Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, The
by Habiby, Emile
Purposefully imitating Voltaire’s classic Candide, another dark comedy which derives its humour from life’s tragedies, Habiby’s The Secret of Saeed the Pessoptimist is a classic of Arab literature. The story of Saeed, a Palestinian who becomes a citizen of Israel, is a story of fact and fantasy, tragedy and comedy. At once a comic hero and luckless fool, his life is full of terror, aggression, resistence and heroism. As an informer for the Zionist state, Saeed’s stupidity, candour and cowardice make him more the victim than a villain; but in a series of tragicomic episodes, blundering from disaster to disaster, he is slowly transformed from gullible collaborator into a Palestinian intent on survival. The novel, informed by the author’s own experience in Israeli politics, is both biting and funny.