The New York Times

By the Book: Hanan al-Shaykh

THE NOVELIST HANAN AL-SHAYKH, AUTHOR MOST RECENTLY OF “THE OCCASIONAL VIRGIN,” AVOIDS READING BOOKS LONGER THAN 800 PAGES “UNLESS THEY ARE WRITTEN BY MY FRIENDS.”

Q: What books are on your nightstand?

A: “The Blue Flower,” by Penelope Fitzgerald; “Mothering Sunday,” by Graham Swift; “Autumn,” by Ali Smith; “Seven Types of Atheism,” by John Gray; “Al-Mawloudah,” by the Egyptian writer Nadia Kamel; “Red Birds,” by Mohammed Hanif; “Raising Sparks,” by Ariel Kahn.

Q: What was the last great book you read?

A: “Death in Spring,” by Mercè Rodoreda. A rare, haunting novel about a village in Catalan whose brutal traditions are tamed and become a natural part of life, to an extent that even when there is a chance for some of its inhabitants to break away from this fatal violence and escape the power of evil they remain tied to it. But why? Is it because there is no escape from the horror of our world, which feeds on conflicts and violence? I was hypnotized, bewitched by the beauty of

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