Jonathan Edelstein Recommends

“Emil Habibi’s The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist is classic satire and may also be one of the first examples of peculiarly Israeli Arab literature,” Jonathan says. “The Arab Israelis are ethnically Palestinian, but their experiences have been shaped by life in an Israeli society to which they simultaneously do and do not belong, and this has given rise to a distinct literary voice. Habibi – who was a communist member of the Israeli Knesset – experienced these contradictions in full, and the exploits of his absurd anti-hero illustrate how surreal they must have seemed to those living through them.

The term “pessoptimist” – the author’s coinage for a pessimistic optimist – is a good one to know for those who follow Middle Eastern politics, because the news from that region is often both hopeful and depressing. The continuing validity of Habibi’s satire a generation after it was written inspires the same mix of emotions.”

Jonathan Edelstein is a lawyer practicing in New York City and the author of The Head Heeb, which analyzes Middle East affairs and democratization in the developing world.