Monday, January 30, 2012
The Iraqi satirist, journalist and artist Khalid Kishtainy – for many years a luminary on the Arab-British cultural scene – has long delighted readers and friends with his irreverent, often spicy, stories and columns. Now Quartet Books of London has published a collection of his stories under the title Arabian Tales: Baghdad on Thames. The 19 tales are by turns comic and tragic, and are often ribald with a devil-may-care quality. The stories’ explicit nature may not be to the taste of every reader, but they are generally entertaining.
The book’s cover illustration is by the renowned Iraqi artist Faisel Laibi Sahi who is, like Kishtainy, a member of the sizeable community of Iraqi creatives in the UK. The text of the book includes a further five illustrations by Laibi; there are also several drawings by Kishtainy whose academic training embraces both art and law.
Kishtainy was born in Baghdad and graduated from Baghdad University’s Faculty of Law and the Academy of Fine Arts. He moved to England after the 1958 revolution and has lived there ever since. He worked first at the BBC and then as a freelance writer, journalist and translator. For the past 18 years he has been a widely-read columnist on the pan-Arab daily newspaper Ash-Sharq al-Awsat.
Kishtainy is the author of a number of books in Arabic and English, fiction and non-fiction. The New Statesman and the Middle East (Palestine essays) was published in 1972 by the Palestine Research Centre in Beirut. Quartet published Arab Political Humour in 1986: the late Professor Fred Halliday was a particular fan of the book, and often recommended it.
In 1997 Kegan Paul International published Kishtainy’s bawdy fictional memoir Tales from Old Baghdad: Grandmother and I. In September 2003, Elliott and Thompson published Tomorrow is Another Day: A Tale of Getting By in Baghdad, a picaresque novel set in Saddam’s Iraq.
In 2008 By the Rivers of Babylon was published by Quartet. One of the main characters in the novel is an Iraqi Jewish gynaecologist who ends up in Israel. A Muslim man he knows from Baghad also finds himself in Israel, as a prisoner of war.
Kishtainy has warm memories of the days when Baghdad was a city where “Muslims of all sects, Christians of all denominations, Jews, Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians lived together in perfect harmony.” In one story in Arabian Tales, entitled Through a Hole: A Muslim-Christian Dialogue a Shia family and their Christian next-door-neighbours are on such good terms that they make a hole in the wall between them to pass dishes of food to each other. They resort to a similar method to protect a child from the Shia family from the British-imposed smallpox vaccination that his mother is convinced may kill him. The child is named Musa “to ensure the blessings and strong protection of the champion saviour of the Jews.”
Kishtainy is a born storyteller and his well-crafted stories with an economy of style show a keen eye for the absurdities of life. He has an instinctive sympathy for the unlucky and the underdog and frequently mocks authority figures and their pomposity. In the story A Handful of Rubbish, an Iraqi émigré professor travelling back to Iraq for a conference on Arab Solidarity is asked by an Iraqi friend to bring back for him “a clean and pure piece of Mesopotamian soil from our homeland.” The professor’s quest for this handful of earth arouses the suspicion of peasants, and the derision of officials at Baghdad airport.
There is poignancy in The Orange and the Ball, the story of the young son of an impoverished war widow. The boy has an unusual talent for football despite his mother being unable to afford a rubber ball for her children to play with. During his first match against a rival school the half-time oranges given to the team take on a special significance for the lad.
In At the Government Expense set in Baghdad in 1938 there is an emergency when the rising level of the River Tigris threatens to flood the city. The police are desperate to stave off the flood and round up women and their clients from the Kalachia red light district to work through the night digging and dumping earth to shore up Baghdad’s flood defences.
Several of the stories are set in London, Kishtainy’s 'Baghdad-on-Thames'. They include The Handkerchief, in which a delegation from the Iraqi Revolutionary Women’s Federation visits the British capital. The women have been issued with handkerchiefs embroidered with portraits of the Sole Leader, and due to a slapstick mishap on the underground one such scented handkerchief finds its way into the trousers of the British managing director of Royal Deodorants Consolidation.
There is tenderness in The Cost of Old Sins in which an elderly London man is invited to supper at the home of his aged and now lame former lover. The two reminisce about the wild exploits of their youth and joke about their physical decay.
Write a paper and F**k the World explores the opportunities for carnal escapades offered to Middle Eastern academics by international conferences. In A Woman in Metamorphosis a young Muslim diplomat posted to London, and in need of a male protector, hastily marries a callow junior clerk from the Land Registration Office who has never been abroad. While she is at work he drifts between cafes within the "Arab-land” of London stretching from Edgware Road to Queensway and Earls Court. “There, he met many of his compatriots in a likewise life of idleness: refugees, asylum seekers, failed students, drug dealers and high-class pimps. They sat and discussed ad infinitum their two branches of knowledge – sex and politics.” He has weekly assignations with a Danish "practitioner" in Soho but his wife is able to turn the situation to her advantage and to embark on discoveries of her own.
Arabian Tales is launched at 6.30 pm on 10 February at the West London Trades Union Club, 33-35 High Street, Acton London W3 6ND. The event is organised by ARK, the community arts space founded in 1998 by Iraqi artist Yousif Naser and the late Iraqi sculptor Dalal Al-Mufti.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
This video shows Fleur Montanaro, Administrator of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, often known as the Arabic Booker Prize) being interviewed about the prize on Nile International TV's Breakfast Show. Montanaro was in Cairo for the 11 January announcement of the six novels shortlisted for IPAF 2012.
The six titles in contention are:
The Vagrant by Jabbour Douaihy
(Lebanon, Dar an-Nahar)
Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere
(Egypt, Dar al-Ain)
The Druze of Belgrade by Rabee Jaber
(Lebanon, al-Markaz al-Thaqafi al-Arabi)
The Unemployed by Nasser Iraq
(Egypt, al-Dar al-Misriya al-Lubnaniya)
Toy of Fire by Bashir Mufti
The Women of al-Basatin by Habib Selmi
(Tunisia, Dar al-Adab)
The IPAF judges
As always with IPAF, the identity of the judges was revealed only at the same time the shortlist was announced. Chair of the judges is Syrian writer and critic Georges Tarabichi; his fellow judges are Lebanese journalist and literary critic, Maudie Bitar; Egyptian academic and women's rights activist Professor Hoda Elsadda; Qatari writer and academic Dr Huda al-Naimi and Spanish academic, translator and researcher Dr Gonzalo Fernández Parrilla.
THE 2012 SHORTLIST
The Vagrant provides a realistic, engaging portrayal of the Lebanese civil war through the eyes of a young man who finds himself uprooted by the conflict. The hero represents the crisis of the Lebanese individual imposed upon by a sectarian reality. We follow his struggle to belong as he faces unfamiliar situations and conflicts in a society that considers him an outsider.
Jabbour Douaihy was born in Zgharta, northern Lebanon, in 1949. He holds a PhD degree in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne and works as Professor of French Literature at the University of Lebanon. To date, he has published seven works of fiction, including novels, short stories and children’s books. His novel June Rain was shortlisted for the inaugural IPAF in 2008, and will be published in English by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in October 2012.
Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge is a novel about alienation in its various forms and senses: the hero who doesn’t belong; his second wife, torn between professional ambition and a desperation to give her husband the impression she belongs in his world; his son, with whom he has limited communication; his granddaughter, uncertain where she belongs, and his Egyptian friend, who discovers that neither his children nor his Cuban-American-Lebanese wife belong to his world. All these characters are linked by their relationship with the protagonist, who draws them together by inviting them to his granddaughter’s birthday party, at which he intends to convey some sad news.
Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is an Egyptian writer and diplomat. Born in Kuwait in 1966, he grew up in Egypt, where he graduated from Cairo University in 1987 with a BA in Political Science. After graduating, he attended a number of universities in France and Canada and attained an International Diploma in Administration from The National School of Administration, Paris (1990-92). He went on to gain a Masters in International Relations from Ottawa University (1992-95) and a doctorate in Political Science from Montreal University (1993-98). He currently teaches political science at the American University in Cairo, but also lectures at a number of other universities. In addition, he writes political articles for several Arabic, English and French periodicals and newspapers.
The Druze of Belgrade After the 1860 civil war in Mount Lebanon, a number of fighters from the religious Druze community are forced into exile, travelling by sea to the fortress of Belgrade on the boundary of the Ottoman Empire. In exchange for the freedom of a fellow fighter, they take with them a Christian man from Beirut called Hana Yaaqub; an unfortunate egg seller who happens to be sitting at the port. The Druze of Belgrade follows their adventures in the Balkans, as they struggle to stay alive.
Rabee Jaber, a Lebanese novelist and journalist, was born in Beirut in 1972. He has been editor of Afaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat newspaper, since 2001. His first novel, Master of Darkness, won the Critics’ Choice Prize in 1992. He has since written 16 novels, including: Black Tea; The Last House; Yousif Al-Inglizi; The Journey of the Granadan (published in German in 2005), Berytus: A City Beneath the Earth (published in French by Gallimard in 2009) and America, which was shortlisted for IPAF in 2010.
The Unemployed tells the story of a young, educated Egyptian man from a middle-class family who, like so many others, is forced to look for work in Dubai due to the lack of opportunity in Cairo. In Dubai, he discovers an astonishing world filled with people of all nationalities and he experiences mixed treatment from his friends, relations and acquaintances. And then, just as he falls in love with an Egyptian girl, he finds himself imprisoned for the murder of a Russian prostitute…
Nasser Iraq graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Cairo University, in 1984. He has worked in cultural journalism in Egypt and co-founded the Dubai Al-Thaqafiya magazine where he has been managing editor since 2004. He has published a number of books, including: A History of Journalistic Art in Egypt (2002), which won the Ahmad Bahaa al-Din Prize in its first year; Times of the Dust (2006); From the Excess of Love (2008); The Green and the Damaged (2009) and The Unemployed (2011). He currently works as Cultural and Media Co-ordinator for the Foundation of Culture and Science Symposium in Dubai.
Toy of Fire is the story of a meeting between the novelist, Bashir Mufti, and a mysterious character called Rada Shawish, who presents Mufti with a manuscript containing his autobiography. Shawish’s goal in life has always been not to turn out like his father, who ran an underground cell in the seventies and committed suicide in the eighties. However, circumstances have driven him to follow in his father’s footsteps, resulting in him becoming a leading member of a secret group of his own.
Bashir Mufti is a writer and journalist, born in 1969 in Algiers, Algeria. He has published a number of short story collections and novels, including: Archipelago of Flies (2000); Witness of the Darkness (2002); Perfumes of the Mirage (2005); Trees of the Resurrection (2007) and Maps of Nightly Passion (2009). Some of his works have been translated into French. He often writes articles in the Arabic press and works in Algerian television as assistant producer of the cultural programme Maqamat.
The Women of Al-Basatin is an intimate portrayal of the daily lives of a modest family living in the Al-Basatin district of Tunis in Tunisia. Through the stories of this small matriarchal environment, we observe the contradictions of the wider Tunisian society, exposing a world in flux between burdensome religious traditions and a troubled modernity.
Habib Selmi was born in al-’Ala, Tunisia, in 1951. He has published four novels and two collections of short stories. A number of his stories have been translated into English, Norwegian, Hebrew and French. His first novel, Jabal al-’Anz (Goat Mountain), was published in French in 1999. His novel Ushaq Bayya (Bayya's Lovers) was published in French in 2003 and excerpted in Banipal 18. Other novels include Surat Badawi Mayyit (Picture of a Dead Bedouin, 1990); Matahat al-Raml (Sand Labyrinth, 1994); Hufar Dafi’a (Warm Pits, 1999); Ushashaqq Baya (Bayya’s Lovers, 2001) and Asrar ‘Abdallah (Abdallah’s Secrets, 2004). Selmi has lived in Paris since 1985. His novel The Scents of Marie-Claire was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009. An English translation of the book was published by Arabia Books this year.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Lynn Gaspard, publisher
The pioneering publisher Saqi Books is entering a new phase with the launch of a new, non-fiction trade imprint, The Westbourne Press. The announcement of the launch came from publisher Lynn Gaspard, whose father André Gaspard cofounded Saqi - initially as a bookshop - in Westbourne Grove, West London, at the end of the 1970s.
Saqi established its publishing business in 1983, and in 1990 founded the sister Dar al-Saqi publishing house in Beirut. The Telegram imprint was set up in 2005 to publish new international fiction. Lynn Gaspard has been publisher of Saqi Books and Telegram since André moved to Beirut in 2009; she is now also publisher of The Westbourne Press.
Lynn says she is “absolutely thrilled” by the launch of the imprint. “The Westbourne Press is a list I wanted to establish as a by-word for topical and engaging writing. Our titles will challenge our worldview and spark debate, whether it is about gender politics, women in the Arab world, or race and class relations in the UK.”
Lynn notes that when André Gaspard and the late Mai Ghoussoub, émigrés from Lebanon, first set up Saqi Books “there weren’t many others publishing Arab fiction and non-fiction. I want to replicate their success now by launching a non-fiction list that is equally daring and exciting.”
The Westbourne Press will publish four to eight quality general trade books a year, ranging from current affairs and sexual politics to memoir and history. Its debut title, due to be published in June, is Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by American writer, lawyer and journalist Eric Berkowitz.
The book examines the attempts of the authorities, from the time of the Sumerians, through the Victorians and onwards, to control and regulate what Plato referred to as the “raging frenzy” of the sex drive. “At any given point in time, some forms of sex were condoned while others were punished mercilessly,” notes the preview of the book. “Jump forward or backward a century or two – and often far less than that – and the harmless fun of one time period becomes the gravest crime in another.”
The book has a cast of characters “as varied as the forms taken by human desire itself: royal mistresses, gay charioteers, medieval transvestites, lonely goat-lovers, prostitutes of all stripes, London rent boys. Each of them had forbidden sex, and each was judged – and justice, as Berkowitz shows, rarely had much to do with it.” Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, says: "Sex and Punishment is built on solid scholarship and spiced with plenty of sordid detail that will make you the hit of any cocktail party."
The Westbourne Press’s second 2012 title will be Superman is an Arab: On God, Marriage, Macho Men and Other Disastrous Inventions by the Lebanese poet, journalist and translator. Joumana Haddad. Haddad’s earlier book I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman was published by Saqi in 2010 and aroused much interest and comment.
The new imprint’s 2013 titles will include The Public Woman by prominent British feminist, journalist, novelist and human rights activist Joan Smith.
Lynn says Westbourne is open to submissions by authors, and that “we accept unsolicited manuscripts.” Following the signing of its first three titles, The Westbourne Press is talking other prospective authors. While the initial three titles are topical, political books, “we are open to all subjects, from the serious and urgent, to the lighthearted, entertaining and quirky, as long as the book is well-written for a general audience, and is engaging.”
The new imprint is open to signing up books from any language. “Our sister company in Beirut might be interested in translating and publishing a few of our titles. Joumana Haddad is also one of their authors for instance.”
Khaled Mattawa wins 2011 Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation
It was announced today that the 2011 Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, in its sixth year, is awarded to Libyan-born Khaled Mattawa for his translation of Adonis: Selected Poems, published by Yale University Press. The judges were unanimous in voting Khaled Mattawa’s translation the winner of the £3,000 annual prize, and agreed easily on the runner-up and the commended translation. The prize will be awarded at the The Translation Prizes Award Ceremony in London on 6 February (see below). The event includes readings by the prizewinners.
Barbara Romaine is runner-up for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour, published by Arabia Books in the UK and by Interlink Books in the USA. Commended is Beirut-born Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury, published by Archipelago Books, USA.
The four judges, who met last December under the chairmanship of prize administrator Paula Johnson of the Society of Authors, are novelist, columnist and critic Joan Smith, writer, translator and Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia Sarah Churchwell, translator and lecturer in Arabic Literature and Media at the University of Exeter Christina Phillips, and author and editor of Banipal magazine Samuel Shimon who is also a trustee of the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature. Their decisions are announced below.
Khaled Mattawa for his translation of Adonis: Selected Poems
Khaled Mattawa’s translation of this selection of Adonis’s poetry is destined to become a classic. It is a monumental piece of work, a long-overdue compendium of works by one of the most important poets of our time, a contribution to world literature that demonstrates the lyricism and full range of Adonis’s poetry. The translations are supple and fluent, flexible yet accurate, consistently sensitive to the poet’s nuances, and beautifully render into English Adonis’s modernist sensibilities. Anglophone readers will gain a new appreciation of why Adonis has so often been likened to TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, with the freshness of his lines and imagination liberated from the self-conscious archaism of other translations, and allowing his unique reworking of the legends of East and West, the arcs of love and death, to spring forth. This book should ensure that Western readers recognize the significance of Adonis’s contribution to world poetry.
Adonis is internationally known as a poet, theoretician of poetics and thinker, a patriarch of modern Arabic literature whose poetry resonates with universal dimensions. Known for his biting criticism of the dominating influence of Islamic ideology on modern Arabic literature, his influential, daring and experimental works of poetry enjoin the present with the past while giving perspectives into the future. Adonis’s poems in their original Arabic are not easy, in fact they are difficult and complex. They are multi-layered with history, myths and ideas, rooted in metaphors, symbols and surrealist images, and wide-ranging in genre and styles – all woven within a fine and concise language.
It was an immense challenge that faced the talented poet-translator Khaled Mattawa in translating Adonis’s poems to English or, as is often said in the Arab world, to the “language of Shakespeare”, and he has succeeded most eminently. Adonis: Selected Poems is a substantial and comprehensive volume covering over half a century of Adonis’s works from 1957 to 2008. Khaled Mattawa has brought Adonis’s poems to the English language with a musicality and aesthetic sensitivity that echo their innovative, conceptual and stylistic complexities – and in doing so he has created an original, powerful and lyrical poetic work in English. In a word: stunning.
• On learning the news director of Yale University Press John Donatich commented: “It is very gratifying to see Adonis and his wonderful translator Khaled Mattawa receive this prestigious award. I know from personal experience how many readers have been so moved by these Selected Poems; it is so important that other people discover the work.”
Barbara Romaine for her translation of Spectres by Radwa Ashour
Radwa Ashour’s Spectres is an ambitious and moving blend of autobiography, history, politics and fiction telling the story of Egypt since the 1950s through the experiences of two women who are each other’s ghostly doubles. This experimental novel, which is political in the best sense, needs a confident translator, and has found one in Barbara Romaine. Her impressive translation renders the metaphorical power of Ashour’s story with grace and subtlety, skillfully reflecting the shifts in time and the different voices and registers. Fluent and refreshing, Romaine has done a brilliant job.
Maia Tabet for her translation of White Masks by Elias Khoury
First published in Arabic in 1981, White Masks was one of the first novels that dared to address the civil war in Lebanon, the terrible atrocities, and the war’s reflection in the daily lives of the people. Bringing home the dreadful reality of civil war, it is a fascinating investigation into investigation itself, telling the story of the murder of one man during the Lebanese Civil War, and showing the chaos and incoherence of history as it emerges, and the importance of personal stories to counteract and contain the messiness of history. Elias Khoury’s language is smooth and poetic, and finds its parallel in the masterful translation of Maia Tabet which brings the immediacy of the story to life, without sacrificing the nuances of Khoury’s moral and philosophical questions, transposing the colour and originality of the Arabic into wonderfully lucid prose.
• Khaled Mattawa was born in Benghazi, Libya in 1964 and emigrated to the USA in his teens. He has translated eight volumes of contemporary Arabic poetry, Adonis: Selected Poems (2010), shortlisted for the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize; Shepherd of Solitude by Amjad Nasser (2009); These Are Not Oranges, My Love by Iman Mersal (2008); A Red Cherry on A White-Tiled Floor by Maram Al-Massri (2004, 2007); Miracle Maker (2003) and In Every Well A Joseph Is Weeping (1997) by Fadhil al-Azzawi; Without An Alphabet Without A Face by Saadi Youssef (2002), winner of the 2003 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation; Questions and Their Retinue by Hatif Janabi (1996).
He is the author of four books of poetry, Tocqueville (New Issues Press, 2010), Amorisco (Ausable Press, 2008), Zodiac of Echoes (2003), and Ismailia Eclipse (Sheep Meadow Press,1996).
In 2010 he was selected as recipient of the 2010 Academy Fellowship by the Academy of American Poets. He teaches creative writing in the English faculty at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and served as President of RAWI, (Radius of Arab American Authors) 2005-2010. He has received a Guggenheim fellowship, an NEA translation grant, the Alfred Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, the PEN American Center Poetry Translation Prize, and three Pushcart Prizes and is a founding contributing editor of Banipal.
• Adonis was born Ali Ahmad Said in Al-Qassabin, Syria, in 1930, and adopted the name Adonis when he was 17. He co-founded Sh’ir poetry magazine and later formed Muwaqaf, working to liberate Arabic poetry from its old forms and pioneering the prose poem. He is author of over 20 collections of poetry. An internationally renowned poet, essayist, and theoretician of Arabic poetics, he is regarded as “the grand old man of poetry, secularism and free speech in the Arab world" who champions democracy and secular thought in the Middle East, and the separation of state and religion. He is the recipient of many international awards and is an elected member of the Stéphane Mallarmé Academy in France. In May 2011 he became the first Arab laureate of Germany’s premier literary prize, the Goethe Prize.
• Barbara Romaine has been teaching the Arabic language for about twenty years. She has translated the novels Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery by Bahaa Taher (University of California Press, 1996) and Siraaj by Radwa Ashour (University of Texas Press, 2007). Her translation of Spectres was supported by a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 2007. She is currently at work on another of Ashour’s novels, Farag (Dar El Shorouk, 2008) which is forthcoming from Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.
• Maia Tabet was born and raised in Beirut. She has worked as a journalist, editor and freelance translator. Her first full-length book translation was Little Mountain by Elias Khoury. She has lived and travelled throughout the Middle East and South Asia, and is currently based in Baltimore, USA. White Masks is her most recent book translation. Her translation of the winning novel of the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Saudi author Abdo Khal’s Tarmi bi Sharar (Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles) is forthcoming from Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.
• The Saif Ghobash – Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is an annual prize of £3,000, awarded to the translator(s) of a published translation in English of a full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit published in the thirty-five years prior to submission of the translation and first published in English translation in the year prior to the award. Entries are judged by a panel of four distinguished authors, critics and literary experts, two of whom read and consider both the Arabic original and the English translation.
The prize is administered by the Society of Authors in the UK, as are other prizes for literary translation into English from European languages. The Award Ceremony is hosted by the British Centre for Literary Translation, the Arts Council, and the Society of Authors. The Saif Ghobash-Banipal entries can have been published anywhere in the world but must be available for purchase in the United Kingdom, either via a distributor or on-line.
The prize, the first worldwide for a published work of English literary translation from Arabic, was established in 2005 by Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation, and the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature, and is sponsored by Omar Saif Ghobash and his family in memory of his father, the late Saif Ghobash, a man passionate about Arabic literature and other literatures of the world.
The Award Ceremony
Monday 6 February
7pm, King’s Place
90 York Way, London N1 9AG
The Translation Prizes Award Ceremony
with Readings by the prizewinners
Prizes presented by Sir Peter Stothard
and the Sebald Lecture on the Art of Literary Translation
given by Sean O’Brien on
“Making The Crossing: the Poet as Translator”