Tuesday, September 26, 2006

new issue of banipal

The latest issue of Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature, focuses particularly on work by Egyptian and Iraqi authors, with features presenting work by writers from those two countries. But the issue also includes plenty of material by, or about, writers from other Arab countries.

The issue begins with the short story “In the Long Shadows”, written in English by the Sudanese-British writer Jamal Mahjoub. This mysterious and powerful story mixes memory and myth with a dystopian vision of the decaying outskirts of a town and a strange abandoned tower. A traumatized photographer brings back images from a distant western region of “burned villages, barren hills, blackened grass, graveyards.”

There is an extract from Tunisian writer Hassan Nasr’s novel “Return to Dar Al-Basha”, of which the English edition is to be published by Syracuse University Press later this year. Another Tunisian writer, Ali Mosbah, won the Ibn Battuta Prize for Travel Writing in 2004 for his volume “Mudun wa Wujooh”. The magazine includes his chapter on Istanbul.

The magazine’s Literary Influence section was penned by the late Jordanian writer Ghalib Halasa. Halasa died in 1989, but his essay, full of perception and humor, is of lasting interest.

The Iraqi feature comprises excerpts from novels by Saadi Youssef, Mohammad Khudayyir, Lutfiyya Dulaimi, Fadhil al-Azzawi, Kadhim al-Hallaq and Inaam Kachachi. The feature on New Writing in Egypt continues a feature that began in the previous issue. The writers included are Yasser Abdel Latif, Mustafa Zikri, Hamdy el-Gazzar, Youssef Rakha and poet Girgis Shukry,

Syracuse University Press has emerged in recent years as a major publisher of novels translated from Arabic to English. Banipal has an enlightening interview, conducted by the magazine’s editor Margaret Obank, with Michael Beard and Adnan Haydar, editors of the press’s successful Middle East Literature in Translation series.

Syracuse University Press was recently chosen as the new publisher for the winning translation of the Arabic Translation Award, sponsored by the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas.

The books reviewed in the latest Banipal include Saudi writer Mohammad Hassan Alwan’s Arabic second novel“Sophia”, Libyan writer Hisham Matar’s novel “In the Country of Men” (now shortlisted for the Man Booker prize), the bilingual Arabic and English book of stories “Burning in the Past Tense” by Syria-born Suhail Shadoud, and the critical study “Le roman arabe (1834-2004)” written in French by Iraqi-born scholar and poet Kadhim Jihad Hassan who lives in Paris.

October 9 will be a red-letter day for Banipal, as its marks the first occasion on which the newly-instituted Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation will be awarded. The award will be made at a ceremony at the University of East Anglia, at the British Center for Literary Translation’s annual Sebald Lecture on literature in translation.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 26 Sept 2006