Hani al-Rahib (alternate transcription: al-Raheb) was born in 1939 in the coastal Syrian city of Lattakia. He published his first novel The Defeated (1961) while still a student at the University of Damascus, launching his career to early acclaim. The novel won a prestigious literary award from the Lebanese magazine Al-Adab, and al-Rahib was lauded as one of Syria’s leading novelists.
Al-Rahib’s writing is rich with themes of protest and rebellion and sharply critical of the problems he saw in Arab society, among them corruption and lack of social justice. His professional life was marked by confrontations over his political views – he was twice expelled from the Union of Arab Writers, and fired from teaching positions at the University of Damascus and the University of Kuwait on the grounds that he incited students to rebel.
Al-Rahib is the author of eight novels and three collections of short stories, and is considered one of the pioneers of the Syrian novel. He died in 2000 of cancer.
Featured Reading Group Title: الوباء (Al-Waba’ – The Epidemic)
The Epidemic is al-Rahib’s fourth novel, and was listed as one of the best 105 Arabic books of the 20th century by the Arab Writers Union. In 2000, Banipal published an excerpt of The Epidemic translated by Bassam Frangieh in their ninth issue.
The Epidemic is a rich epic of a novel, weighty and ambitious. It spans three generations and covers over one hundred years of modern Syrian history, including historical figures as well as actual people from al-Rahib’s village and social circles. Characters in Al-Rahib’s novel are alienated and marginalized, unable to confront the political powers that have stamped out creativity and freedom of expression. The novel poses unanswered questions about the nature of democracy and the role of the intellectual in society, commenting openly on the government at the time, and laying bare Syria’s social and political struggles.
In his tribute to Al-Rahib published by Banipal, translator Bassam Frangieh writes that Syrian political prisoners received The Epidemic like a bible. Al-Rahib owned a torn copy of the novel that had been sent to him after being passed around a prison, filled with more than a hundred comments and signatures of the inmates.
Special thanks to Banipal for allowing And Other Stories to repost the translation and profile of Al-Rahib.
- The Epidemic features as part of our autumn 2013 Arabic reading group.
- Bassam Frangieh’s translation of an extract from The Epidemic is available to download and read either on Banipal’s website or here. This translation was originally published in Banipal 9.
- Banipal also published a profile of al-Rahib by Bassam Frangieh entitled ‘Hani al-Rahib and Writing in the Sands’ in their ninth issue. You can download and read the profile either on Banipal’s website or here.
- Download Andrew Leber’s translated extract of The Epidemic.
- You can order the book in Arabic from Neel Wa Furat here.