Friday Finds: Five Omani Writers

This month’s issue of Words Without Borders, guest-edited by Ghayde Ghraowi and Ahd Niazy write, brings together five Omani writers:

Only one of the authors is well-known in English, although only recently so. Novelist Jokha Alharthi shot into the spotlight after her inclusion in the Man Booker International longlist, and then shortlist, for Celestial Bodies.  She also appears here, again translated by Marilyn Booth. The excerpt from her novel Bitter Orange opens:

I open my eyes suddenly and see her fingers. One by one I see them, fleshy, wrinkled, the nails rough. A single silver ring; her thumb with its thick, tough black nail, preserving the traces of a bad injury that all but severed it.

The issue also has poetry by Aisha al-Saifi — “Like Any Messiah Taken Unaware by Death” — which is translated by Robin Moger; the poem “Electronic Thorns” by Reem Allawati, translated by Ghayde Ghraowi; short fiction, “Repentance,” by Abdulaziz al-Omairi, translated by Rawad Wehbe; and short fiction by Badriya al-Badri — “The Shadow of Hermaphroditus” — translated by Ghayde Ghraowi.

Ghraowi and Niazy write, in their introduction, about the limits of approaching these five writers as essentially and primarily “Omani”:

The task we’ve laid out for ourselves becomes fraught when we consider the presumptuous nature of delimiting a political space through which to typecast these diverse writers. We are certainly aware of the clunky convenience of this kind of methodological nationalism, which renders literary culture legible only within the container of the nation-state. We do not, in fact, expect that any of these authors write first as Omanis and then as novelists or poets.

Instead of foregrounding their nationality, Ghraowi and Niazy write that there is a thematic unsettledness to all of the work: “Unsettlement, a lack of centeredness, manifests itself throughout each work as relocation to a foreign country (Alharthi), foreignness within one’s own body (al-Badri), mournful loss of a beloved (al-Saifi, al-Omairi), as well as the self-reflexive displacement of the poet from poem in the act of writing (Allawti).”

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