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Book review: Hassan Daoud’s No Road to Paradise – a prize-winning exploration of human struggle

By M Lynx Qualey

hassanLebanese novelist Hassan Daoud is a master chronicler of bodily illness, uneasy relationships and social isolation. In No Road to Paradise, these themes are brought together in the life of a small-town imam whose father cannot speak, whose children cannot hear and whose wife doesn’t like him. The 2013 novel has been translated into precise, understated English by Marilyn Booth, who previously worked on Daoud’s challenging Penguin Song.

It was two years after its publication, in 2015, that No Road to Paradise won the prestigious Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Arabic Literature. The judge’s comments highlight the contradictions of Daoud’s work. Judge Tahia Abdel Nasser said the novel “evokes a state of non-action”, while prize judge Rasheed El Enany remarked on its “slow, meticulous, stagnant narration”.

It’s not often that a book described as “stagnant” wins a major literary award. Yet the apparent inertia of No Road to Paradise, like that of Penguin Song, also bristles with the desperation, hope and unhappiness of ordinary human life. Read more

Source: The National


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Ipaf winner Mohammed Hasan Alwan’s A Small Death set to be a life-changer

By Saeed Saeed

Mohammed Hasan Alwan looks slightly worried as he holds a buzzing mobile phone.

“I think it is going to explode,” he says. Such is the concern when you have just been announced as the winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

The Saudi Arabian author triumphed at the landmark 10th edition of the awards, held in the capital on Tuesday evening.

The success – for his dazzling and meditative novel A Small Death – firmly positions the 38-year-old as one of the leading lights of Arabic literature.

It comes after years of being on the cusp of greatness. This was his second time on the Ipaf shortlist; his novel The Beaver made it to the last six in 2015, and was named the best Arabic novel translated into French that year.

Alwan was also selected as one of the 39 best Arabic writers by the Hay Festival and Beirut World Book Capital, with his work published in the long-running Beirut39 anthology series. Read more

Source: The National


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Arabic Treasures: The beauty of Al Khansa’s melancholic verses refuses to fade

By Rym Ghazal

In the 7th century, the fabled Arabian town of Ukaz, located on the road to the heart of the holy site in Mecca, was known for the hustle and bustle of its market place. Apart from all the normal commercial exchanges, the market was also a meeting point for the best Arab poets from the region.

In the midst of all the eloquent men stood a woman, Al Khansa – a nom du plume meaning “gazelle” or the “snub-nosed” – whose talent for poetry quickly became the envy of her contemporaries.

Her real name was Tumadir bint ‘Amr ibn Al Harth ibn Al Sharid. She was born about 575 in Najid of Arabia (now Saudi Arabia), died in 646, and is regarded as the greatest Arab woman poet who ever lived.

Her writing is considered paramount to the legendary Al Muaallaqat poems (a compilation of seven works regarded as the some of the best poems from the pre-Islamic era). The Prophet Mohammed was known to have enjoyed her poetry – he would often ask her to compose and recite them at his gatherings.

“If you want to know the best that has ever been written by a female Arab poet, then you must read Diwan Al Khansa,” says Emirati poetess Maryam Al Naqbi of the Sharjah Centre for Popular Poetry. Read more
Source: The National


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The rise and fall of the Bayt-al-Hikmah

By Mini Krishnan

Baghdad was once home to the world’s largest translation centre.

Within 25 years of the death of their Prophet, the Arabs conquered the whole of Persia, Syria, Armenia, and a bit of Central Asia. In the east, they reached the Indus river and Sindh. In the west, they swept across Egypt and northern Africa, crossed the seas and landed at Gibraltar. In time, Spain too fell.

They were soon in possession of a different kind of power. In 751 AD, they captured Chinese paper-makers. This knowledge changed the nature of how writing was shared and stored. When the strongest people in the world saw the importance of establishing libraries, learning sprang up everywhere in their footsteps. Muslims were the first people to show an interest in translating manuscripts and scrolls from cultures other than theirs. Popularly known as the knowledge empire of the caliphs, there followed a history of 500 years of Islamic library building. By the ninth century, scholars in Cordoba and Spain were corresponding with their counterparts in Cairo, Bokhara, Samarkand and Baghdad. Baghdad! Persian for “gift from God”! Read more

Source: The Hindu


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Arabic literature in translation can be a cloudy, complex mirror

Let’s assume that you are completely and equally fluent in two languages. Someone gives you two books as a gift – one is a book you are genuinely interested in reading, while the second is an excellent translation of the same book in the other language in which you are equally fluent. Which one would you read, and why?

This hypothetical question serves as a good introduction to the rather thorny subject of translation.

A cursory look at translation studies’ books and general debates on the subject demonstrates that, first, the profession of translation has undergone several transformations and, second, these debates are anything but settled. Continue reading


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New book aims to bring the history of Arab literature to the fore

Ask someone about the history of French literature and they might recite a couple of Voltaire quotes before extolling the virtues of Victor Hugo and challenging the ideas of Camus.

Ask about German literature and they will perhaps tell you about the Brothers Grimm before mourning the late, great Günter Grass.

Ask about Arabic literature, however, and, well, they’ve probably heard of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and … that’s often as far as their experience goes.

It can feel, to those in and from the West, that Arabic literature and literary tradition is a something we would never have the time to catch up with. From romantic poets, religious texts and revolutionary philosophers, there’s simply too much reading to get through – we could never get to a point where we might understand the references and canon well enough to enjoy the modern output. Continue reading


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Why Israel isn’t keen on Arabic literature

The Jerusalem International Writers Fest was held mid-May, just two weeks before the Palestine Festival of Literature was staged all across historic Palestine. At the Jerusalem festival, there was no apparent recognition of Arabic literature, despite the city’s large (~34%) Arab population. How can that be? asks blogger “Arablit”: Your Middle East

At the opening ceremony of the Jerusalem International Writers Festival, author Dror Mishani decried this lack:

More and more, Hebrew literature is being created from itself, within itself, contrary to the way that it has been created over the centuries – with too little dialogue with foreign literatures – and even turning its back to languages and literatures around and inside it. Continue reading


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Poets and writers to discuss Arabic Literature at Teacher Conference at DePaul University

Poetry, song, film and plays will be among the cultural performances at a teacher conference on Arabic literature and education hosted by the Chicago Arabic Teachers’ Council on May 31 at DePaul University. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Schmitt Academic Center, 2320 N. Kenmore Ave., on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.

The conference will include workshops and panels led by expert guests. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. followed by a presentation about the standards and practice of teaching literature in the Arabic classroom by conference chair Nesreen Akhtarkhavari.


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Arabic sci-fi and other literary revolutions

Once a tiny minority in Arabic literature, science fiction, horror and thrillers are getting a boost: Al Jazeera

At the end of April, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) turned seven years old. That’s when the prize named its eighth winner: the acclaimed Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi.

As is tradition, Saadawi’s win was announced on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which ran from April 29-May 5. This year’s announcement was met by cheers in the Hilton ballroom and echoingdelight across social media. Saadawi was the first Iraqi to take the prize and fellow Iraqis were particularly happy. When the fair opened the next morning, copies of the winning novel sold briskly. Continue reading


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Naguib Mahfouz: The father of Arabic literature

naguib-mahfouzThe quotation “Events at home, at work, in the street- these are the bases for a story” was said by the famous Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz.  Mahfouz is a well-known Egyptian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in 1988 for Arabic literature. His works are considered to be a revolution in the world of literary works. His writings are very symbolic and his novels are a pure representation of the Egyptian society. He is the father of Arabic literature. Continue reading