Arabic literature that’s newly published (in translation, online) this month.
“Younis in the Belly of the Whale” (on Qisasukhra)
By Yasser Abdellatif, trans. Robin Moger
I entered the mall through one of its sixty-nine gates. It is the biggest mall in North America, sprawling out over eight residential blocks: an entire commercial district in a town that lacks the very concept. Though situated on the west side of town, it is the central district for a city without a centre.
By Hisham Bustani, trans. Thoraya El-Rayyes
The actor is on a stage. The stage is a vast wasteland without a trace of shadow.
He throws his voice to the back of the chamber, it bounces back and knocks him down:
the end of the chamber is right in front of his nose.
Wherever he runs and throws sound, walls close in on him at once.
Excerpt from Book of the Sultan’s Seal (on the Collagist)
By Youssef Rakha, trans. Paul Starkey.
Dear Rashid, your emails are intermittent, if they come at all. And I’ve grown tired of phone cards. But I have a story I must tell you before it sours. How shall I get it across? I’ve got a lot to tell you, not just the story. You’ll find my news really strange. It may even depress you. I laugh when I imagine you whimpering with distress. You were with me the evening I bought a coffee before going to see the girl, remember? It doesn’t matter whether you bother to read these words, really. You don’t like reading Arabic (assuming that this is Arabic in the first place). I worry that the few people who read, don’t read in Arabic. I don’t blame them. Even those people who know no other language except Arabic waste all their energy on rotten translations, translations of translations. English rules. Look how our uncles, the Turks, found peace after they adopted the Latin alphabet!
Excerpt from The Snow of Cairo (on the Brooklyn Rail)
Bushra woke, trembling from the cold, as if the snow her feet had touched were real snow. Severe pain held her feet, tying them together like rope, preventing her from moving. Sometimes she even doubted whether she could really walk; part of her was completely paralyzed.
Excerpt from Women of Karantina (on the IBTauris Blog)
By Nael Eltoukhy, trans. Robin Moger
The dog, which was in the habit of rummaging through the trash, could not find the trash it was in the habit of rummaging through.
It was March 28, 2064. For many reasons, to be related herein and hereafter, this day was the grimmest in Alexandria’s history. Everyone suffered its sting, but the one who felt it most was the dog that couldn’t find the trash. He hunted along the Metro station’s wall where the great heap should have been, with clouds of circling flies hovering above it, but found nothing. Not even the wall itself. The neighbourhood was strangely exposed to the sun. Like a desert.
Excerpt from The Crocodiles (on Bomb Magazine)
By Youssef Rakha, trans. Robin Moger
1. On the twenty-first birthday of a poet, ostensibly of our group, whom we knew as Nayf (his real name’s not so very important)—on June 20, 1997, to be precise—the activist Radwa Adel went to visit a relative in one of Cairo’s neighborhoods. I don’t remember which. There is no documented account of this journey by the Student Movement’s (or the Seventies Generation’s) most celebrated female icon (i.e. the activist, though we might call her intellectual, writer, great thinker: they’re all synonyms); there’s even a dispute over whether the relative in question lived on the eleventh floor or the twelfth. But what I have picked up over the years, in casual conversation with close friends of hers from the circle out of which our group grew, is that Radwa Adel played with her relative’s children for a little while, then took herself off for an afternoon nap in the bedroom with the balcony. There was nobody at home but the young children, and no sooner had the bedroom door swung back behind her than she went out onto the balcony and jumped over the wall.
Extract from Paulo (on Qisasukhra)
By Youssef Rakha, trans. Robin Moger
Come, come, don’t run you son of a dog. We’re here, in the living room. We’re not going to the kitchen yet. Come, sit on my lap and listen to the rest of the story. Now you’ve heard of the village of Mit Nama in Markaz Qalyoub of course, just before Benha at the start of the Agricultural Road… Mud houses amid farmland, most of them now bare redbrick with sheets of corrugated iron and plywood. Makeshift shacks with no land of their own. Not a single structure built to any kind of spec. No hospital, no school, no police station, no workshop, not even a field worth a damn. Mud everywhere. No running water and no sewers, little Reeso. The mud all trash and shit.
Extract from Sons of Gabalawi (on Qisasukhra)
By Ibrahim Farghali, trans. Robin Moger
It’s said all smoke comes from fire, but no one knew what coal it was that first sparked the firestorm of rumour about characters from Naguib Mahfouz’s novels showing up in various corners of Cairo. Some said they’d seen Kamal Abdel Jawad with their own eyes, not as depicted in the films of Hassan Al Imam, but as Mahfouz himself had described him in the trilogy. Others reported that Hamida was appearing by night in Midaq Alley.
Ten new poems by Mohab Nasr, as yet unpublished (on Qisasukhra)
By Mohab Nasr, trans. Robin Moger
For a long time I longed to be a writer,
To grasp any old idea like a doorknob and say, “Come in…”
With the slight bow of one who shows self-confidence
Without having to prove it;
I was a complete disaster
And they’d urge me on by feigning wonder.
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