From a University Press Catalog to Random House’s Book Club Roster


By Neal Comment

betool-khedairi.jpgRandom House editor Judy Sternlight has a lot of international contacts—in addition to commissioning and acquiring translations for the Modern Library, she tracks down reprint possibilities for Random. So when she spotted Absent, a novel by Iraqi-Scottish journalist Betool Khedairi (left), in an American University in Cairo Press catalog, she was intrigued enough to order a copy. “Khedairi’s great sense of humor, and her vivid portrayal of a handful of people living in a Baghdad apartment building in the 1990s pulled me right in,” Sternlight recalled in a recent email message. “A lot of North Americans are hungry to learn more about the Middle East and the people who live there, and a novel like Absent is a very intimate and accessible way into a different world.”

By the time Sternlight brought Absent up at an editorial meeting, she’d already gotten several of her colleagues to read the novel. “They agreed with me that this funny and poignant story about life in Baghdad between the Gulf War and the current conflict was truly compelling and well suited to a North American audience,” she reports—so, just as HarperPerennial had done last year with another AUinC title, Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany‘s The Yacoubian Building, Random picked up Absent as a trade paperback original. Further demonstrating their belief that the book would appeal to an mainstream audience, the imprint added it to the “Readers Circle” program, designating it as book club-friendly. “When Betool Khedairi wrote Absent, she wanted to give Westerners a better sense of Iraqi people from different layers of society,” Sternlight wrote. “I can’t wait for North American readers to discover this captivating novel about life in Iraq, the importance of family and community, the hardships of living in a war torn part of the world, and on a basic level, the yearnings of one very intriguing young woman who needs to decide what to do with her life.”