Shukri Al-Mabkhout’s first novel The Italian is a political narrative par excellence. A linguist by profession, Al-Mabkhout ventures into Tunisian contemporary political history via the Marxist militant Abdennaser (nicknamed “the Italian”), a controversial character that won him the 2015 Booker Prize for Arabic Literature. Abdennaser is a self-deceptive Tunisian Marxist who starts off his journey as a hard-nosed activist in the leftist General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), and later an influential member in the Tunisian Communist Party (PCT). Owing to the changing political climate after the 1987 November coup against President Habib Bourguiba, he suffers both moral and ideological decline. Al-Mabkhout enmeshes Abdennaser in a morass of incidents that reveal the...

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