The U.S. Book Show shines a light on Arabic literature, with Yasmine AlSayyad, a writer and co-deputy head of fact-checking at the New Yorker, chatting with Iraqi novelist and anthropologist Shahad Al Rawi about her latest book, Over the Republic Bridge. The novel, which is up for a prestigious Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) in the young author category, is a family saga chronicling the effects of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. The conversation between AlSayyad and Al Rawi will cover the importance of Arabic literature in the U.S., Over the Republic Bridge, and what it’s like to bring stories to the U.S.

Al Rawi was born in Baghdad and immigrated to Damascus after the American invasion of Iraq to complete her university studies. Her debut novel, The Baghdad Clock, was translated into English by Luke Leafgren and into several other languages. The Baghdad Clock was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and received the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award. Her second novel, Over the Republic Bridge, sold six editions within the first year. Al Rawi is known for her unique storytelling, integration of historical events, and stories that resonate across cultures and generations.

“As a writer, it’s a great feeling when my books get translated into English or any other language,” Al Rawi says. “It helps me connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds, and it also expands my readership, bringing my stories to a global audience. When my first novel, The Baghdad Clock, was translated into English and other languages, it was an eye-opening experience. It showed me how literature can bring people together and create meaningful conversations, unlike the superficial connections on social media. Additionally, it allowed me to learn from the feedback of diverse readers, enriching my writing and understanding of the human experience.”

Being shortlisted for a SZBA will also help Al Rawi reach diverse readers. Established in 2006 in Abu Dhabi, the SZBA is often called the Arab world’s Nobel Prize in Literature. The award was named after the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the United Arab Emirates and a voracious reader of poetry and literature. The SZBA honors literary and publishing professionals—authors, translators, publishers, and organizations—in a host of categories.

“We are delighted to recognize once more the talent of outstanding writers, intellectuals, and publishers enriching Arab cultural, literary, and social life,” said Ali bin Tamim, secretary-general of the SZBA and chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, in a statement. “The fact that we have had another record-breaking year of submissions is a testament to the value and prestige that the Award holds for authors, publishers, and institutions, both regionally and internationally. This year we are particularly pleased to see the exceptional diversity in the list of winners and in the submissions, which have come from 60 different countries. The work of this year’s laureates represents an impressive variety of genres, from poetry to crime fiction, history, and linguistics, highlighting how the richness of our language and literature is not just historical legacy but continues to thrive in the contemporary literary scene.”

And for Al Rawi, translation is a powerful way to share stories and experiences that history might overlook. “By making my novels accessible to people from various linguistic backgrounds, we are fostering a sense of empathy and understanding across cultural divides,” she says. “I’m grateful for this chance to share my work with more people around the world and contribute to a more inclusive literary landscape.”

Shahad Al Rawi will speak with the New Yorker’s Yasmine AlSayyad on Tuesday, May 23, 2:15–2:35 p.m

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