Tuesday, May 03, 2005

new issue of Banipal

Banipal: cover picture by the Iraqi Kurdish artist Sadradeen Posted by Hello

Overcoming language barrier
by Susannah Tarbush

One of the pleasures of reading Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature, is the opportunity it offers of discovering authors who have through translation overcome the language barrier.

In the spring issue of the magazine, which has just been published, one such author is Algerian writer, journalist and musician Aziz Chouaki who has lived in France since the political upheavals in Algeria in the 1990s.

Banipal carries an excerpt from Chouaki’s novel “The Star of Algiers”, written in French and translated into English by Ros Schwarz and Lulu Norman. The novel was published in English by Graywolf Press, USA earlier this year. To judge by the extract, Chouaki is a fresh, original voice.

While Chouaki is new to English translation, some of the names in the latest issue of Banipal are long-established. From Tayeb Salih, the Sudanese writer, we have the story “If She Comes”, set in an office, translated by Shakir Mustafa.

The Saudi writer, poet and novelist Ali al-Domaini is represented through an extract from his novel “The Grey Cloud: Parts of the Biography of Sahl al-Jabali”. The novel was published in Arabic in Beirut in 1998, and the extract, which is set in a prison, has been translated by Issa Boullata.

Al-Domaini has been in prison in Saudi Arabia since last year. Last week, at a ceremony in New York attended by many prominent American and international authors, PEN conferred a 2005 ‘PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award’ on the Saudi author.

Issa Boullata is a writer as well as a translator, and Banipal includes his short story “A Forgotten Gentleman”, which is set in Canada.

There are in all seven short stories in the issue. The story “Wind”, by Tunisian Ali Mosbah, who lives in Berlin, gives a powerful metaphorical account of the effects of winds on the inhabitants of an area of Tunisia.

The poets featured in the issue include Palestinian medical doctor Fady Joudah, who won the $1,000 first prize in the River City writing awards in 2004. Joudah lives in Houston and is an active member of Medicins sans Frontieres. There are also love poems by the Lebanese poet Inaya Jaber.

One of Banipal’s regular sections is Literary Influences, in which a writer tells of the books he or she has read since childhood, and the influences on their work. In this issue the writer is the Syrian Rafik Shami, who lives in Germany. His parents originally came from the village of Malula where the ancient language Aramaic is spoken.

In its section on literary events, Banipal has a report on the awarding of the 2004 Prince Claus Awards, with the principal prize going to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish’s eloquent acceptance speech is published in full.

Banipal is at: www.banipal.co.uk

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