Iman Mersal

Traces of Enayat

Winner of the 2024 James Tait Black Prize – Biography

Cairo, 1963: Enayat al-Zayyat’s suicide becomes a byword for talent tragically cut down, even as Love and Silence, her only novel, languishes unpublished. Four years after al-Zayyat’s death, the novel will be brought out, adapted for film and radio, praised, and then, cursorily, forgotten. For the next three decades it’s as if al-Zayyat never existed.

Yet when poet Iman Mersal stumbles across Love and Silence in the nineties, she is immediately hooked. Who was Enayat? Did the thought of her novel’s rejection really lead to her suicide? Where did this startling voice come from? And why did Love and Silence disappear from literary history? To answer these questions, Mersal traces Enayat’s life, interviews family members and friends, reconstructs the afterlife of Enayat in the media, and tracks down the flats, schools, archaeological institutes, and sanatoriums among which Enayat divided her days. Touching on everything from dubious antidepressants to domestic abuse and divorce law, from rubbish-strewn squats in the City of the Dead to the glamour of golden-age Egyptian cinema, this wide-ranging, unclassifiable masterpiece gives us a remarkable portrait of a woman artist striving to live on her own terms.

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  • If you subscribed to And Other Stories by 30 January 2023, you will receive your copy of Traces of Enayat – in which all subscribers are thanked by name – ahead of publication, in July 2023, as well as up to five other specially selected And Other Stories titles per year. Find out more about our subscriptions.
  • Iman Mersal spoke on the Limits and Pleasures of Egyptian Womanhood at the 2021 Edinburgh International Book Festival – you can watch a recording here.
  • A selection of Iman Mersal’s poetry is available to read on the Words Without Borders website.
Print status: Available
Author: Iman Mersal
Translator: Robin Moger
Original language: Arabic
Format: B-format paperback
Publication date: 3 August 2023
ISBN: 9781913505721
Ebook ISBN: 9781913505738
Availability: UK & C (excl Canada) and Europe


Leila Aboulela

‘A brooding, atmospheric read charged with a singular magical beauty. Iman Mersal conjures up the zeitgeist of artistic Cairo after the July revolution and reveals a merciless and inflexible world behind the genteel, cultivated image.’

Fowzia Karimi

‘With the deft sensibilities of an archaeologist, the narrator of Traces of Enayat sifts through layers of history and heritage, traversing the shifting geographies of cities and memories in search of the writer Enayat Al Zayyat, the mystery at the center of this transporting book. The reader is drawn in the wake of Iman Mersal’s inspired, circuitous, and relentless journey, heeding the call of the “weeping heard on the other side of a wall.”’

Praise for Iman Mersal

‘Undeceived, ironic, daring, Mersal’s poems are animated by a singular sensibility. They deal candidly with real life—migration, dying parents, emotional entanglements—and discover general truths among the fine particulars.’ Nick Laird

‘Long recognized throughout the Arab world and in Europe, Mersal is one of the strongest confessional (or postconfessional) poets we now have, in any language: her poems are fueled by a mordant wit, sensual vibrancy, and feminist brio.’ Maureen N. McLane

‘Mersal's poems are many things – sensuous, cerebral, intimate, angry and disorientating. They provide food for thought and elicit laughter in the dark . . . [The Threshold is] a perfect entry point for readers new to her work.’ Malcolm Forbes, The National