Jokes for the Gunmen

نكات للمسلحين

Mazen Maarouf

Shortlisted for the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation 2019
Nominated for the Man Booker International Prize 2019
Winner of the Almultaqa Prize

Jokes for the Gunmen

‘Mazen Maarouf’s stories in Jokes for the Gunmen are a powerful reminder that it is only through the imagination we can hope to make sense of the brute senselessness of reality.’ Sjon

‘In this pitch-perfect collection Maarouf skilfully blends the mundane and the bizarre to explore the dark times we live in with grace and lightness of touch. He is a maestro.’ Fadia Faqir, author of Willow Trees Don’t Weep

‘Maarouf’s unplaceable cities serve the same purpose as the locations of many of Mohsin Hamid’s novels: the reader can imagine these dark and violent places as San Salvador or Sana’a, as Ciudad Juárez or Bangui… Maarouf’s stories are deeply peculiar, occasionally touching and often very funny.’ The Guardian

‘Jokes for the Gunmen returns over and over again to the subject of humour as its characters try to make sense of life in a Lebanese warzone. [The] stories offer a surreal look at the impact of war on the civilian population. By mixing the domestic with the horrific, the irreality of war comes through as we watch his characters live through unimaginable violence… There are overtones of writers like Etgar Keret in Maarouf’s stories, or the dark tales of Roald Dahl whose twisted logic and embattled child protagonists take on new resonance in wartime. The child narrators in Jokes are an intriguing blend of innocence, optimism and vengeance. In the face of so much senseless death, they accept the absurd predicaments of their family members.’ The Irish Times

‘Small, explosive and powerful, Jokes for the Gunmen is a bullet of a debut.’ The Spectator

‘Unsettlingly good’ The Sunday Times

‘Maarouf’s wry chuckle infiltrates the childlike voices of his narrators, who tell their sentences in simple sentences and muddled narratives. Jonathan Wright captures the tone of Maarouf’s original Arabic in a translation which was deservedly longlisted for this year’s Man Booker International Prize… When violence does occur, Maarouf deals with it quickly and almost casually – dispatching fatal bombing raids and life-altering accidents with a few efficient words – but its effects reverberate. The narrators’ fruitless attempts to cope supply much of the book’s delightfully dark, absurdist humour.’ Times Literary Supplement

A powerful collection of interlinked stories from a highly praised young Palestinian Icelandic. Several stories are told from a child’s point of view, the father-son relationship is a recurring theme. The place is rarely mentioned but many of them have a Beirut-like city as the background. There is almost always a slightly surreal element, or a blurring of the lines between reality and imagination.

‘Maarouf’s style takes from nightmare its sense of panic, from surrealism its depth and paradoxes, and from satire its merriment and playfulness, as when one plays a game with snakes. This is what raises the book to become an important achievement in the history of the Arabic short story.’ Al Jazeera

‘Mazen Maarouf is remarkably faithful to the short story as an artistic genre. He does not write with an adult’s consciousness. His imagination is unleashed like the hands of an impatient child spilling colour over the face of the world. The narrator, the child, speaks with detachment about sad and contradictory events as if they lie on the edges of his life and do not concern him. As if reality is merely a purgative theatrical exercise, invented to release the terror of war inside us… “Jokes for the Gunmen” is not just a collection of fourteen short stories placed between the covers of a book, but an intelligent literary game.’ Assafir newspaper

‘These stories describe an illogical reality from the point of view of a child living his daily life in the shadow of a war which is not apparently the main subject of the stories. Rather, it appears to be a fantasy experienced by him. Through the child, the author conveys visions of humanity, using paradox and satirical playfulness.’ Reuters

‘These stories are a struggle between being and the impossibility of being, potency and nothingness. They are violent without being bloody, loaded with explosives without producing a massacre. The writer makes fun of laughter, but there is no grief-stricken wailing. Reading the stories, you feel the tingling and stinging of the images. There´s a continuous search for a stable, unthreatened existence and identity. These are insomniac, rude, hallucinatory stories which hover around the human being living in wartime as a crow hovers about its prey before finally seizing upon it.’ Annahar

‘In his beautiful collection, Mazen Maarouf delivers us stories that were written with great eloquence, mastery, stories that are steeped in magical realism but also blend fantasy with reality and emotions.’ Annahar Kuwait

‘These are stories that breed one from the other, as the characters generate one another. They inherit physical and psychological impairments and are motivated by an Oedipus complex. The unchanging background is the war, which is not located in a specific time or place and no reasons are given for it. It is presented in a highly abstract way, featureless, since wars are the same, even though their history and geography may differ. As the reader moves from one story to the next, he feels as though he is visiting the “gallery of absurdities” of Samuel Beckett.’ Alhayat


  • Ed. Riad El-Rayyes, Arabic
  • Granta World English
  • Gyldendal Norsk Norway
  • Editions Flammarion France
  • Forlagid Iceland
  • Modernista Sweden
  • Alianza Editorial World Spanish
  • Sellerio Editore Italian
  • Navona Editorial Catalan
  • Unions Verlag German
  • Title story published in Neue Rundschau Germany
  • Epilog (Claus Clausen) Denmark
  • Uitgeverij de Harmonie Netherlands
  • Haramada Publications Greece
  • Vydavnytstvo Ukraine
  • Qoqnoos Iran
  • Cumartesi Kitapligi Turkey

Material available: Arabic edition. Full english translation available.