Leg over Leg recounts the life, from birth to middle age, of “the Fariyaq,” alter ego of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a pivotal figure in the intellectual and literary history of the modern Arab world. The always edifying and often hilarious adventures of the Fariyaq, as he moves from his native Lebanon to Egypt, Malta, Tunis, England, and France, provide the author with grist for wide-ranging discussions of the intellectual and social issues of his time, including the ignorance and corruption of the Lebanese religious and secular establishments, freedom of conscience, women’s rights, sexual relationships between men and women, the manners and customs of Europeans and Middle Easterners, and the differences between contemporary European and Arabic literatures, all the while celebrating the genius and beauty of the classical Arabic language.
Volumes One and Two follow the hapless Fariyaq through his youth and early education, his misadventures among the monks of Mount Lebanon, his flight to the Egypt of Muhammad 'Ali, and his subsequent employment with the first Arabic daily newspaper—during which time he suffers a number of diseases that parallel his progress in the sciences of Arabic grammar, and engages in amusing digressions on the table manners of the Druze, young love, snow, and the scandals of the early papacy. This first book also sees the list—of locations in Hell, types of medieval glue, instruments of torture, stars and pre-Islamic idols—come into its own as a signature device of the work.
Akin to Sterne and Rabelais in his satirical outlook and technical inventiveness, al-Shidyaq produced in Leg Over Leg a work that is unique and unclassifiable. It was initially widely condemned for its attacks on authority, its religious skepticism, and its “obscenity,” and later editions were often abridged. This is the first complete English translation of this groundbreaking work.
"Al-Shidyaq, born in Lebanon in the early years of the nineteenth century, was a Zelig of the Arabic literary world, and his Leg Over Leg is a bawdy, hilarious, epically word-obsessed, and unclassifiable book, which has never been translated into English before…"
—Sal Robinson, Moby Lives
"It is not too early to state that the publication of this work, in this edition, is a game-changer. This is a foundational work of modern Arabic literature and its publication in English is long overdue — but given how it is presented here, it was perhaps worth the wait. This edition, with helpful endnotes, the original Arabic text, and in a translation that both reads well and appears to closely mirror the original, seems, in almost every way, ideal… I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this is the most important literary publication of a translation into English, in terms of literary history and our understanding of it, in years."
—The Complete Review
“The heroic achievement of award-winning translator Humphrey Davies marks the first ever English translation of this pivotal work… An accessible, informative, and highly entertaining read.”
"We're having a particularly good season for literary discoveries from the past, with recent publications of Volumes 1 and 2 of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq's 'Leg Over Leg' (1855)..."
—Martin Riker, New York Times Book Review
"...Leg Over Leg by the Lebanese intellectual Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, [has] long been held to be untranslatable and so [is] appearing, in [its] entirety, in English for the first time."
—Lydia Wilson, Times Literary Supplement
"Its contemporaneity is astonishing... It would be doing Leg Over Leg a massive disservice to not make it clear how funny it is. This is a book that for all its challenges, all its insight into humanity, all its place in history, had me regularly laughing out loud."
—Music and Literature
"Humphrey Davies’s masterful translation makes accessible this unique and fascinating work, deserving of wider recognition and study […] The translation adroitly and sympathetically captures the linguistic exuberance and literary inventiveness of the original."
"Humphrey Davies’ translation, published in four dual-language volumes, is a triumph. He skillfully renders punning, rhyming prose without breaking the spell… Leg Over Leg stands out for both its stylistic brazenness and the excellence of the translation. With this bilingual edition, the Library of Arabic Literature helps fill a large cultural gap and alters our view of Arabic literature and the formal trajectory of the novel outside the West. Any reader for whom the term ‘world literature’ is more than an empty platitude must read Humphrey Davies's translation."
—John Yargo, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Humphrey Davies has rendered one of the most challenging texts of Arabic literature, al-Shidyaq's al-Saq 'ala l-saq, accessible to a wide range of readers for the first time.... The reader is plunged into al-Shidyaq's critical, humorous, uninhibited, sometimes bitter but profoundly humane, and utterly original masterpiece."
—Hilary Kilpatrick, Journal of the American Oriental Society
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