542 Pages

May 2020

ISBN: 9781479800841




Al-Ḥarīrī (d. 516/1122) was a poet, scholar, and government official from Basra, Iraq. He is celebrated for his virtuosity in producing rhymed prose narratives, the Maqāmāt.

Michael Cooperson is Professor of Arabic in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA. His translations include The Life of Ibn Ḥanbal by Ibn al-Jawzī for the Library of Arabic Literature, and The Author and His Doubles by the eminent Moroccan literary critic Abdelfattah Kilito.

Abdelfattah Kilito is the author of several acclaimed studies of Arabic literature, including Arabs and the Art of Storytelling and a study of the maqāmāt genre. He is the recipient of the Great Moroccan Award, the Al Owais Award for Criticism and Literature Studies, and a Prix from the Académie Française.

One of the Wall Street Journal's Top 10 Books of the Year

Winner, 2020 Sheikh Zayed Book Award, Translation Category

Shortlist, 2021 National Translation Award

Finalist, 2021 PROSE Award, Literature Category

Fifty rogue’s tales translated fifty ways

An itinerant con man. A gullible eyewitness narrator. Voices spanning continents and centuries. These elements come together in Impostures, a groundbreaking new translation of a celebrated work of Arabic literature.

Impostures follows the roguish Abū Zayd al-Sarūjī in his adventures around the medieval Middle East—we encounter him impersonating a preacher, pretending to be blind, and lying to a judge. In every escapade he shows himself to be a brilliant and persuasive wordsmith, composing poetry, palindromes, and riddles on the spot. Award-winning translator Michael Cooperson transforms Arabic wordplay into English wordplay of his own, using fifty different registers of English, from the distinctive literary styles of authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf, to global varieties of English including Cockney rhyming slang, Nigerian English, and Singaporean English.

Featuring picaresque adventures and linguistic acrobatics, Impostures brings the spirit of this masterpiece of Arabic literature into English in a dazzling display of translation.

An English-only edition.


  • "[An] astounding new adaptation of the Maqāmāt of al-Harīrī… The verbal profusion is ludicrous, joyfully so. Speaking to an interviewer, Mr. Cooperson remarked that the Maqāmāt is 'a book that shows off everything that Arabic can do.' Impostures shows off English in the same flattering light, demonstrating its dynamism, its endurance, its mutability and its glorious, weedy wildness. In this way, a translation that is so brazen in its liberties is faithful to the spirit of the original."

    Wall Street Journal

  • "An astounding performance of literary skill...[A]n important translation of a criminally neglected work of world literature, and an impressive literary work in its own right."

    Mada Masr

  • "It's absolutely delightful...pure pleasure to read."

  • "A Herculean effort... Al-Hariri stands as a giant of Arabic literature. After reading Cooperson’s translation of Impostures, the translator is worthy of similar praise."

    Free Lance-Star

  • "To translate a work that has been called untranslatable for a thousand years requires more than just expertise in languages—it requires wit, creativity, and an ocean-deep reservoir of knowledge of history and literature and humanity. Michael Cooperson has all of that, plus the most essential, and rarest element: the courage to climb this Everest of world literature. The result isn’t just a translation—it’s a dazzling work of literary creation in its own right, with the linguistic gymnastics of Pale Fire, the genre-switching of Cloud Atlas, and the literary range of 2666."

    Peter Sagal, Host of NPR's Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!

  • "One might describe al-Ḥarīrī's twelfth-century Arabic classic as 'Melville's Confidence-Man meets Queneau's Exercices de style,' but in this remarkable Oulipean carnival of a translation by Michael Cooperson, there are so many other voices—and languages: Singlish, Spanglish, Shakespeare, middle management-speak, Harlem jive, the rogue's lexicon, Naijá... Impostures is a wild romp through languages and literatures, places and times, that bears out and celebrates Borges's dictum: 'Erudition is the modern form of the fantastic.'"

    Esther Allen, translator of Zama, winner of the 2017 National Translation Award

  • "Both engrossing and entertaining to read."

    Asian Review of Books

  • "Examples of Cooperson’s creativity and flair are endless, with a different dialect, technique or imitation used for each of the fifty maqamat. This bold choice manages to show the elaborate nature of classical Arabic storytelling, but also of the English language. From Singlish to London slang, al-Hariri’s wandering bard Abu Zayd and his companion al-Harith ibn Hammam are made living proofs of the diversity of English’s linguistic landscape, incorporating historical and cultural nuance through the translator’s careful but innovative approach."

    Translation Exchange

  • "Wildly inventive, acerbic, and funny."

    Public Books

  • "The author’s 12th-century Arabic masterpiece, the Maqamat, is a feast of stories, told in a bewildering variety of voice and registers, and in this, the best translated work of 2020, Michael Cooperson somehow uncannily manages to go all that rhetorical virtuosity one better. The result is simply astonishing, and almost embarrassingly entertaining."

    Open Letters Review

  • "A lot of fun to read… Anyone interested in language in general or English and its literatures will enjoy Impostures, and those who can read al-Ḥarīrī in Arabic can marvel at the surprising and myriad ways in which Cooperson manages to maintain a certain fidelity to the original."


  • "Cooperson is a master of mimicry; he deploys Scots, Indian English and Spanglish with seemingly effortless aplomb… A dazzling achievement, showy and extravagant as the Arabic original."

    Times Literary Supplement

  • "A virtuoso English version of a famously challenging Arabic text… Highly ingenious and very erudite."

    Al-Ahram Weekly

  • "Innovative and bold."

    The Markaz Review

  • "Cooperson has executed a work of capacious breadth and skill, and has artfully rendered much of the spirit of the original [...] In Impostures, the Library of Arabic Literature has once again shepherded the production of an innovative and brilliant volume."

    Journal of Arabic Literature