The Grub Hunter was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2011 and subsequently translated into English. The author is Sudanese and, although it never actually states that it is set in Sudan, it seems reasonable to assume this.
Abdallah Harfash (Farfar), a former secret service agent, has been forcibly retired after a injury received while at work. He decides to write a book, to become a novelist. To this end he starts to frequent a cafe that he knew from his surveillance work, to be a haunt of writers. The author known as A.T. holds court here and it takes Farfar a while to gain his trust.
Then there is a diversion while one of A.T.'s writings, a short novel set in Russia, is inserted into the main book. I'm not quite sure what purpose this book-within-a-book served but it was certainly confusing.
The reader wonders whether Farfar is going to successfully become an author and the ending is somewhat surprising. But it was the irony within the book that fascinated me. The unnamed country is a police state, with the police receiving huge respect (fear) from the citizens. Once Farfar leaves the secret service he suddenly realises that he has lost his position in society. The book seller no longer reserves books for him and his tailor can no longer give a delivery date for his clothing. What's more, he now finds himself the subject of scrutiny by his own secret service as he begins to mix with writers and suspected dissidents.
Not an easy read and enjoyed more by those who read it in the original Arabic, which suggests that the translation may be partly to blame. However, it was interesting and gave rise to some fascinating discussion in my multi-cultural book group.