Tuesday, June 06, 2006

summer's lease

Summer’s Lease

An area of darkness
In his mind
An area of grief
In High Summer. When the leaves are
Dappled with sunlight
& the Chestnut Trees
Loose their Moorings
(Vast galleons of light)
Their candles make men

An area of darkness
In his mind
Sitting in the wood
Where no one goes
(Timeless silence
The sun has reached its

Lazy fish sidle in the Stream
No doubt in time
He will improve
Summer’s ecstasy
Will cure him.
He will lie amongst
The towering grasses
Hidden in a nest

Christopher Baily
Saturday 26 January 2002

african women writers dominate caine shortlist

Mary Watson
African women writers are surging ahead of their male counterparts, to judge by this year’s shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Four of the five shortlisted writers are female. The solitary man is South African Darrel Bristow-Bovey, whose shortlisted entry “A Joburg story” was published in “African Compass – New Writing from Southern Africa 2005”.

The Caine Prize, worth $15,000, is awarded annually for the best story by an African writer of between 3,000 and 15,000 words. The story must already have been published in English. The prize will be awarded at a dinner in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library on July 10.

The Caine Prize has a value far beyond its relatively modest monetary value. It offers the shortlisted authors the opportunity to come to London to take part in readings of their work and to meet literary agents, publishers and members of the media. The prize has boosted the careers of previous winners.

This year there were 110 qualifying entries from 21 African countries, the highest figure in the prize’s history. The chair of the panel of judges Dr Nana Wilson of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University, says: “The overall quality of submissions was high this year. We had an exciting blend of themes and styles, a marked focus on family relationships and a rich mapping of the varied physical and social landscapes of Africa.”

There is one North African writer on this year’s shortlist, Moroccan Laila Lalami who currently lives in Portland, Oregon. She is shortlisted for “The Fanatic”, part of her novel “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Last year’s prize was won by Nigerian Segun Afolabi, whose first short story collection “A Life Elsewhere” was recently published by Jonathan Cape. This year’s shortlist includes Nigerian Sefi Atta for “The Last Trip” published in “Chimurenga 8”.

Mary Watson of South Africa is shortlisted for “Jungfrau” from her short story collection “Moss” published by Kwela Books. Kenyan Muthoni Garland is shortlisted for “Tracking the Scent of My Mother” which originally appeared in “Seventh Street Alchemy: A Selection of Writings from the Caine Prize for African Writing.”

The Caine Prize was set up in 2000 in memory of Sir Michael Caine, the former Chairman of Booker plc and chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for almost 25 years.

An indication of the growing profile of the Caine Prize is that this year for the first time the shortlisted writers will read from their work at an event organised by the South Bank Centre, hosted on July 11 by the Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow. This is in addition to the regular annual events at the Royal Over-Seas League on July 6, and at the Institute for English Studies, University of London on July 12.

Sefi Atta

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, June 6 2006

dutch launch of hisham matar's novel

author photo: copyright Diana Matar

The Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, a long-time resident of London, has been in the Netherlands this past week for the launch of the Dutch edition of his debut novel “In the Country of Men.” In the Netherlands the novel is published by Meulenhoff, under the title “Niemandsland.” Matar was the guest at evenings in Amsterdam and The Hague.

This is the first publication anywhere of a work which has been described by The Bookseller as “the most highly prized literary debut of the autumn.” Readers in the Britain must wait until next month for the UK launch of the novel, which is bound to attract much interest.

There has been keen competition between publishers for the rights to the novel. Within a week of the novel’s submission to publishers in the UK a bidding war broke out which was won by Viking, an imprint of Penguin, which agreed a two-book deal with Matar. So far the novel has been sold in 14 countries. In the US it is due to be published in January by The Dial Press, a division of Random House.

I first heard of the novel and its author at an evening hosted in London in March by Banipal magazine as part of the Westwords Live literature festival. As soon as Matar started reading from the novel’s first pages it was clear that this was a remarkable work by a fresh new talent.

The novel’s first-person narrator is a young Libyan man living in exile in Cairo looking back at summer 1979, the last summer before he was sent away from Tripoli. That summer was a time of political upheavals with Suleiman’s father involved in an underground movement working for democracy. The regime takes ruthless action against the activists, and Suleiman sees the televised interrogation and hanging of his father’s best friend, a university art historian.

One strand of the novel is Suleiman’s complicated relationships with his parents. He tries to unravel the secrets surrounding his father. Why has he been told his father was away on business, when he has glimpsed him in Tripoli’s Martyr’s Square?

The boy is close to his disturbed mother, who in her husband’s absence drinks “medicine” she obtains secretly from the local baker. The “medicine” makes her “ill”, and when in this state she tells her son of her unhappiness with her marriage.

One reason for the keenness of publishers to publish the novel is because it is set in Libya, a controversial country which is frequently in the news but which is barely present in literature written in English. The novel is being compared to “The Kite Runner”, the runaway success by Afghan Khaled Hosseini. It looks set to fulfil the considerable expectations attached to it.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette June 6 2006