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The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist

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The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist

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The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist

By Emile Habiby 

This award-winning novel-in-translation is clever tragicomedy that demonstrates the complex life of a Palestinian living in Israel.

Saeed is the comic hero, the luckless fool, whose tale tells of aggression and resistance, terror and heroism, reason and loyalty that typify the hardships and struggles of Arabs in Israel. An informer for the Zionist state, his stupidity, candor, and cowardice make him more of a victim than a villain; but in a series of tragicomic episodes, he is gradually transformed from a disaster-haunted, gullible collaborator into a Palestinian—no hero still, but a simple man intent on survival and, perhaps, happiness.

The author’s own anger and sorrow at Palestine’s tragedy and his acquaintance with the absurdities of Israeli politics (he was once a member of Israel’s parliament himself) are here transmuted into satire both biting and funny. Translated by Anton Shammas into Hebrew, The Secret Life of Saeed won Israel’s foremost Prize for Literature; a stage version played to great acclaim for a decade.

Emile Habiby was one of the most celebrated Palestinian writers. He has published several highly acclaimed novels and plays and his work has been translated into German, French, and Hebrew. Habiby died in 1996. 

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With everyone paying more attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the wake of recent events, Habiby's novel about a Palestinian man, Saeed, who remains in Israel after its creation and becomes an informer for the state, is sure to attract attention. Written in 1974 but appearing for the first time in the U.S., the tale is told in the form of letters written to an unnamed correspondent after Saeed has escaped to outer space with the help of an extraterrestrial friend. Saeed's experiences are both comic and tragic, triumphant and defeated. He tries to gain favor by being the best informant, but his bad luck and dim wit guarantee his failure; his life is lived in constant fear, yet he is never without hope. Habiby's blending of fantasy and reality intentionally obscures our sense of what is real and what is not, but it heightens our awareness of the complexity of the political conflict in the Middle East. As an Arab in Israel (and one-time member of the Israeli Parliament), Habiby has strong views on the conflict, but even readers who disagree with him will find this strange novel to be thought-provoking on a number of levels. Helpful translators' notes serve as a primer on Middle Eastern history and culture. Beth Warrell

Publisher: Interlink, 2024
Paperback, 192 pages
ISBN: 9781623717025


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