Muhammad Abdelnabi’s novel In the Spider’s Room, a sensitive and courageous account of life as a gay man in Egypt, continues to weave an ever larger web of intrigue, reaching a growing international readership.
The English edition, translated by Jonathan Wright, and published by Hoopoe in 2018, was described by the independent newspaper Mada Masr as “beautifully written and immensely enjoyable.”
More recently the novel has been translated from the original Arabic to French by Gilles Gaulthier, and published by Actes Sud under the title La chambre de l’araignée, triggering glowing reviews in the French media. Les Echos called it “a shock novel by a courageous author,” while Le Nouvel Observateur described it as a “beautiful novel.”
It was so well received in France that the young Egyptian author was awarded the prestigious 2019 Grand Prix de Littérature Arabe, founded in 2013 by the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) and the Fondation Jean-Luc Lagardère, tagged with a prize of 10,000 Euros.
During the award ceremony held in Paris early last month, Jack Lang, director of IMA and former French minister of culture describes Abdelnabi as “a remarkable writer” and his novel “simply marvelous.” You can watch the award ceremony online.
In his acceptance speech, Abdelnabi paid tribute to prisoners of conscience around the world: “I hear a lot of writers saying that they give a voice to those who don’t have one. I don’t feel comfortable with that statement and I don’t think that applies to my novel. I believe that it is the victim that give us their voice. . . . The purpose of my novel is to console, to ease the souls, to scratch the skin of solitude and isolation.”
Abdelnabi’s novel drew even more attention very recently when The Guardian asked this year’s best writers to pick their favorite books of 2019. Award-winning Franco-Moroccan writer Leila Slimani selected In the Spider’s Room among her three top reads for this year. “Muhammad Abdelnabi is one of the most brilliant Egyptian authors today and rightly received the Arab literature prize for La chambre de l’araignée (In the Spider’s Room) . . . . This beautifully written and poetic book moved me to tears.”