Three Great Arab Novels About Rats and Their Extermination

Arabic Literature (in English)

On some of the greatest rats in Arabic literature: 

Rats are everywhere: at the Jordan-Iraq border in Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun; inside the ceiling (and Sana’s head) in Fuad al-Takarli’s The Long Way Back; in the refugee camp in Ibrahim Nasrallah’s Inside the Night.

But those are ordinary rats. The rats in the three books below are of giant, sometimes mythical, proportions. Rabee Jaber’s rats, in The Mehlis Report, can be as big as donkeys, or bigger, and they welcome you into the underworld. Rachid Boujedra and Najwa Barakat’s books bring rat-hating and rat-loving to a fever pitch in their post-war landscapes.

As Khaled al-Masri notes in his dissertation, “Telling Stories of Pain: Women Writing Gender, Sexuality and Violence in the Novel of the Lebanese Civil War,” it’s common enough for rats to “signify urban decline, both morally and materially.” He quotes Peter Stallybrass and Allon White in The Politics and Poetics…

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