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The Pistachio Seller

Reem Bassiouney

Translated from the Arabic by Osman Nusairi

Cloth $29.95    |    978-0-8156-0919-3    |    2009

"Bassiouney’s bighearted fourth novel (the first to be translated into English) portrays the agonies of love and identity. When Ashraf Daawood returns to Egypt in 1980, after growing up and becoming a banker in England, his cousin Wafaa falls hard for him. She must deal with her turmoil in secret, however, when Ashraf begins dating Lubna Thaabit, a feisty Communist journalist. After a brief stay in jail for her political leanings, Lubna breaks up with Ashraf, who returns to London and soon loses all his money. Penniless and disgraced, Ashraf flees to America, where his comeuppance involves working as a lowly cashier in a bank and living in poverty in a group house. Meanwhile, Wafaa has become a history teacher, supporting her parents and refusing to get married, doggedly waiting for Ashraf, with whom she shares an initially stilted correspondence that eventually shows signs of something deeper. Though sentimental in places and melodramatic in others, this story of self-discovery and the trials of love is delivered with warmth and humor."
—Publisher’s Weekly

Winner of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies Translation of Arabic Literature Award 2009

"It was Saturday. I remember. And while he was standing on a step ladder in the hall, changing a light bulb in the faint light coming through the window, I decided to love him." So begins this wonderfully exuberant novel of quixotic adolescent longing and the enduring search for self. Set in middle-class urban Egypt, the story chronicles young Wafaa’s struggle to come to terms with her own sexuality and her romantic infatuation with her cousin Ashraf, a spoiled and confident young Egyptian who was educated in England. Ashraf’s worldliness and carefree attitudes stand in sharp contrast to Wafaa’s provincial Islamic piousness.

As both mature they find outside events encroaching upon their sheltered lives, forcing each to confront challenges to their youthful ideologies. Ashraf is chastened by an economic turnaround that takes him to the United States as an impoverished immigrant, and Wafaa begins to question her rigid fundamentalist beliefs that seem increasingly inadequate to make sense of the complex world around her.

Reem Bassiouney effortlessly captures the voices of her characters, bringing them to life and allowing the reader to be fully immersed in their lives as they unfold in moving, often funny, and eventually triumphant ways. The Pistachio Seller introduces Bassiouney’s work to an English audience for the first time.

View other books on Middle East Literature in Translation

Author and Translator
Reem Bassiouney is an acclaimed contemporary Arabic writer. She has published five novels in the Middle East including The Smell of the Sea. She is assistant professor of Arabic at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Osman Nusairi is a theater director whose plays have been broadcast by BBC World Radio and performed in London theaters. He is the translator of Nawal El-Saadawi’s novel Two Women in One.

6 x 9, 168 pages

The Pistachio Seller

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