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. The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist was named in the top ten novels set in the Arab world by The Guardian in 2010, won the Al-Quds Prize in Palestine in 1992 and The Israel Prize for Literature, awarded by the State of Israel.
It is the only novel to have the top literary award in both countries.