Monday, October 10, 2011

garnet secures english rights to yemeni wajdi al-ahdal's novel 'a land without jasmine'

Garnet Publishing of Britain has announced that it has acquired the world English rights to the novel A Land without Jasmine by the renowned Yemeni novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and dramatist Wajdi al-Ahdal. The novel was published in Sanaa in 2008 by Markaz Abbadi in 2008 under the title Bilad bila Sama, meaning A Land without Sky. The English translation, by William Maynard Hutchins, is due for publication in autumn 2012. (Two excerpts from the translation appeared in the 160-page special feature Literature in Yemen Today published in issue 36 of Banipal magazine in late 2009; the picture above appeared in the feature).

Garnet provides an enticing résumé of the novel:
A Land without Jasmine is a sexy, satirical detective story about the disappearance of a young woman student from Yemen’s Sanaa University. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, beginning with Jasmine herself. The mystery surrounding her disappearance comes into clearer focus with each self-serving and idiosyncratic account provided by an acquaintance, family member, or detective.

“The hallucinatory ending, although appropriately foreshadowed, may come as a Sufi surprise for the reader. Less mystically inclined readers may want to reread this tale to construct an alternative ending. This short novel has echoes of both the Sherlock Holmes stories and The Catcher in the Rye, because in addition to the mystery and a murder, the novel contains candid discussions of coming of age in a land of sexual repression, in a land without Jasmine. Wajdi al-Ahdal is a satirical author with a fresh and provocative voice and an excellent eye for telling details.”

Al-Ahdali’s other novels are Qawarib Jabaliya (Mountain Boats, Beirut, 2002), Himar Bayna al-Aghani (A Donkey Among the Songs, Beirut 2004), and Faylasuf al-Kurantina (Quarantine Philosopher, Sanaa 2007), which was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF - the Arabic Booker) in 2008. Al-Ahdal is one of the 'Beirut 39' - 39 Arab writers aged under 40 who were selected from more than 450 entrants by a panel of judges in 2009 as being of particular merit.

Mountain Boats aroused a storm of controversy. Garnet says: “An extremist campaign against the book drove al-Ahdal into exile, and the book’s publisher [Ubadi] faced charges. When the German Nobel Laureate Günter Grass visited Yemen in December 2002 for a cultural conference, he was received by the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to whom he mentioned Wajdi al-Ahdal’s plight, asking the President to protect the author. Al-Ahdal was then allowed to return to his country.

Himar Bayna al-Aghani is dedicated to Günter Grass in appreciation. Although al-Ahdal’s passport was seized at the Sanaa Airport in the spring of 2010 he was later allowed to travel. At present he is in Sanaa, with electricity one hour a day.”

Al-Ahdal, who was born in 1973, has a degree in literature from Sanaa University. He won the Afif prize for the short story in 1997, a gold medal for a dramatic text in the Festival for Arab Youth in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1998, and the youth prize of the Yemeni President for the short story in 1999. He currently works in the National Library, Dar al-Kutub, in Sanaa.

In addition to al-Ahdal’s novels, several collections of his short stories have been published: Zahrat al-Abir (The Passer-by’s Flower Sanaa 1997), Surat al-Battal (Portrait of an Unemployed Man, Amman 1998), Ratanat al-Zaman al-Miqmaq (Gibberish in a Time of Ventriloquism, Sanaa 1998), and Harb lam Ya‘alam bi-Wuqu‘iha Ahad (A War No One Knew About, Sanaa 2001).

Al-Ahdal’s screenplay al-Ughniya al-Mashura (The Enchanted Song) was published in Sanaa in 2006. His play al-Suqut min Shurfat al-‘Alam (Falling off the Balcony of the World) was published in Sanaa in 2007.

Susannah Tarbush

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