The Penguin's Song

The Penguin's Song
Translated by Marilyn Booth

"Publishing Perspectives" profile of translator Marilyn Booth
Dec 18, 2019

Arabic-to-English translator Marilyn Booth talks about the challenges and positive signals she sees for bringing new readers to Arabic literature in translation.

Al Jadid

"Readers who like to keep an organized library may want to order two copies fo Hassan Daoud's novel, The Penguin's Song. The first copy can go next to the other Lebanese war novels which display the vibrant cultural production of contemporary Lebanon, while the second copy can occupy a place next to Knut Hamsun's Mysteries, and Melville's Bartleby the Scribner, two narratives that also creativly employ abnormalities to reflect on the distortions of 'normality.'"– Lynne Rogers, Al Jadid

Publishers Weekly

"Daoud's novel is an elegiac account of loneliness and separation. . . . This is a haunting story inhabited by the ghosts of past lives and demolished buildings, where desires are left unfulfilled and loneliness sweeps through every soul."

World Literature Today

"Daoud's plangent novel sensitively dissects the states of exile and deracination."–M.D. Allen

Library Journal

"Editor of the Nawafidh cultural supplement of the Beirut daily al-Mustaqbal, Daoud has written two volumes of short stories and eight novels, four already translated into English (e.g., Borrowed Time). In this 1998 title, a deformed young man called the Penguin lives with his parents in the hills, where much of the populace has fled owing to destruction caused by the civil war. Bravely affecting."—Barbara Hoffert

Library Journal

"A small family living on the outskirts of war-damaged central Beirut struggles daily with the realities of their claustrophobic apartment, loss of income, and the father's increasing blindness and rapid physical decline. The wife has isolated herself from husband and son, spending most of her time pacing the same stretch of sand out of boredom and frustration. The son, the 'Penguin' of the title, is a physically deformed young man who yearns for the teenage girl living in the apartment below. Slowly, deliberately, books and furniture are removed from the apartment to pay for food and eventually to bury the father, and the Penguin is left alone, still hoping and dreaming. VERDICT: First published in Arabic in 1998, Daoud's fierce little fable was voted 'Best Arabic Novel of the Year.' Like the author's House of Mathilde and The Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine, it deftly explores how people cope with the aftermath of war and the tremendous struggle of rebuilding not only with bricks and concrete but with heart, hopes, and dreams."—Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH

Reading in Translation

"Booth's translation expands the limits of the English language and lets it be influenced by Arabic, matching the original like 'fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together' to use Benjamin's terms again. These moments of symbiosis transpire when the connotation of an expression is translated into English. Such is the case with proverbs, as when the mother declares, 'We eat our own flesh if no pennies come afresh.'"—Ghada Mourad

Kirkus Reviews

"Daoud's claustrophobic novel hauntingly conveys one family's isolation after being relocated during the Lebanese civil war. . . . Daoud's evocation of history as it is experienced is excellent. His characters live through momentous events, but their struggles to survive land them in a kind of purgatory. A novel that defies expectations as it summons up the displacement and dehumanization that can come with war."—Kirkus Reviews

"An excerpt from The Penguin's Song by Hassan Daoud in the Asymptote Journal."
Jun 19, 2014

Read an excerpt from the novel The Penguin's Song as featured in the online journal Asymptote.

- Hassan Daoud, Asymptote Journal