Thursday, October 04, 2012

Libyan novelist Ahmed Fagih's 'Maps of the Soul' in English translation

English translation of Maps of the Soul, out from Darf Publishers next April  

London-based Darf Publishers has announced via its website the long-awaited publication, in April 2013, of the English translation of Libyan novelist, playwright and essayist Ahmed Fagih's Maps of the Soul. The translated work comprises the first three volumes of Fagih's hugely ambitious 12-volume historical novel of the same title, published in single volumes in Arabic in 2009 by Darf in Libya and al-Kayyal in Beirut. The translated first three volumes, published as one book, run to 656 pages; the full 12-part work is more than 3,000 pages. The three volumes in the translated book are Bread of the City, Sinful Pleasures and Naked Runs the Soul.

The London-based Libyan writer, blogger and surgeon Ghazi Gheblawi wrote a feature on the 12 novel sequence on his blog Imtidad, under the headline The Libyan Dodecalogy (meaning 12-volume sequential work) five years ago, in December 2007. It is Gheblawi who, together with Graeme Estry, has extensively revised and edited - for publication by Darf - Soraya Allam's initial translation of the first three volumes. 

Sinful Pleasures, the third volume of Maps of the Soul 

Maps of the Soul traces the fortunes of Othman al-Sheikh after scandal forces him to leave his desert village of Awlad Al Sheikh for Tripoli. Under the Italian occupation Tripoli is being transformed into an Italian city in which Othman uses his wits and charm to try to improve his prospects, with varying results. As  Darf Publishing puts it: "Othman falls for the city and its temptations, and with a natural instinct for survival, he perseveres on chance and opportunity. Maps of the Soul takes us in a journey into a different Libya, a country that has emerged from resistance wars in the early 1930’s, where the charismatic Italian colonialist Italo Balbo envisioned a new Rome for the fascist dream on what was named The Fourth Shore. It is a story of painful survival in the face of defeated dreams."  

Fagih, born in the Libyan village of Mizda in 1942, celebrates his 70th birthday this year. His literary career took off in 1965 when, at the age of 22, he won first prize in a literary competition with his first book of short stories, The Sea Has Run Dry. Fagih has a doctorate in Arabic literature, focusing  on the Libyan short story, from Edinburgh University. He is a remarkably prolific writer: his works published in  English translation include the trilogy Gardens of the Night (Quartet, 1995), and the novel Valley of Ashes, stage works Gazelles and Other Plays, and the short story collections Charles, Diana and Me and Who’s Afraid of Agatha Christie, all published in 2001 by London-based Kegan Paul International.

Naked Runs the Soul, the third volume of Maps of the Soul,

Fagih told The Tanjara that he sees the 12-volume Maps of the Soul as a series of four trilogies "which deal with the life and soul of Othman Habashy through his ups and downs."  One noticeable feature of the first trilogy is the use throughout of the second person "you". Fagih saysbecause the full novel is so long, over its 12 volumes he has used a variety of viewpoint including  "third person, first person, second person and the all-knowing, god-like authority." 

Fagih hopes that publication of Maps of the Soul will encourage translation and publication in English of the other three trilogies. The second triology is "a trilogy of war, which takes place in the Italian campaign to take over Ethiopia - the second Italo-Abyssinian war - connected in its last part with World War 2 in the Western Desert where Othman is transferred and fights with the Italians. He later fights with the British against the Italians: this is a historic fact, with many Italians changing sides and giving themselves up during the fighting with the Italians and returning to fight them with a Libyan regiment, helping liberate Libya under the British Army".   

The third trilogy "deals mostly with the birth of independent Libya, the birth of a nation." With Libya liberated from the Italians and now under British rule "Othman returns to Tripoli, this time as an officer in a position of power as head of the police. This part of the novel depicts Libya under British mandate and Libyans preparing to get their independence."

The fourth, final, trilogy "takes place in the desert. The country of nomads is depicted with all its multi-colours and flavours and desert traditions, and power structure, arts and folklore, bad and good and ugly and beautiful guys. Othman has been accused of breaking the law in pursuing his duties and feels that the colonial rulers are trying to make a scapegoat of him, so he flees the capital and takes refuge in the desert. It is a period of rehabilitation, of purifying himself in the solitude of the desert, becoming almost a holy man." 
Susannah Tarbush

Ahmed Fagih in a cafe in Whiteleys, London, with his works in English translation published by Kegan Paul International

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fagih has often been labeled as a literary giant, by readers who can’t tell the deference between literacy and a mediocre storytelling, he is sure of the latter contributors. The man shouldn’t talk about and dissect something he doesn’t have…soul. His impeccable relationship with former regime of Libya renders him immoral with no integrity, I may add!....