In literature, sometimes a writer cultivates a unique style that sets them apart from the rest.
Such is the case with Tunisian scholar Al Taher Labib, born in 1942, who recently published his debut novel, enchanting readers with its elegant and neoclassical style.
The title itself presents a clever play on words – “Waiting for the Predicate ‘Inna’”. Predicate has a double meaning in Arabic, referring to the news. In turn, the title can become “Waiting for news of ‘Inna’”, where ‘Inna’ refers to a letter/article in the Arabic language that modifies the structure of a sentence.
The captivating novel follows the narrator's journey in Beirut, as he navigates its history and cafés, entering into a love affair with an enigmatic woman he calls "sunflower".
Amid political turmoil, the novel explores identity, romance, and the allure of a city, blurring reality and imagination as the narrator touches upon his upbringing in Tunisia.
Published by Dar Mohammad Ali Al Hami in Tunisia and Muntada Al Maarif in Beirut, the novel manages to avoid the pitfalls of overly colloquial Arabic literature – a style that was popularised in the last 15 years.
Instead, Labib infuses his storytelling with an intellectual streak. His words are both fluid and expressive; he draws inspiration from oral speech, but his work still preserves a distinct written identity.