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Robyn Creswell

A critic, translator, and scholar, Creswell has written about contemporary poetry and fiction for Harper’s, The Nation, Raritan, n+1, and other magazines. He is currently the poetry editor for The Paris Review and Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University.


The Tongue of Adam

Nonfiction by Abdelfattah Kilito

translated by Robyn Creswell

In the beginning there was one language—one tongue that Adam used to compose the first poem, an elegy for Abel. “These days, no one bothers to ask about the tongue of Adam. It is a naive question, vaguely embarrassing and irksome, like questions posed by children, which one can only answer rather stupidly.” So begins Abdelfattah Kilito’s The Tongue of Adam, a delightful series of lectures. With a Borgesian flair for riddles, stories, and subtle scholarly distinctions, Kilito presents an assortment of discussions related to Adam’s tongue, including translation, comparative religion, and lexicography: for example, how, from Babel onward, can we explain the plurality of language? Or can Adam’s poetry be judged aesthetically, the same as any other poem?

Drawing from the commentators of the Koran to Walter Benjamin, from the esoteric speculations of Judaism to Herodotus, The Tongue of Adam is a nimble book about the mysterious rise of humankind’s multilingualism.



That Smell & Notes from Prison

Fiction by Sonallah Ibrahim

translated by Robyn Creswell
Edited by Robyn Creswell

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.



The Clash of Images

Fiction by Abdelfattah Kilito

translated by Robyn Creswell

Abdelfattah Kilito’s The Clash of Images is a sweet, Borgesian mix of bildungsroman memoir, family history, short-story collection, fable, and literary criticism. Written in a graceful and charming style, Kilito’s story takes place in an unnamed coastal city of memories where a child experiences first-hand the cultural clash of text and image in a changing, modern society. The story unfolds in the medina, the msid (or Koranic school), the neighborhood hammam (or bathhouse), summer camp, and the local cinema––canished sites that inspire Kilito’s meditation and eulogy. In one chapter the child’s mother forbids her son to read comic books after a bad report card, and the author evokes Don Quixote’s niece, who tries to burn her uncle’s romances and save him from his insane quests. In another, he remembers the first time he saw an image of the Prophet Mohammed, in a French textbook, and the moment he showed the offending picture to his grandmother. The Clash of Images is a celebration of the pleasures of storytelling, a magic lantern that delicately reveals how the world of books intimately connects with the world outside their pages.



That Smell & Notes from Prison

Fiction by Sonallah Ibrahim

translated by Robyn Creswell
Edited by Robyn Creswell

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.