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The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist (Interlink World Fiction Series) Paperback – September 28, 2001


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The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist (Interlink World Fiction Series) + Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories + Season of Migration to the North (New York Review Books Classics)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Interlink Pub Group (September 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566564158
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566564151
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With everyone paying more attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the wake of recent events, Habiby's novel about a Palestinian man, Saeed, who remains in Israel after its creation and becomes an informer for the state, is sure to attract attention. Written in 1974 but appearing for the first time in the U.S., the tale is told in the form of letters written to an unnamed correspondent after Saeed has escaped to outer space with the help of an extraterrestrial friend. Saeed's experiences are both comic and tragic, triumphant and defeated. He tries to gain favor by being the best informant, but his bad luck and dim wit guarantee his failure; his life is lived in constant fear, yet he is never without hope. Habiby's blending of fantasy and reality intentionally obscures our sense of what is real and what is not, but it heightens our awareness of the complexity of the political conflict in the Middle East. As an Arab in Israel (and one-time member of the Israeli Parliament), Habiby has strong views on the conflict, but even readers who disagree with him will find this strange novel to be thought-provoking on a number of levels. Helpful translators' notes serve as a primer on Middle Eastern history and culture. Beth Warrell
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Arabic

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Written in 1974, these words are equally meaningful today.
Gramagain
The book is a humorous allegory, wrapped around everyday Arab life, with a bitter nucleus of Israeli oppression.
lvkleydorff
As the story progressed though, I felt like it had lost the plot.
S. Shamma

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By lvkleydorff on March 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
Saeed, the narrator of the story, belongs to the large family of Pessoptimists. He can feel like a pessimist, or like an optimist, but can never tell the two apart. Saeed is an Arab. When Israel conquered part of Palestine, he did not flee but stayed behind to become an Israeli citizen. That did not help him much - Arab remains Arab.
The book is a humorous allegory, wrapped around everyday Arab life, with a bitter nucleus of Israeli oppression. Like Voltaire?s Candide, Saeed believes that this is the best of all worlds. To him it seems quite natural that the occupying forces arrest people in the middle of the night for no reason, that they deport them, that they blow up houses, and that they devastate whole villages. After all, they won the war, and everything - and everybody - now belongs to them. There are those Arabs who want to retaliate immediately. But they are told that the tree is not loved for its flowers, but for its fruit. After all, it took them close to two hundred years to throw out the crusaders. Saeed is the simple soul who sees what goes on around him, but cannot understand why it is so. The bitterness comes with the explanation.
Mr. Habiby wrote a devastating satire. His own life paralleled that of Saeed: he was an Arab in Israel, even a member of the Israeli parliament. He wrote this book almost 30 years ago. It is still valid.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on June 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
As its subtitle implies, "The Secret Life of Saeed" blends optimism and pessimism, tragedy and comedy, horror and farce, cynicism and gullibility. A Palestinian in occupied territory, Saeed has lived through both wars (1948 and 1967); although he is an informer on the payroll of the Israeli government, he's too stupid to be of any real threat to his own people, but he is equally unable to protect his own family. As Salma Khadra Jayyusi notes in the introduction, Saeed is caught between "the extreme poles of Zionist colonialism and Palestinian resistance."

Saeed is able to relate his tale only when he is rescued by an extraterrestrial being (perhaps the Reaper himself) who removes him physically from the absurdities in which he is trapped. In each part of the subsequent autobiographical account, he relates a different loss--of his first love, of his wife and son, of the daughter of his first love--each under different circumstances that are identical in their irrationality. A coward himself, comically useless to his superiors, he is surrounded by rebels. But, once freed from earthly shackles, he can unsparingly ridicule his oppressors, and his tale mocks both Arab oligarchies and Israeli officials.

Habiby's novel owes much to Voltaire, as he makes clear in both the book's title and in a chapter called "The Amazing Similarity between Candide and Saeed." When his extraterrestrial savior points out the resemblance, Saeed responds, "Don't blame me for that. Blame our way of life that hasn't changed since Voltaire's day," and he draws parallels between Pangloss and Israeli dignitaries and between Candide's experiences and recent Palestinian history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Hanan on July 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I absolutely loved this book. It's not your run of the mill Palestinian literature - Emile Habiby is a very unique writer who is quirky & quick-witted. Anyone can enjoy this story - it has a universal human truth and is extremely touching. The character of Saeed is so different and out there, you can't help but have a soft spot for the poor guy. It is one of my favorite books of all time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By rmarflir2013 on January 10, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Emile Habiby invented a new genre of Arab literature when he wrote this book. Instead of convincing the reader of Palestinian suffering through accusatory statements, shockingly violent imagery, or political rhetoric, he uses an unreliable idiot, who happens to be a Palestinian citizen of Israel, an informer, and a pretty pathetic character, to tell the story of Palestinian collective memory and current realities through satire, sarcasm, and seemingly stupid, yet really witty narration. This book is amazing!
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