To the ordinary reader, reading Arabic literature in translation today, the title The Arab Renaissance might be a little perplexing. What Renaissance? and when? The Nahda period covers roughly a hundred years, ending almost 100 years ago. The Nahda, or “awakening”, was a time of burgeoning Arab cultural and political modernity with projects that flowed through all parts of society and politics, literature, culture, press and journals, publishing, education, with an ideal of knowledge, secularism, and reform of language, based on the western Enlightenment.
Susannah Tarbush reviews The Fetishists: The Tuareg Epic by Ibrahim al-Koni Translated by William...
In The Fetishists it is the love of two rivals for the Sultan of Timbuktu’s daughter Princess Tenere that leads to a wager. She has been unable to choose between the two suitors: “Her freedom led to her falling in love with Okha’s nobility, grandeur, and dedication to ceremony at the same time that she loved Udad’s heart and fondness for singing and the mountains.”An intermediary conveys the wager from Okha to Udad: “If you can climb up Idinen and stand on its top vertical slab, he will relinquish the princess.” Udad accepts the bet. His name means Barbary ram, and he is known for his climbing skills.
Loosely based on his own experiences of revisiting Baghdad in 2003 to make a documentary, it is his first set in the United States, where he has lived on leaving Iraq in 1991 after the beginning of the Gulf War. It is easy to see much of Antoon’s life in the US in that of the main protagonist Nameer, who is a PhD candidate and literary translator also living in the States for over a decade. This blurring of fiction and reality is an important theme of the novel, and makes for an interesting negotiation between the reader and the author.
In this issue we publish poems by two outstanding poets, who are considered the most important voices in Arabic poetry today, the Emirati Abdel Aziz Jassim and the Palestinian Samer Abu Hawwash. Then there are excerpts from two excellent novels, Autumn of Innocence by Abbas Beydoun, so well known for his poetry, who in recent years has turned to writing novels, and the critically acclaimed Elias by the talented Egyptian author Ahmad Abdulatif, who promises the reader ’a fresh vision of history’. The main feature, TRAVELS, presents works by five innovative and established authors
Some of the stories that include Israelis as their protagonists (with the exception of Dabbagh’s “Sleep it Off, Dr Schott”), for example, rather than attempting to engage with the nuances of the Israeli state from within wind up with trivializing Israeli society, and consequently trivializing Palestinians and the nature of the conflict
Mekki organizes evening classes to educate his fellow workers, and then a general strike. All that happens in November 1928 – the French army intervenes heavily and many are killed or jailed in the capital. Thwarted by the failure of his nationalist dreams, Mekki is not even able to find consolation with prostitutes. Infected with a venereal disease, he decides to go back to his village.
The main feature of this Summer issue is on Iraqi poet and novelist Fadhil al-Azzawi and his “Beautiful Creatures”. He has been a contributing editor of Banipal since it started and during these years we have been thrilled to see some of his works translated into English, including in Banipal issues, as well as, below, the excellent translations of poetry and fiction. His works are so innovative and original, so full of compassion and heartache, of conceptual leaps, rich references and linguistic surprises that we did not hesitate to include on the front cover a note by Arial Dorfman striking the very same note – the first time we have ever done that for any author.When we look at the volumes of remarkable poetry and fiction Fadhil has written over more than half a century, without receiving any prize or award, this make us wonder what this often-used phrase “award-winning writer” means other than to make us smile.
We present works by two poets, opening the issue with the late Lebanese poet and translator Bassam Hajjar ten years after his untimely passing. “His poems are circulating among young Arab poets today who find them pioneering and inspirational,” wrote Abbas Beydoun in a 10th anniversary feature on the poet. Iraqi poet Adnan Mohsen, settled in Paris since 1981, writes poems of “the ordinary, the familiar and the quotidian in lyrical form”. Earlier poems in Banipal 8, Summer 2000, were translated from their original French by James Kirkup, who wrote of Mohsen’s “spare, muscular style”.
In this exuberant novel, the Syrian-German author Rafik Schami weaves an intricate tapestry of love, sectarianism, exile, oppression and revolution, extending from the late 1920s to early 2011. The rich 444-page non-linear narrative presents a multitude of characters and storylines in settings from Damascus, Homs and Beirut to Rome and the German city of Heidelberg
This book is an excellent resource for the general reader, and for undergraduate and graduate students. It provides very useful and important analysis and thoughtful discussion on major questions and issues influencing the region’s cultural dynamics. It is also a good source to establish deeper understanding of the range of the complex issues in the Middle East—an important and rapidly changing area of the world.
The title feature The 100 best Arabic novels is a new up-to-date list in response to the greatly increased popularity of novels in the Arab world. The introduction explains how it was prepared and nominations ranked. To whet your appetite, here are the first five: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, the Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri, The Secret Life of Saeed The Pessoptimist by Emile Habiby and Children of the Alley, also by Naguib Mahfouz.
Samir Naqqash's stirring novel Tenants and Cobwebs nostalgically commemorates the lost culture of an ancient Iraqi Jewish minority living amidst a majority Muslim population in 1940s Baghdad. The plot unfolds during a time of great turmoil: the rise of Iraqi nationalism and anti-Jewish sentiment fueled by Nazi propaganda; the Farûd, a bloody pogrom carried out against Jewish residents of Baghdad in 1941; and the founding of Israel in 1948. These pivotal events profoundly affected Muslim-Jewish relationships, forever changing the nature of the Jewish experience in Iraq and eventually leading to a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1951.
A Cloudy Day on the Western Shore explores questions of Egypt’s identity and history, and the implications—for better or worse—of European exploitation of the treasures of pharaonic civilization. Novelist Qandil skillfully allows readers to encounter complex questions of colonialism, gender, and sectarianism—all through the symbolic lens of an unlikely Egyptian heroine.
Yes, some of these stories go on too long, or have uneven structures, or leave out details that might make them stronger, but I was captivated by seeing how different they all were, how all of these accomplished writers deal with a genre they hadn't played around with before (at least not much). Some of Akashic's Noir titles take place in regions known for idyllic conditions, and their power derives from the contrast. That these writers have wrested surprise from a country with so little peace makes Baghdad Noir one of the most interesting of the lot.
Banipal has always paid great attention to Iraqi literature. Over the years we have published features containing both fiction and poetry. This issue marks the first time we have concentrated solely on the Iraqi novel and not included poetry. This is purely to introduce some good examples of Iraqi novels, not for any other reason. It was not in our mind to make any judgement between fiction and poetry. Four Iraqi critics write in this feature that Iraqi intellectuals are nowadays expressing themselves through fiction, not poetry.
'It's wonderful that an august specialist magazine such as Banipal has been active for all these years, providing an outstanding service that essentially has nothing to do with commerce or profit-making, but aims to build bridges between the Arab world and Europe through the English language. "I’m proud that the first creative writings of mine to be translated into English appeared in the pages of Banipal magazine, and the magazine continues to offer texts by Iraqi creative artists who are my colleagues, and by a large group of other Arab writers from a variety of countries
The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation has pleasure in inviting you to Celebrate Translating Arabic Fiction Today Robin Moger, Jonathan Wright & Paul Starkey – the winners of the last three years of the prize – in conversation with Wen-chin Ouyang 5.00pm, Saturday 3 March Djam Lecture Theatre, SOAS Main Building, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H 0XG Robin Moger’s winning translation is The Book of Safety by Yasser Abdel Hafez, Jonathan Wright won the 2016 prize for The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi, and Paul Starkey won the 2015 prize for The Book of the Sultan's Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha. This is a free event but do reserve your place by emailing [email protected] ALL WELCOME
This view is by no means exclusive to Aslan: in a cultural community characterised by its flattery and narrow interests, Alaa al-Deeb is widely regarded as a saint. Litterateurs of various generations view his writings on them as both an endorsement and a recognition of their talent. Indeed, what earned the late novelist his well-deserved stature was his objectivity and keenness to encourage the new voices in which he saw potential.
But suddenly, something happened that saved my life. As a young writer, I had been publishing poems, short stories and articles for years, in the local newspapers and magazines, under the pseudonym “Shakespeare of Baghdad”. The name caught the attention of military commanders, who were looking for writers and journalists to work in their propaganda wing, and began looking into my whereabouts, until in the end they found me and pulled me out of the hole where I had been buried
I continued to filch from his bag until I was shocked to find The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, which I never admitted to stealing and didn’t even dare read at the time. But the true opening came with Maxim Gorky’s The Mother, which I found by accident in my maternal grandfather’s drawer. Gorky’s revolution roared through my mind, and forged my vision of the role I had to play as an agent of change in the world around me. Because my mother is of Russian origin