Sultana, A Novel

Translated from the Arabic by Alex B. Jreisat

Availability: Forthcoming
Published: 2019
Page #: xiv + 295
Size: 5.5 x 8.5
ISBN: 978-1-56859-317-3

Quick Overview

"Sultana," voted one of the top 100 Arabic novels of the 20th century by the Arab Writers Union, is an expansive novel that transports the reader to a transformative time in Jordan’s history: the late 1940s. This author had a bold voice, pioneering Jordan’s literary scene despite being exiled due to his political activities. Indeed, this book, which in part seeks to unpack the reasons for his exile and refusal to return, was banned in Jordan when it was originally published (1987) for its political and sexual content. Halasa died in 1989, and his entire corpus has been posthumously assimilated into Jordan’s national literary canon. Despite his recognition in the Arabic literary scene, he remains mostly inaccessible to an Anglophone audience.

The first half of Sultana is set in late 1940’s Jordan from the perspective of young Jeries, a high school senior in an unnamed village near Madaba. The only thing that excites his boring village life is Sultana, a woman who inflames his fantasies. The second half of the novel juxtaposes his village life to the emerging urban space in Amman, Jordan’s bustling capital, where he becomes involved with the Communist party. But these seemingly opposed worlds are not as separate as Jeries first believes. He is faced with exile when his ties to Sultana and the village are challenged by his new affiliations with the Communist party. Through dreams, memory, rumors, and scandals, Halasa artfully weaves a coming of age tale, which traces his bonds to his native country, into an intricate web that spans generations.

The author, Ghalib Halasa, is a rare and fascinating voice from the 20th century. Very little of his work is available in English and this translation seeks to bring one of his most critical works into English for the first time, thirty-one years after the novel was initially published. Born in Jordan, he was ar-rested and exiled in his early twenties for his involvement with the Jordanian Communist Party. He lived his life in multiple Arabic speaking countries, during which he was arrested and expelled many times for his strident commit-ment and participation in communist and anti-imperialist movements. Such a position made him a target of nearly every country he lived, due to censorship. This rootlessness was driven from a deep commitment to his ideals and speaking truth to power. Halasa’s political positions and subsequent exile lend to his outsider perspective and will-ingness to work outside the system, which challenged the authority of then relatively novel nation-states. Only when Halasa died did the state see fit to repatriate him, bringing home his exhumed corpse and banned corpus home for memorialization and claiming his contribution to literature as part of a “Jordanian” canon.


Ghalib Halasa

Ghalib Halasa was born in 1932 in Ma‘in, a small, rural mutli-faith village in what was then the British Mandate of Transjordan. He was educated at the local parochial primary school there and at the school in nearby Madaba. He completed his secondary education at the Bishop’s School for Boys in Amman, the capital. He graduated in 1950 and travelled to Lebanon to study journalism at the American University in Beirut, though he was expelled from the country for protesting the visit of an American dignitary. He joined the Jordanian Communist Party in 1951. After he was arrested twice and subsequently placed on house arrest in Madaba, he moved to Baghdad, Iraq. He was imprisoned and expelled from Iraq in 1954 for his activities with the student branch of the Iraqi Communist Party. After a brief stint back in Jordan, Halasa moved to Egypt where he continued his studies in journalism at the American University in Cairo from 1954 to 1958. After completing his studies, he worked for the German Press Agency and the (Xinhua) New China News Agency for sixteen years during his stay in Cairo. During 1956, [the year of his exile?] Halasa fought on the side of Egypt in the Suez Crisis. He was imprisoned for six months for his activities with leftist Egyptian organizations in 1966. He stayed in Cairo until 1976, after which he was apprehended and expelled for his protest and opposition to Anwar Sadat’s conciliatory policies toward Israel. After his expulsion from Cairo, he moved to Baghdad where he lived for three years, working as a journalist for the Iraqi Communist Party and for the journal, al-Aqlam. He moved to Lebanon in 1979, where he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). During this period, he worked as a journalist in Southern Lebanon at the front lines of the escalating conflict with the Israelis. Following the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1982, Halasa left to what was then South Yemen with some of the PLO on the backs of steamers. From there he briefly went onto Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and then [East?] Berlin before moving to Damascus, Syria in 1983, where he continued to work for the cultural division of the PLO until his death in 1989 at the age of 57.

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