Tuesday, September 06, 2005

banipal's latest

Celebration of Arab literature

The latest issue of Banipal, the London-based magazine of Arab literature in English translation, contains a rich variety of poetry, short stories, profiles, interviews and reviews.

The writers featured in the 160-page issue are from Palestine, Iraq, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The Omani poet, and editor-in-chief of Nizwa magazine, Saif al-Rahbi is extensively profiled. The 24-page section on this writer includes 13 of his poems translated by Palestinian writer and scholar Anton Shammas.
The Iraqi poet Fadhil al-Azzawi writes on "Saif al-Rahbi's Poetical Journey to himself", and Fakhri Saleh of Jordan, Eskandar Habache of Lebanon, and Khalid Al-Maaly of Iraq also contribute pieces. Al-Rahbi is interviewed in Muscat by Omani academic and translator Abdulla al-Harrasi, and says: "poetry is my home and I cannot live outside it."

Among the other highlights of the issue are a poem by Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, "Not Like a Foreign Tourist Would" and a short story by the young prize-winning Palestinian author Ala' Hlehel, translated by Anthony Calderbank.

There is a feature on the Syrian poet Saniya Salih who died in 1995. Salih was wife of the poet Mohammad al-Maghut, and the feature alludes to the high price a creative woman can pay for being married to a famous man of letters.

The issue includes the work of several Iraqi writers. Fadhil Al-Azzawi has written a satisfying and lively long essay in the literary influences section, entitled "I Lived a Magical Feast". The Iraqi writer Duna Ghali, who lives in Denmark, has penned the short story "Sip", and Hamid al-Iqabi, who also lives in Denmark, is represented by his story "The Banjo Player".

North Africa is present through two high-calibre writers whose work is translated from French: from the Moroccan Abdellatif Laabi there is an extract from the novel "The Bottom of the Jar", and from the Tunisian Abdelwahab Meddeb there are five poems.

Joumana Haddad, the Lebanese poet and journalist, has written an account of her interviews for An-Nahar newspaper with famous non-Arab writers such as Paul Auster, Umberto Eco, Paulo Coelho, Peter Handke, Jose Saramago and Wole Soyinka.

Banipal also has an extract from "The Myrtle Bush", the new novel by The Lebanese writer and journalist Jad El Hage whose novel "The Last Migration" was published in English. From Yemeni writer Nadiah Alkokabany there is the frank short story "Fireworks to Celebrate a Deflowering."

There is a characteristically amusing "travelling tale" from Banipal's assistant editor Samuel Shimon, "Steppenwolf goes to San Francisco". This is an account, complete with photographs, of how Shimon travelled by train from New York to San Francisco armed with Hermann Hesse's great novel. His trip was punctuated by encounters with odd characters.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
September 6 2005

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