That Smell & Notes from Prison


Sonallah Ibrahim
translated by Robyn Creswell

Edited by Robyn Creswell

That Smell — a watershed in contemporary Egyptian fiction — combined with the author’s Notes from Prison in a single edition

One of the most influential Arabic novels of recent times, That Smell is Sonallah Ibrahim’s modernist masterpiece. Composed in the wake of a five-year prison sentence, the semi-autobiographical story follows a recently released political prisoner as he wanders through Cairo, adrift in his native city. Published in 1966, the novel was immediately banned. For this edition, the translator Robyn Creswell has also included an annotated selection of Notes from Prison culled from Ibrahim’s prison diary — a personal archive comprising hundreds of handwritten notes scribbled on Bafra-brand cigarette papers. These writings shed unexpected light on Ibrahim’s groundbreaking novel.

More Praise…

“Superbly austere... a comédie humaine of Nasserist Egypt in just fifty pages”

— Robyn Creswell, The New Yorker

“Bold, uncompromising writing.”

— Frederick Deknatel, The Daily Beast

“A controlled howl of fury.”

— Jeremy Lybarger, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Creswell’s new translation of That Smell finally allows English language readers to appreciate these qualities.”

— Yasmine El Rashidi, New York Review of Books

“Robyn Creswell's translation of Ibrahim's exhilaratingly bleak novel gives English readers a new classic of mid-century existentialism and, at the same time, a window onto an Egypt too few of us have glimpsed in literature or elsewhere.”

— Benjamin Kunkel

“The pervasive moral corruption of Nasser's Egypt seeps up between the lines of Ibrahim's seemingly affectless prose. A landmark in Egyptian literature”

— J. M. Coetzee