The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist

by Emile Habiby

This bizarrely comical and touching satire of the bumbling innocent, Saeed Pessoptimist, is a classic of Arab literature. At times the style of writing can be difficult to engage with - maybe due to the translation - but it's worth persevering for this touching and infuriating tragicomic tale of a well-assuming but blundering man caught in the middle of two conflicting nations.


This question floored me. But he had calmed down and now he came closer to me and patted me on the shoulder in a fatherly manner: 'Now let this be a lesson to you. You should realize that we have the latest equipment with which to monitor your every movement, even including what you whisper in your dreams. With our modern apparatus we know all that happens, both within the state and outside it. Take care you don't ever behave this way again.'
I responded merely by continuing my violent shaking, repeating only, 'I am an ass! I am an ass!'
I kept this up till he left, after he had finally removed his sunglasses. Then I began invoking God's mercy on my father's soul, for he had been the first person to discover what an ass I am.
Translated by Salma K Jayyusi and Trevor LeGassick


When I Lived In Modern Times by Linda Grant
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Candide by Voltaire

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