by Emile Habiby, translated by Salma K Jayyusi and Trevor Le Gassick - £10.99 Arabia Books Ltd (2010)
paperback ISBN 13: 9781906697266 | ISBN 10: 1906697264
Purposefully imitating Voltaire's classic Candide, another dark comedy which derives its humour from life's tragedies, Habiby's The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist is a classic of Arab literature. Saeed's, a Palestinian who becomes a citizen of Israel, is a story of fact and fantasy, tragedy and comedy. At once a comic hero and luckless fool, we hear of a life of terror, aggression, resistance and heroism.
As an informer for the Zionist state, Saeed's stupidity, candour and cowardice make him more the victim than a villain; but in a series of tragicomic episodes, blundering from disaster to disaster, he is slowly transformed from gullible collaborator into a Palestinian intent on survival.
The novel, informed by the author's own experience in Israeli politics, is both biting and funny.
Emile Habiby was awarded Israel's highest cultural award, the Israel Prize, in 1992, and the top Palestinian literary honour, the Jerusalem Medal, by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1990, both for The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist.
(Price & availability last checked: January 2019)