Shadow of the Sun
by Taleb Alrefai
ISBN: 9781913043360

Paperback   •   eBook   •   192pp

Order online or from any good bookshop
or directly from Banipal Books via PayPal

Paperback plus postage to UK, EU, Rest of World

Ebook available on


Official publication date: 25 October 2023

Translated from the Arabic by Nashwa Nasreldin

Shadow of the Sun

Kuwaiti author's debut novel exposes the reality of life for the country's migrant construction workers


“Almost a historical document on my life and the lives of the workers with whom I lived for fifteen years, Shadow of the Sun presents a human landscape set in and reflecting Kuwait.”

Author Taleb Alrefai


“Travelling abroad was my only way out. A highly qualified teacher, with an Arabic language BA degree, but earning a measly salary of a hundred and thirty pounds a month. A failure of a teacher. No one cares about Arabic in this miserable age we live in . . . When it comes to private tutoring, subjects like Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and English are the ones in demand. My salary vanishes by the end of the first week,  then I'm in debt for the rest of the month . . ."

HELMY, the protagonist of Shadow of the Sun


"Shadow of the Sun
is a harrowing story, which the author tells tenderly and with a touch of eccentricity and black humour. It stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it and the dire predicament of its protagonist Helmy has haunted me ever since."

Nashwa Nasreldin, the translator


Impoverished Egyptian teacher Helmy is desperate to find a better life for himself, his wife and little boy, seeing no future at home in Cairo. He dreams of working in oil-rich Kuwait and its boom in construction being the answer, just like many thousands before him.  He manages to borrow the huge cost of a visa and is at last on his way to Kuwait City. 

He has no idea of the nightmare, instead of the dream, that awaits him – the relentless summer sun with temperatures of 56ºC and more, the choking dust and sweat, having to do construction work instead of teaching. And always, no money, and no answers from the many managers Helmy comes up against. Instead of achieving his dream, he falls into trap after trap. The author is himself a character in the novel, an engineer with the construction company who is writing a story about the humiliating and degrading experiences of the migrant foreign workers arriving in Kuwait to make their fortunes.


From the PREFACE

When I chose to study civil engineering at Kuwait University’s College of Engineering and Petroleum, what awaited me on site never occurred to me. In summer, the temperature in the shade would hit 56C and above; the sweat of the workers would mix with their blood, and the dust enshroud their food.

I spent fifteen years working for a major Kuwaiti construction company and progressed up the ranks from site engineer to project engineer to chief engineer.

It was rare to see Kuwaiti workers on site, so I was destined to work with people from sone 100 different nationalities who spoke a vast range of languages. In the morning I would stand waiting the arrival of the workers. I would scan the peeling skin on their faces, their burnt brows, and the white streaks of dried sweat on their clothes. But what always caught my attention was the incredible optimism they brought with them and their warm and friendly conversations with each other. I made so many friends and sat on the ground to eat off the their plates as I thought, “Livelihood brings people together, but also leads to their deaths!”

Taleb Alrefai, Kuwait, December 2022



Taleb Alrefai is a well-known Kuwaiti novelist and short-story-writer, born in 1958, who started publishing short stories in local newspapers when he was an engineering student at the University of Kuwait in the mid-1970s. Shadow of the Sun (2000 & 2012, Dhil al-Shams) is his first novel, centring on the suffering of Egyptian and other foreign migrant workers in Kuwait. In 2002, he was awarded the State Prize for Letters for his novel Ra’ihat al-Bahr (Scent of the Sea).

In 2011 he founded Al-Multaqa (Cultural Circle), a regular literary discussion forum in Kuwait City, which led to the founding of the annual Almultaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story in 2016. That year his novel Fi al-Huna (Here and There) was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and now has a French edition.

His novel Al-Najdi (2017, The Mariner) has editions in English (Banipal Books, 2020 and Spiracle audiobook 2022), French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Turkish.

He lives in Kuwait City and works as a creative writing lecturer at the American University of Kuwait.

For more information about Taleb Alrefai click here


Nashwa Nasreldin is a British Egyptian writer, editor, and translator of Arabic literature into English. She is the translator of the 2014 Sheikh Zayed Book Award-winning novel After Coffee by Abdelrashid Mahmoudi, with her translation being a Fiction finalist in the 2019 USA International Book Awards. For more about Nashwa Nasreldin, click here.