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
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.
This two-fold unravelling – the old captain’s solemn grief over what was lost, the sudden, perilous storm – make up an engaging novel which, in Russell Harris’s faultless translation, reads effortlessly and sustains the reader’s attention throughout. Because it runs in parallel with, and reflects back on, Villiers’s famous record it is an undoubtedly interesting story, but as a standalone work of fiction too it is a worthy addition to an already substantial body of literary references to Kuwait’s maritime past.
The feature, “Elias Khoury, The Novelist”, opens with three excerpts from his latest novel Stella Maris, the second part of the trilogy, translated by the inimitable Humphrey Davies. It is followed by essays, articles on the corpus of novels, and reviews. The excerpts from Stella Maris pinpoint the endless contradiction that Adam lives, so he must “divide Adam into two halves, one for presence and one for absence”, and though victims are enveloped in silence and “stripped of language” in the face of humanity’s barbarity, the essence of civilisation is that language is “the only tool the dead can use to speak”.
They range from Samir Naqqash, a tragic genius who clung to his Iraqiness and to the Arabic language throughout his troubled and peripatetic life, to Sami Michael, who switched to Hebrew in the 1970s and found a place for himself in Israeli society, albeit as a leftist, a defender of civil rights and a critic of discrimination against Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews inside Israel. One of the writers, Naim Kattan, has spent very little time in Israel, moving in Montreal in 1954 and flourishing as a prolific writer in French on a variety of themes, not exclusively on his Iraqi heritage or memories. Yet another, Anwar Shaul, who was well established by the 1940s as a writer of short stories and of poetry in traditional styles, stayed on in Iraq despite the harassments and ran a printing business there until he finally gave up and moved to Israel in 1971 at the age of 67.
In recent years there has been a marked growing interest in translating and publishing Arabic literature in English. Those in the field have also observed that being in English translation has helped works arrive in other languages too, in effect influencing the translation of literature from Arabic into many other languages. It is a decidedly encouraging development. The viewpoint from Arab countries, however, is rather different, with many authors and critics believing that what is being translated into other languages from Arabic is not the “real” literature and, hence, not the literature that “should” be translated.
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