The Hidden Light of Objects

A young girl, renamed Amerika in honor of the US role in the liberation of Kuwait, finds her name has become a barometer of her country’s growing hostility towards the West. A self-conscious Palestinian teenager is drawn into a botched suicide bombing by two belligerent classmates. A middle-aged man dying from cancer looks back on his extramarital affairs and the abiding forgiveness of his wife.

The headlines tell of war, unrest, and religious clashes. But if you look beyond them you may see another side of life in the Middle East—adolescent love, the fragility of marriage, pain of the most quotidian kind. Mai Al-Nakib’s luminous stories carefully trace overlooked moments in the lives of those who reside in this fraught region of the world—and the power of ordinary objects to hold extraordinary memories.


Al-Nakib writes with penetrating insight and such compressed lyricism that at times her prose seems to border on poetry.
Pick of the Week, Cameron Woodhead
The Hidden Light of Objects marks the emergence of an author already confident in her craft and ability to give voice to the emotions and yearnings of her characters.
This is hardly the collection of a shy novice, and Al-Nakib revels in the challenge of mixing myth with reality.
Al-Nakib has a metaphoric voice that straddles the disillusionment of adulthood, the desperate longing of teenagers and the cheerful naivety of childhood. It’s a cohesive voice that binds a collection of diverse stories that segue between moods of melancholia and nostalgia, optimism and lust with the ease of honey gently drizzled over warm almond cake.
Mai Al-Nakib’s The Hidden Light of Objects—a debut collection of stories strung together by the common thread of longing, sometimes for the past, sometimes for peace but mostly for the preservation of memory in all its vivid freshness.
Starred Review
Al-Nakib’s writing is both disciplined and daring. The material of her stories is strange and compellingly familiar. A novel is promised next from an author who took her time to make such a significant mark with this first collection.
Peter Pierce
These powerful stories evoke a deep reconsideration of what the reader ‘knows’ about the ‘Middle East.’ For that reason alone, they deserve to be widely read.
Mary-Ann Tétreault
The Hidden Light of Objects is shaped like the best of American or British short stories. The collection is more easily accessible for a Western reader than most translations; the bridge the reader crosses is not very far.
Marcia Lynx Qualey
With her compassion for an old, vanished world and her exceptional eye for the bruised landscape of the modern Middle East, Al-Nakib should be heralded as an exciting new literary voice.
The Hidden Light of Objects elevates Al-Nakib to Promising Young Novelist status, a writer who has emerged, seemingly fully formed, with a bright future ahead.
Throughout, Al-Nakib’s language of loss is unsentimental yet striking and lush. The author—whose mother tongue is English—evokes the land and its inhabitants with unusual juxtapositions, proximities, and linguistic contrasts.
The stories in The Hidden Light of Objects are written with a high degree of skill and have a distinctive poetic and economical style, and a touch that is light yet moving.
Al-Nakib is an absorbing storyteller who writes with insight and beauty.
The old world and the new. The strife in the Gulf, once peaceful and reflective. East and West, Arabic and English, the poetry of the heart, the eye of the hawk; all these elements produce the lustrous pearls of Mai Al-Nakib’s short stories.
Hanan al-Shaykh
author of Beirut Blues
Through a richly nuanced and generous lens, Al-Nakib’s gracefully intertwined stories celebrate the living desire that connects us to home—wherever in the world that might be—as well as to the past and to each other. The most original first collection of short fiction I have read in years. A powerful voice already in full mastery of her powers.
A. Manette Ansay
author of Vinegar Hill
The Hidden Light of Objects brings forth both the light and the shadows of the contemporary Middle East in clean-edged prose that startles us, not with sudden violence or polemic, but with the ineluctable force of human desire. Kuwait itself becomes a character, full of contradictions, in this multifaceted set of stories and vignettes. Superb.
Lucy Ferriss
author of The Lost Daughter
These moments examined, small and beautiful and finely drawn, evoke a world of loss, of longing, and remembrance. Mai Al-Nakib’s debut collection reveals the life before and after, old and new, innocent and wise, becoming. Beautiful.
M. Evelina Galang
author of Angel de la Luna and the Fifth Glorious Mystery
Imagine a pop-up book that doesn’t need paper cut-outs to perform its magic, and there you have Mai Al-Nakib’s enchanting first collection of stories. Readers would not be mistaken to think that Al-Nakib is a distant cousin of W.G. Sebald, George Saunders, and Barry Yourgrau. These stories are neatly-wrapped presents. Open them slowly and savor the beauty and fragility of life being lived.
Elliott Colla
author of Baghdad Central