Youssef Rakha

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Youssef Rakha
Born12 June 1976
LanguageEnglish, Arabic
Alma materUniversity of Hull (BA)
SubjectCairo; Islam; the Arab Spring
Notable worksThe Book of the Sultan's Seal
Years active1999–present
SpouseHeba El Nahhas (m. 2011)

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Youssef Rakha (Arabic: يوسف رخا; born on 12 June 1976 in Cairo, Egypt) is an Egyptian writer. Exploring questions of (Arab and Muslim) identity in the context of Cairo, he has worked in many genres in both Arabic and English, and is known for his essays and poems as well as his novels.

Early life[edit]

The only child of a formerly Marxist lawyer, Elsaid Rakha, and an English-to-Arabic translator, Labiba Saad, Rakha was born and grew up in Dokki, on the western bank of the Nile, where he lives with his family today. At the age of 17 he left Egypt for the UK, where he obtained a first class honours BA in English and Philosophy from Hull University in 1998. On his return he joined the staff of Al-Ahram Weekly, the Cairo-based English-language newspaper, where he has worked regularly since 1999.

For Rakha's biography, see the introduction to Beirut39: New Writing from the Arab World edited by Samuel Shimon,[1] Starkey's chapter in Studying Modern Arabic Literature (footnote 4), Banipal online[2] and the biographical note on Pro Helvetia's Territory Crossings.[3]



Rakha is best known for his first novel, The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars. First published in 2011 as Kitab at-Tugra: Gharaib at-Tarikh fi Madinat al-Marrikh (Arabic: كتاب الطغرى: غرائب التاريخ في مدينة المريخ), the book is studied for its innovative use of Arabic, its postmodern take on the theme of the caliphate, its reimagining of the city of Cairo and its possible significance in the history of Arabic literature. It won the Banipal Seif Ghobash Prize for Paul Starkey’s English translation in 2015, and was published in French in 2016.

For academic interest in The Book of the Sultan's Seal, see Paul Starkey's chapter in Studying Modern Arabic Literature,[4] Benjamin Koerber's paper in the Journal of Arabic Literature,[5] and Anton Shammas's remark on the English publisher's website.[6] For the Banipal Prize, see the Banipal Trust site.[7] For the French translation, by Philippe Vigreux, see Éditions Zoé [fr].[8]

Since 2011 Rakha has completed two other novels in a proposed trilogy on the January Revolution, The Crocodiles (Arabic: التماسيح)[9] and Paulo (Arabic: باولو). The latter was longlisted for the Arabic Booker in 2017 (the IPAF longlist for 2017[10]) and won the 2017 Sawiris Cultural Award for Best Novel in January 2018.[11]

Other Work[edit]

Rakha is also known as a photographer and the editor of a bilingual literature and photography site named after his first novel, The Sultan's Seal: Cairo's Coolest Cosmopolitan Hotel. His photography is featured on Mada Masr[12] Berfrois,[13] P1xels[14] and Bidoun.[15] His site has helped to introduce significant young writers in Arabic like the Libyan Ali Latife, the Algerian Salah Badis, the Palestinian Carol Sasnour and the Egyptian Mina Nagy; it has featured literary and photographic figures including Bezav Mahmod, Hilary Plum, Niall Griffiths and Pauls Toutonghi. A list of contributors can be found at[16][17]

Prior to writing The Book of the Sultan's Seal, Rakha contributed to the coverage of Arab culture in English for many years as a reporter, literary critic and cultural editor. See the Al-Ahram Weekly archives for Rakha's numerous pieces in the Culture and Profile sections especially.[18] He also wrote literary non-fiction and poetry in Arabic, for which he was chosen to participate in the Hay Festival Beirut39 event as one of the 39 best Arab writers under 40. His 2006 photo travelogue Beirut Shi Mahal (Arabic: بيروت شي محل), later translated into Polish, was nominated for the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. For the Polish translation of the Beirut travelogue see Dobra Literatura.[19]

As an English-language essayist and short fiction writer, Rakha has also contributed to numerous publications in the US and the UK.[20] Publications in which he has written include, among many others, The Atlantic,[21] The New York Times,[22] The White Review,[23] Guernica[24] and The Kenyon Review.[25]


News outlets that have covered Rakha's work include Reuters,[26],[27] AL-BAB,[28], The National,[29] Die Welt[30] and Der Spiegel.[31] English language reviews of Rakha's books and interviews occasioned by his work have appeared in, among other outlets, Publishers Weekly,[32][33] Words Without Borders,[34] Reorient[35] and Music and Literature.[36]

Rakha is a well-known literary figure in Cairo and Beirut. His work has received regular in-depth coverage in the press since 2006. Arabic newspapers and media outlets that covered Youssef Rakha include Al-Ahram,[37] Akhbar Al-Adab,[38] Al-Akhbar,[39] As-Safir,[40] Al-Quds Al-Arabi,[41]Al-Araby[42] Al-Mustaqbal,[43] Al-Hayat,[44] An-Nahar,[45][46] and 24.UE.[47]

Books Published[edit]

The Book of the Sultan's Seal in three languages
  • Azhar ash-shams (Arabic: أزهار الشمس; Flowers of the Sun), short stories, Cairo: Dar Sharqiyat, 1999.[48]
  • Beirut shi mahal (Arabic: بيروت شي محل; Beirut Some Place), photo travelogue, Alexandria: Amkenah Books, 2006. Reviews of Beirut shi mahal appeared in, among other Arabic newspapers, Al-Ahram[49] Al-Ittihad[50] and Asharq Al-Awsat.[51] The text was extracted in German translation in Lettre International 74.[52]
  • Bourguiba ala madad (Arabic: بورقيبة على مضض; Bourguiba Reluctantly), part two of Beirut shi mahal (without photos), Beirut: Riyad El-Rayyes, 2008. ISBN 9953213348
  • Shamal al qahira gharb al filibbin (Arabic: شمال القاهرة غرب الفلبين; North of Cairo, West of the Philippines), travel essays, Beirut: Riyad El-Rayyes, 2009. ISBN 978-9-95321-422-1
  • Kull amakinina (Arabic: كل أماكننا; All Our Places), poems and essays, Cairo: Dar Al-Ain, 2010. ISBN 978-9-77490-022-8
  • The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars (Arabic: كتاب الطغرى: غرائب التاريخ في مدينة المريخ), novel, Cairo: Dar Al-Shorouk, 2011. ISBN 978-9-77092-988-9. Beirut: Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-6-14419-868-1. USA: Interlink, 2015. ISBN 978-1-56656-916-3. Geneva: Éditions Zoé, 2016. ISBN 978-2-88927-378-2
  • The Crocodiles (Arabic: التماسيح), novel, Beirut: Dar Al-Saqi, 2012. ISBN 978-1-85516-878-7. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2015. ISBN 978-160980-571-5
  • Paulo (Arabic: باولو), novel, Cairo-Beirut-Tunis: Dar Al-Tanwir, 2016. ISBN 978-977648-358-3
  • Arab Porn, essay (ebook only), 60Pages (long-form collective), 2016. ASIN B01J4YMPZK. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2017. ISBN 978-3-95757-382-7


  1. ^ Shimon, Samuel (2 August 2017). "Beirut39: new writing from the Arab world". Bloomsbury – via Open WorldCat.
  2. ^ "Banipal (UK) Magazine of Modern Arab Literature - Contributors - Youssef Rakha".
  3. ^ "Youssef Rakha – Territory Crossings".
  4. ^ "Strange Incidents from History: Youssef Rakha and his Sultan's Seal (Chapter 10) - Studying Modern Arabic Literature". Cambridge Core.
  5. ^ Koerber, Benjamin (6 November 2015). "Reading the Plot: The Psychology and Poetics of Pārānūyā in Yūsuf Rakhā's Kitāb al-ṭughrā". Journal of Arabic Literature. 46 (2–3): 296–325. doi:10.1163/1570064x-12341311 – via
  6. ^ "Interlink Books".
  7. ^ "Banipal Trust for Arab Literature - The Banipal Translation Prize - The 2015 Award".
  8. ^ Guyot, - design: Silvia Francia - Development: James. "Editions ZOE / Le Livre des cercles / Youssef Rakha".
  9. ^ "from The Crocodiles by Youssef Rakha - BOMB Magazine". Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  10. ^ "Longlist 2017 - Test".
  11. ^ "ننشر أسماء الفائزين بجوائز ساويرس الثقافية لعام 2017 - بوابة الشروق". Retrieved 2018-01-09.
  12. ^ "A Child Of The Revolution".
  13. ^ "Cairo in Indigo". 16 May 2014.
  14. ^ "Search Results for "youssef rakha" – P1XELS".
  15. ^ "Bidoun".
  16. ^ "AUTHORS - المؤلفون". 4 August 2015.
  17. ^ "AUTHORS - المؤلفون". 4 August 2015.
  18. ^ "Al-Ahram Weekly". Al Ahram Weekly.
  19. ^ "Dobra Literatura – - Bejrut jest gdzieś tam".
  20. ^ "Lettre Ulysses Award - Longlist - Authors 2006".
  21. ^ Rakha, Youssef. "Requiem for a Suicide Bomber".
  22. ^ "Egypt Shows How Political Islam Is at Odds With Democracy". International Herald Tribune. 16 July 2013 – via The New York Times.
  23. ^ "Hoarseness: A Legend of Contemporary Cairo - The White Review".
  24. ^ "The Boy Jihadi". 3 August 2015.
  25. ^ "Thus Spoke Che Nawwarah: Interview with a Revolutionary - Kenyon Review Online".
  26. ^ "Rakha sees Egypt through poets' eyes in 'The Crocodiles'". 16 July 2015 – via Reuters.
  27. ^ "Interview with the Egyptian author Youssef Rakha: "Taken together, these things would make up home..." -".
  28. ^ "Youssef Rakha: genius in a land of madness".
  29. ^ "Youssef Rakha talks about his new book and his novel response to the Egyptian upheaval". The National. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  30. ^ Stephan, Felix (2017-11-04). "Akt des Ungehorsams". DIE WELT. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
  31. ^ "Arab Porn". DER SPIEGEL. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
  32. ^ "Fiction Book Review: The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha, trans. from the Arabic by Paul Starkey. Interlink, $19.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-56656-991-0".
  33. ^ "Fiction Book Review: The Crocodiles by Youssef Rakha, trans. from the Arabic by Robin Moger. Seven Stories Press, $17.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-60980-571-5".
  34. ^ Handal, Nathalie. "The City and the Writer: In Cairo with Youssef Rakha - Words Without Borders".
  35. ^ "Sultans and Crocodiles". REORIENT - Middle Eastern Arts and Culture Magazine.
  36. ^ "A Conversation with Youssef Rakha".
  37. ^ "بوابة الحضارات - موقع الفنون والادب والتراث". بوابة الحضارات - موقع الفنون والادب والتراث.
  38. ^
  39. ^ "يوسف رخا: قوارب الموت خلاصنا الوحيد".
  40. ^ "يوسف رخا: نقلتُ إلى الرواية الريبورتاج والمقالة والقصيدة - عناية جابر - جريدة السفير".
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ "يوسف رخا.. في "تسخير"انهيارات القاهرة الحديثة". Almustaqbal Newspaper.
  44. ^
  45. ^ "كتاب - "التماسيح" ليوسف رخا، المثقفون المبتسرون في دوائر الأوهام المشتركة! - إبرهيم فرغلي". 4 August 2014.
  46. ^
  47. ^ "يوسف رخا: ثورة يناير ليست حدثًا فاصلًا في الأدب".
  48. ^ "Al-Ahram Weekly - Books - Summer torments".
  49. ^ Adel, Ahmed. "جريدة الأهرام - ثقافة و فنون ـ قراءة في كتاب مذاق لبنان في بائع الكعك.. وبيروت شـي محل".
  50. ^ "الصورة نص مواز".
  51. ^ "عودة العربي الغائب عن عروبته,".
  52. ^

External links[edit]

Media related to Youssef Rakha at Wikimedia Commons