin. "We're keeping our fingers crossed that everything's going to be okay." Awakened has yet to find a distributor, but Rise Up and Salute the Sun is available through Baker & Taylor and will be converted into a Kindle e-book.
While Dar-El Shams publishes between 100 and 150 books a year in Arabic, Awakened plans to do just one book a quarter in the U.S. to start. "Since we already have a lot of money behind us, we are not driven to make money like a machine," said Martin, adding that Dar-El Shams will focus on building a backlist. Upcoming titles include Veena Shah's Tikka Boutique (fall 2011), a coming-of-age story about a young bride coming to America with a man she'd never met before her wedding, and Tears from Tel-Aviv by Tehilla Chamiel (spring 2012), about a young Israeli woman with a passion for singing, who finds herself stranded in California after clashing with her band mates.