‘A siege of reading’

Is politics diminishing a burgeoning literature of the Middle East?

Arabic letters are enjoying a well-deserved spotlight in the English-speaking world. Since 2009 at least three publishing houses have turned their focus to the translation of Arabic fiction: the American University in Cairo Press, which launched the imprint Hoopoe; U.K.-based Darf Publishers, formerly devoted to travel books and historical reprints; and Hamad bin Khalifa University Press, formerly Bloomsbury Qatar. Stoking English-reader anticipation for the Next Big Arabic Novel, a growing number of awards—the so-called Arabic Booker prize (the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, which is affiliated with the Man Booker Prize), the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, and the Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel—all include translation assistance to bring first-place works into English. A slew of gigantic regional book fairs gather publishers from across the Arab region as well as prospective translation houses.

In...