Category Archives: Arab Literature

2018 novels by Iraqi authors, and why they matter

(From Book Riot. Link to the complete article given below)

If you scour the internet for Iraqi novels, you’ll find dozens of lists and list-essays. But these pieces—15 Great Books About Iraq, Afghanistan or The Iraq Novel We’ve Been Waiting For or I’m Not the Enemy or A Reading List of Modern War Stories—give us the perspective of the US soldier, journalist, and aid worker.

What they tell us very little about is Iraq.

Two years after the invasion, in 2005, USA Today reported that more than 300 books had been published in English about the war and ongoing occupation. By now, an Amazon search turns up more than 3,800. A number of them have been critically and commercially successful: American Sniper, The Final Move Beyond Iraq, War Stories, Redeployment, Yellow Birds.

Yet in the first ten years after the invasion, exceptionally few novels by Iraqi authors had been published in English.

That has been changing. This year, we saw the publication of Muhsin al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardens, translated by Luke Leafgren; the sci-fi collection Iraq + 100, edited by Hassan Blasim and Ra Page; and Baghdad Eucharist, by Sinan Antoon, translated by Maia Tabet. There are novels by Iraqi authors now. Here’s some of the best.

Read more at the Book Riot link here

Lost Naguib Mahfouz stories discovered in Nobel laureate’s papers

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below)

A lost collection of short stories by the celebrated Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz has been discovered in a box of the late Nobel laureate’s papers.

The 50 handwritten stories were found by the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Shoair at the home of Mahfouz’s daughter Umm Kulthum. While some of the stories were published in magazines while Mahfouz was alive – the Arab world’s most beloved novelist died aged 94 in 2006 – 18 of them have never been published. Set in Cairo, they are filled with “fable-like scenarios and reappearing characters”, according to UK publisher Saqi Books, which will release the stories in English next autumn.

Shoair found the papers when Kulthum gave him a box of Mahfouz’s papers while he was working on a book about the Nobel laureate’s manuscripts. He said he felt, “that I’m in front of a treasure”.

The author of 34 novels and more than 350 short stories, Mahfouz won the Nobel prize in literature in 1988. The Nobel jury described him as an author “who, through works rich in nuance … has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind”.

Saqi Books said: “We are excited beyond measure to be bringing these stories to readers in English … With Mahfouz’s often ironic, always insightful observation of the human character, this priceless discovery is wonderful news for fans of one of the world’s best-loved novelists.”

Read more at The Guardian link here

Lebanon’s Dar Onboz: Arabic books at a Francophone fair

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

The independent publisher of mostly children’s books, Dar Onboz, has just concluded its second appearance at Beirut’s 25th Francophone Salon du Livre.

Their attendance isn’t a given, because Dar Onboz (The House of Hemp Seeds) publishes books in Arabic, and the fair’s books are mostly in French. But this is Lebanon, where books in Arabic, French, and English are the norm.

Visitors stopped by the Dar Onboz stand to admire the books’ original designs, while children participated in workshops.

“We kept hearing, ‘Oh my god, books in Arabic can look like this?’” says Nadine Touma. “You have people at the French book fair who wouldn’t normally go to an Arabic book fair, and it was interesting to break this impression that books in Arabic are boring or ugly.”

‘We Believe Our Books Stand Alone’

When Touma and Sivine Ariss founded the press in 2006 with graphic designer Raya Khalaf, they wanted to make beautiful books for children that celebrated the Arabic language, as Publishing Perspectives reported more than eight years ago.

Artists, filmmakers, storytellers, performers, and musicians, Ariss and Touma, 12 years after the inception of the press, continue to make books that encompass their vision, as Touma puts it, “pedagogical, driven by an aesthetic design, and in the Arabic language that we love.”

The company’s titles sometimes include books for adults, such as this year’s Al Makan (The Place), the memoirs of the late author Emily Nasrallah, known for her profound attachment to her village in southern Lebanon.

The project was a perfect fit with Dar Onboz’s way of doing things. The book, an object in itself, became its own ecosystem, working first as a memoir with its roots in the history of a small village in Lebanon—details about everyday customs, social interactions, and economic immigration.

Read more at the Publishing Perspectives link here

Freedom to publish: Interview with Iranian publisher Azadeh Parsapour

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

When the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi convened a panel on challenges to the freedom to publish at the Sharjah International Book Fair Publishers Conference 2018, a two-time International Publishers Association (IPA) Prix Voltaire nominee was on stage with her: Azadeh Parsapour.

Parsapour is the founder of the London-based Nogaam Publishing, a press launched in 2012 to digitally produce Farsi writings that are censored in Iran. Nogaam makes them available free of charge under a Creative Commons license. Iranian readers can access more than 40 titles so far produced by Nogaam on topics controlled in Tehran including immigration, censorship, LGBT issues, underground music, women, relationships, war,  and extremism.

Parsapour is also behind the Tehran Book Fair Uncensored—sponsored by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers—which is designed to help Persian-language publishers, authors, and translators meet in European and North American cities to disseminate books in Persian, including those censored in Iran.

In September, the Association of American Publishers at its annual meeting in New York City named Parsapour the recipient of its International Freedom To Publish Award, named for Jeri Laber. Because she’s unable to travel to the United States on her Iranian passport, Parsapour sent a taped message to the association’s meeting in which she explained that her name, Azadeh, means free human.

Read more at the Publishing Perspectives link here

Remembering Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish 10 years after his death

(From The National. Link to the complete article given below)

In describing Darwish’s legacy and greatness, Ahdaf Soueif, an award-winning British-Egyptian novelist and writer, told The National: “Mahmoud Darwish is simply a great poet. He has the poet’s god-given ability to use language to trigger new perceptions and to create the aesthetic fusion that hits the listener or reader’s heart and mind at the same time.

“Add to this that he was Palestinian at a time when Palestine was ‘the cause’ for every native speaker of Arabic, and that he was committed to that cause and fought for it, that he was modest, and charismatic, and you have a superstar. Darwish filled stadiums when he read. You cannot overstate his legacy.”

Born in 1941 in a village in what is today Israel, he witnessed, and was often a part of, seminal chapters in the history of Palestine throughout the 20th century and the start of the 21st century. He was a refugee, revolutionary, nationalist, humanist – all chronicled in his poetry.

The writer ‘has to resist’

In 2008, Darwish was the first writer approached by Soueif and other members of the Board of the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest) to be one of the festival’s founding patrons. He accepted.

Darwish was due to participate in the inaugural festival but had to decline due to health issues. His address was a letter welcoming the group of international writers who had travelled to Palestine for the festival, and thanking them for their solidarity. Three months later, he was being laid to rest in Ramallah.

“Darwish was 100 per cent artist, he was also 100 per cent engaged with the struggle for liberation,” says Soueif by email. “In his address to PalFest in 2008, Darwish described his personal task: how the poet ‘has to use the word to resist the military occupation. And has to resist – on behalf of the word – the danger of the banal and the repetitive.’ It’s tremendously touching as well as instructive to read his work with an awareness of that constant struggle to make his work serve his cause and, at the same time, to allow his work to be true to itself, and to create a bit of space for the ‘literariness’ of his poetry.”

Read more at The National link here

Authors from the Arab world: Translator recommendations

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

At a recent seminar in New York City on Arabic literature in translation, several literary translators recommended Arabic authors they’d like to see published in English.

t last week’s Seminar on Arabic Literature in Translation, questions from the audience and discussions during the reception afterward revealed enthusiasm among the US publishers, agents, scouts, and others about getting to know Arabic authors and the literary scene in the Arab world.

The seminar was co-organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair New York, Publishing Perspectives, and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

“A lot of books that I’ve come to publish, I’ve heard about in a forum like this,” said John Siciliano, executive editor of Penguin Books and Penguin Classics, who was a speaker on the seminar’s panel discussion.

One audience member asked the panel to recommend Arabic authors to the publishers in the room, authors they felt should to be translated and published in English. Among the recommendations were several books that the translators have decided to start working on–even without an English-language publisher lined up yet.

To that end, we’ve put together a list of the books that were recommended by the panelists as well as some insights about publishing Arabic literature in translation.

Alex Elinson: Moroccan Authors

“I’m working on a book that I feel very strongly about,” said Alex Elinson, translator and associate professor Arabic at Hunter College. Elinson is in the process of translating Hot Maroc by Yassin Adnan into English.

The book was longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). It’s Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.

Read more at this Publishing Perspectives link

Book review: The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

Reviewed by Krishnasruthi Srivalsan

The Bamboo Stalk

Title: The Bamboo Stalk
Author: Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright
Publisher: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Pages: 384
Buy

The protagonist of Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk is a deeply conflicted man. Jose Mendoza is raised in his mother’s country as a god fearing Catholic who was baptised in the church at the age of ten. Yet, his mother prepares him for a life in the promised ‘paradise’, his father’s country, Kuwait. Jose has a Kuwaiti passport, a Kuwaiti name – Isa al Tarouf – but as the son of his father’s Filipino maid, he’ll never be accepted by his father’s family, despite being the only male heir to carry forward the family name.

Expertly translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, this is an immensely moving novel, weighing heavily on metaphors, that explores multiple themes like race and religion, identity and class, and highlights the often humiliating immigrant experience overseas, especially in the Gulf.

Alsanousi, a Kuwaiti journalist and novelist whose earlier work includes the novel The Prisoner of Mirrors, explores the concept of ‘the other’ in this book. Often the underdog, the ‘other’ is viewed negatively by the majority. Not being able to fit into clear boxes, the ‘other’ find themselves in a murky marshland of mixed up identities, rootless and unwanted. Blinded by one’s own prejudices, society fails to acknowledge and empathise with the ‘other’ and it is precisely for this reason that al Sanousi modelled Jose as his protagonist.

Jose’s story begins with his mother, Josephine, who leaves the squalor of poverty back home in the Philippines and goes to Kuwait in search of a better paying job. She lands at the house of the illustrious al Tarouf family whose matriarch, Ghanima, is as superstitious as she is stubborn. Joza, as Ghanima refers to the Filipino servant girl, arrives on the day a bomb explodes near the Kuwaiti Emir’s motorcade, narrowly missing him. Ever since, Ghanima has viewed Joza’s arrival as a sign of bad luck. Rashid, Ghanima’s only son, an aspiring idealistic writer, is taken by Joza’s good looks, and she agrees to a ‘temporary marriage’ which ends the day Jose is born. Josephine returns home and her son is raised with the promise that he will one day go back to Kuwait.

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Dispatches from the Land of Erasure


Over the past year, a group of Arab American writers—Hayan Charara, Marwa Helal, Randa Jarrar, Fady Joudah, Farid Matuk, Deema K. Shehabi, and I—began a group text, sharing stories about our own lives and the predicament of being Arab in America. This group text often touched on matters regarding the state of literary arts, though it was equally a space full of photos of our kids and lives. We had the sense of wanting to archive these conversations for future Arab American writers and somewhere along the line, the idea of a group essay emerged. I proposed that it would catalog the erasures we’d witnessed or experienced, but that it also would celebrate the liberatory work happening in our community, the poems and stories and art that hold us together and raise us up. In that group text we were after an asylum, a safe space, where we could explore and share inchoate thoughts, half-dreams, and the rough edges of our feelings.

These dispatches emerge from the inspiration of that space, though they lack the rough and informal improvisatory quality of a community talking with itself. Three other recent essays are also points of departure for these “Dispatches”—all of which were informed by the group text. Fady Joudah’s “Say It: I’m Arab and Beautiful,” Randa Jarrar’s “Ask Auntie Randa” pieces, and my “Same as It Ever Was: Orientalism Forty Years Later” confront the poison of white supremacy and Orientalism in American politics, literature, and culture, while offering antidotes: reclaiming beauty, liberation, and community.

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Israel convicts a Palestinian poet, NYC writers gather in solidarity

On Thursday Palestinian poet and photographer Dareen Tatour was convicted by an Israeli court of incitement to violence and support for a terror organization, ending a years-long legal battle that began with Tatour posting a poem on Facebook entitled “Resist, my people, resist them.”

First arrested in October of 2015, Tatour was one of the earliest targets of Israel’s cybercrime unit, and its controversial predictive policing strategy of scanning social media posts for language perceived to be a threat against the state. In the years since, a rapidly increasing number of Palestinians–many of them teenagers–have been arrested over statements made online, often for little more than using the word “martyr” on Facebook.

In Tatour’s case, she spent much of the past three years on house arrest, as Israeli prosecutors argued that her calls to “resist the settlers’ robbery” and “not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution’” amounted to a violent threat against the state. That position has been condemned by free speech advocates like PEN International, and by over 300 writers, including Alice Walker, Claudia Rankine, and Naomi Klein, in an online petition circulated by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

While prohibited from accessing the internet or using a cell phone, Tatour has maintained a line to the outside world through letters and her poetry. “Despite all this I have continued to write and I have touched the meaning of freedom,” she wrote, days before the verdict, in a letter addressed to JVP members. “Ideas have wings that no one can bind . . . My words have been able to cross distances and traverse borders until they reached to you.”

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Stockholm librarian Elisabet Risberg on Arabic books in Sweden

Just over six months ago, Publishing Perspectives reported that the United Arab Emirates’ Kalimat Foundation for Children’s Empowerment provided 2,000 Arabic books for presentation during Sweden’s Göteborg Book Fair—a gesture of solidarity with Sweden’s Arab community.

The foundation’s creator, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, had learned that Arabic is the second or third most-spoken language in Sweden today because of the diaspora of Arabic speakers to the Scandinavian nation.

The Arabic-language books from Sharjah,” she told us at the time, “are to be distributed to 25 libraries in various parts of Sweden.”

With the distribution of that donation now complete, Publishing Perspectives has been in touch with Elisabet Risberg, who leads the Internationella biblioteket, the International Library of Stockholm, to find out how the outreach from Sharjah to Sweden’s Arabic-speaking children has gone.

The International Library in central Stockholm feeds the national network of libraries with multilingual content, and its website can be read in Swedish, in Arabic, in Englishin FrenchChinesePersianRussian and Spanish.

All told, the international library is working in more than 100 languages and it can dispatch content in a requested language to the entire library system in Sweden.

We began by asking Risberg about the concept of the Kalimat provision of Arabic books for children in Sweden.

Elisabet Risberg: When I first heard about the donation, I was confused. Why should we in a rich country accept donations of  Arabic children’s books?

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