Monday, March 30, 2009

get cookin' with 'cardamom & lime' and 'the settler's cookbook'

above: Machbous from "Cardamom and Lime"

Bridging cultures through food
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 30March 2009
So many cookery books have been published in the past few years on the cuisines of different countries and regions that one might wonder whether much fresh culinary territory remains uncharted.

Two recently published books, “Cardamom and Lime: Recipes from the Arabian Gulf” and “The Settler’s Cookbook: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food”, show that writing about personal food experiences can still open up new vistas and introduce readers to unfamiliar cultures.

Sarah Al-Hamad [pictured above], author of “Cardamom and Lime”, is of Kuwaiti origin and divides her time between London and Kuwait. Her book is published in the UK by New Holland Publishers and in the US by Interlink Books of Northampton, Massachusetts.

The beautifully-designed book is illustrated by numerous dazzling photographs taken by Al-Hamad of the food markets and shops in the Gulf, and of the dishes for which she provides recipes.

Traditional Gulf cuisine is little known outside the Gulf. Al-Hamad identifies the region’s food as a mixture of Indian, Persian and Turkish cuisine overlying the traditional Bedouin diet of dates and dairy products.
The Gulf’s strategic position on the ancient spice routes between Africa and India introduced a range of spices into its food. Taste combinations of sweet and savory are characteristic in its cuisine, as is the use of dried limes.

Al-Hamad collected most of the recipes in her book from family members and friends, who in turn introduced her to their friends.
“One cook led me to another, and wherever I went there was great generosity in discussions about food and the sharing of culinary tidbits and recipes,” she writes.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown [pictured below], author of “The Settler’s Cookbook”, is a writer and commentator on race, politics and human rights, and the first British Muslim to become a regular newspaper columnist, in the Independent. Published in London by Portobello Books, her book is an autobiography in which recipes are inserted at key points.

Alibhai-Brown was born in Uganda to a family of Indian origin which, like other Ugandan Asians, had been taken to work there under the British Empire.
The interaction between Indian settlers and native Africans led to the creation of some fusion dishes, such as matoke (plantains) with peanut curry.

In 1972 Alibhai-Brown followed her true love (abbreviated to TL) from Uganda to pursue postgraduate studies at Oxford University, just months before President Idi Amin announced that Ugandan Asians must leave the country.

Yasmin married TL and had a son, but TL found a new love and the marriage broke up in 1987 when their son was only 10. Alibhai-Brown subsequently married an Englishman and had a daughter.

A number of Alibhai-Brown’s recipes originated from her late mother Jena. When she first got married she could not cook, and had to ask her mother over the phone for recipes such as a dozen ways to make spicy potatoes.

Various kinds of daal feature in her recipes. Dee Aunti’s Dhansak (named after a family friend) is a sweet and spicy mix of lamb, several kinds of daal, tamarind and a long list of spices. There are recipes for different varieties of pickle, biryanis and pilaus scattered through the book.
Alibhai-Brown’s ’fierce sense of humor shines through in her creation of certain recipes. She devised ‘Retribution Beef’ after the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she said that she sympathized with indigenous British people who were being swamped by people of another culture.
Yasmin invited her white British friends over to meet her baby and to tuck into the curry which she had made so hot, her unsuspecting friends burned their tongues. “Too polite to refuse or too addicted to stop, they ate and cried. I made them cry, paid them back for Thatcher’s words,” she writes.

There are common threads between the two books. In both, travel, trade and the migrations of people and communities have influenced cuisine. Both portray cultures in which food traditionally plays a strong social function.

For Ugandan Asians living in exile, East African-Asian food “expressed both desperate nostalgia and hardship”, writes Alibhai-Brown. But such food could also help in the making of friends. In Oxford student days, “carrot halva was much appreciated by our skint guests, cheap, buttery and wickedly sweet,” she adds.

Sarah Al-Hamad writes that in the Gulf, food “occupies a central position in local life and culture. It is a means of communication and a peace-offering, a way of demonstrating largesse and hospitality to friends and family, a form of one-upmanship, a conversation starter, a boredom buster, and an arena for female competitiveness.”

As with the recipes in “A Settler’s Cookbook”, there is considerable South Asian influence in Al-Hamad’s recipes. Most of the cooks Al-Hamad met while collecting recipes were from India or Bangladesh. Bengalis in the Gulf are famed for their potato “chops”, or batata chab, potato cakes filled with minced meat and fried. Al-Hamad’s recipe for Chicken Biryani came from a South Indian chef who had worked for many years in Bahrain.

Both authors include recipes along a sponge cake theme. Al-Hamad’s is an egg-rich sponge which includes dates, walnuts and sesame seeds and is flavored with cardamom and saffron.

Alibhai-Brown notes that Ugandan Indians would “lift” Victoria sponge cake with lime juice or saffron, and would pep up shortbread with grainy cardamom seeds. In this way they subverted bland English food. Yasmin’s mother transformed English shepherd’s pie – which tasted to Yasmin like “milky newspapers” – into an Indian version through the addition of spices, fresh ginger and garlic.

Al-Hamad regards the famous meat and rice dish Machbous, known as Kabsa in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as typifying Gulf cuisine. Her book starts with a section on rice dishes such as Mu’adas (rice and lentils), Mumawash (mushy rice with mung beans), and Muhammar (date-sweetened rice).
The meat dishes include kebabs, and Marag Shabzi – a lamb and herb stew she learned from a Kuwaiti friend of Iranian descent. The fish section has splendid-looking dishes such as “ultimate fish on rice” (made with local Zubaidi fish), aromatic fish stew and baked fish with nut stuffing.

There are substantial vegetables dishes such as Shilla (grains and spinach porridge) and Gaboot dumplings with a sweet-sour vegetable stuffing. Desserts range from Balaleet – sweet vermicelli topped with omelet – to date-based ‘Afoosa’, and ‘Aseeda’ and the crunchy dough balls in syrup known as Gaimat.

The intimacy of the writing and attractiveness of the recipes in “The Settler’s Cookbook” and “Cardamom and Lime” lend the books much charm. In these days of economic uncertainty many people are shunning restaurants and cooking more at home. The two books should provide practical inspiration, as well as being splendidly good reads.

Monday, March 23, 2009

guardian supplement on abu dhabi as an arab media hub

The London-based Guardian has today published a four-page supplement which although entitled 'Middle East media' actually focuses on how, in the words of to Kate Bulkley's introduction, "Abu Duabi is positioning itself at the heart of a new multimedia empire in the Middle East, a decade after Dubai pioneered the media hub concept with its Media city project." The supplement is paid for by Abu Dhabi-based twofour54
The supplement reflects the systematic and speedy way in which Abu Dhabi is builidng its position within the Middle East cultural and media field.

lmei conference on the arab media today

A one-day conference on new Arab media held in the Brunei Gallery of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) last week gave the audience the opportunity of hearing in person from some of the leading bloggers from around the Arab world.

They included the Egyptian human rights activist Wael Abbas, who blogs at Misr Digital; Ali Abdulemam [pictured], described by the New York Times as Bahrain’s “most notorious blogger”, and Tunisian investigative journalist and human rights campaigner Olfa Jami. There were two Jordanian bloggers: Naseem Tarawneh, author of the Black Iris blog, and Mariam Abu Adas who started her Driven by Curiosity blog in 2004 when she was living in Saudi Arabia. Tarawneh was a co-founder of the Jordanian citizen media site which Abu Adas now runs.
The conference, entitled ‘Arab Media Today: new audiences and new technologies’, was organized by the London Middle East Institute (LMEI) at SOAS. It was supported by the Media Outreach Center of the US Embassy in London and the MBI Foundation of Jeddah-based businessman and philanthropist Mohamed Bin Issa Al-Jaber.

LMEI acting director Sarah Stewart noted that this was the third in a series of LMEI conferences on the Arab media. The first was on the pan-Arab media and the Western world, and the second on what drives the Arab media, and with what consequences. “I think it’s fair to say that in contrast to the previous two conferences, this is rather uncharted territory,” she said.

The Arab media revolution began in the early 1990s with the birth of pan-Arab satellite TV, which had a profound impact in breaking down barriers, challenging taboos and bringing rolling 24-hour news. Today there are more than 500 Arab satellite TV channels.

The internet was slow to take off in the Arab world, but it is rapidly making up for lost time. According to Internet World Stats, between 2000 and 2008 the number of internet users in the Middle East (including Iran and Israel, but excluding Egypt and North Africa) grew by 1,296.2 percent, the biggest percentage increase any region of the world. The number of internet users soared from 3.28 million to 45.86 million.

Internet penetration is now 23.3 per cent of the population in the Middle East, almost matching the world average of 23.6 per cent, but far behind the figure in North America (73.1 per cent) or Europe (48.5 per cent).

Arab internet penetration is highest in the UAE at 48.9 percent, and lowest in Iraq at 1 per cent. The Arab countries with the largest number of users are Egypt with 10.53 million, Morocco (6.6 million) and Saudi Arabia (6.38 million).

There are reckoned to be 490,000 Arab blogs, 160,000 of them in Egypt. Blogs are just one element in the mix of new media, which includes websites, discussion forums, video and photograph sharing sites, and social networking sites. There are new developments all the time, including the recent launch by Facebook of an Arabic version.

Syrian expert on new media and technologies Anas Tawileh [pictured], vice president for engineering at Meedan, noted: “The internet came late to the Arab world and it took some time for people to appreciate this new communication media and to start to use it. But once they found what the internet has to offer, the growth was phenomenal.”

Tawileh gave examples of ways in which Web 2.0 – the term for the various forms of online interactive media – is now being manifested in the Arab area. “Arab internet users want to be heard”, he said. “The new media is the perfect opportunity to voice their concerns, express themselves and to a certain degree to feel they are being heard by others. On Facebook there are 2.5 million Arab users.” There are constant launches of new Arabic services intended as equivalents of social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Flickr. He remarked that 56 per cent of Saudis use discussion forums, and said discussion forums play a particularly prominent role in the new media in Arab countries. Mobile phones facilitate the spread of new media, and in the third quarter of 2008 there were 188.2 million of them in Arab countries.

Will Ward, managing editor of the online journal Arab Media & Society published by the American University in Cairo, outlined the vital part played by social media, in particular Facebook, in getting out news during the Gaza war. This was especially important in the face of the Israeli media blackout.

Several speakers at the conference outlined the ways in which the old Arab broadcast and print media is trying to adapt to the internet age through, for example, making their websites as attractive and user-friendly as possible and enhancing user interactivity.

In the session on the blogosphere, bloggers gave compelling accounts of their experiences including skirmishes with the authorities. Some governments in the Arab world have been keen to try and control cyberspace by blocking certain sites and through harassing and even imprisoning bloggers.

It might be assumed that the dramatic growth in blogging in the Arab world would have produced a pan-Arab blogosphere. But in practice each Arab country tends to have its own national blogosphere with its own character and concerns. There are national blog aggregator sites with titles such as Syria Planet, or Tunisie.blogs.

In Egypt, bloggers have played a role in political activism and in helping to organize demonstrations. Wael Abbas has circulated videos showing for example torture at police stations, electoral fraud and the brutality of security forces against demonstrators.

Naseem Tawarneh described Jordan as “the tranquil blogosphere”. But there have been government interventions which in one case led to the closure of the Jordan Planet blog aggregator site two years ago. Tawarneh told of how during the Israeli onslaught on Gaza the site was able to mobilize around 100 young people to sort and organize up to 60 tons of food and clothing donated via Aramex to the people of Gaza.

Marc Lynch [pictured], Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, chaired the session on the Arab blogosphere. He has written his widely-read Abu Aardvark blog since 2002.

“By virtue of being both a blogger and an academic I’ve managed to see this from both sides of the equation,” he said. Political bloggers have developed a certain sense of shared identity, purpose and vision, but “blogging as blogging is not particularly noteworthy. It’s a means to something and what’s interesting is that ‘something’, the ability of people to find ways to engage in particular ways of public activism and public life in the Arab world in arenas which are quite hostile traditionally to such participation and engagement.

“Blogging and Facebook and so many other things have opened up avenues for political participation in various forms, for personal participation, for the creation and construction of new identifies, and for the ability of people to form new relationships which in the past wouldn’t have been possible.”

Susannah Tarbush, Saudi Gazette 23 March 2009

suicide of nicholas hughes, son of ted

The London-based Times has the very sad news today that Ted Hughes' son Nicholas, an eminent marine biologist, has hanged himself in Alaska at the age of 47. The headline reads 'Sylvia Plath's son commits suicide'. Plath left her two young children, Nicholas and his sister Frieda, in another room when she gassed herself in London in 1963. Ted Hughes' second wife Assia Wevill also gassed herself, with their four-year-old daughter Shura. Nicholas was a fisheries scientist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Unlike the Times piece, an obituary by columnist and author Dermot Cole in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner does not permit the Sylvia Plath tragedy to completely overshadow an account of the personality and work of a lovely-sounding man who had "made lasting friendships in Fairbanks with those who shared his inventive interests in such varied pursuits as stream ecology, pottery, woodworking, boating, bicycling, gardening and cooking the perfect pecan pie. Nick guided many people in the winter to spots along the Tanana to savor the art of burbot fishing through the ice.

"He spent countless summer hours in his research of grayling and salmon in the Chena River, exhibiting all the patience and wonder that defines a great fisherman. One of his innovations was rigging underwater cameras to get a three-dimensional view of the fish feeding in the passing current. Many of the best days of his life were in the company of his partner Christine Hunter, also a biologist. He resigned from the faculty more than two years ago, but continued his research."

Hughes is reported to have been suffering from depression. The Times simplistically writes: "Although there is acceptance that depression can be inherited, there is no known suicide gene that could connect Dr Hughes's death to his mother’s." On Saturday the Guardian's John Crace had one of his mischievous Digested Reads, of Plath's The Bell Jar.

Ted Hughes' own love of fishing, and his close observations of fish, permeate his work. The first Ted Hughes poem I encountered as a teenager was 'Pike'. The poem 'October Salmon' is one of his most acclaimed.

Nicholas's sister Frieda is a successful artist, poet, children's writer and contributor to the press. Her statement on her brother's death, quoted in the Times, says:“His lifelong fascination with fish and fishing was a strong and shared bond with our father (many of whose poems were about the natural world). He was a loving brother, a loyal friend to those who knew him and, despite the vagaries that life threw at him, he maintained an almost childlike innocence and enthusiasm for the next project or plan.”

Shortly before his death, he had left his post at the university to set up a pottery at home and “advance his not inconsiderable talent at making pots and creatures in clay”.

When Ted Hughes died in October 1998, the journalist and fisherwoman Annalisa Barbieri wrote an obituary for the Independent entitled: 'Fishing: Farewell to a master of rhythm, rhyme and rainbow trout'. She wrote: "The papers will be full of Ted Hughes this weekend. Ted the literary genius; Ted - Poet Laureate; Ted, ex-husband of Sylvia Plath. But I never knew him as any of these things very much. To me, Ted Hughes was much more interesting than just being a poet. Ted was a fisherman."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the 'gentrification' of jaffa

Tel Aviv Rooftop has blogged on the transformation - for the worse - of Jaffa, as witnessed from his regular bicycle rides through a city that is "Tel Aviv's much older and much neglected sister". He writes of "the gentrification (some would say 'Judaisation') of Yaffo that is being fostered by the combination of planning from city hall and market demand for authentic Mediterranean real estate.Yafo - charming old Arab houses, mosques and churches, arches and alleys, shocks of colour and light - fits this bill."

There is an ongoing "battle between the authorities and many Arab residents who received court orders to vacate their properties to make way for new developments, without, they say, proper compensation. Arab and leftist groups claim that the Judaisation of Yaffo is (again) driving out the local residents."

Jaffa, with its large population of Arabs and new immigrants from the FSU, has plenty of problems: "poverty, drugs, crime, schools that lag and social services that sag. From time to time there are minor eruptions of violence: a demonstration by Arabs gets out of hand, Jews throw rocks at a mosque. The sort of Arab-Jewish violence we saw recently in another mixed city - Acco - could reappear in Yaffo."

The cyclist blogger sums up Jaffa as "a beautiful, unkempt time bomb. Already bereft of most of its original Arab population, neglected, ignored riven by tension between Jew and Arab, Moslem and Christian, and now reinvented as a sterile real estate location to satisfy the Mediterranean fantasies of the rich (while ignoring the problems of the poor)."
He notes that according to a Palestinian history of the city:
"Every Palestinian in Jaffa is either directly facing eviction by the municipal authorities, or has a neighbor or relative who faces such eviction, an estimated total of more than 500 families are in this situation. The two main excuses for eviction are lack of licensing -- especially since licenses are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain -- or that the family is considered illegal squatters in their own home which is registered as state property."
Local committees are fighting the authorities for housing rights.
He concludes with a new addition to the city's architecture: "And into this expolosive mix, slap bang next to the Moslem cemetery, the Peres Peace Centre is arising before our unbelieving eyes. Like the megalomanic fantasy of a Norwegian lumber merchant, it imposes itself on the local environment like an alien from the planet Peres." Looking at his photo one sees what he means.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

omar kikili's balcony tale

The imtidad cultural blog of Libyan doctor and writer Ghazi Geblawi, a resident of London, has published a chilling little story by Omar Kikili. The story published by imtidad under the title of "While drinking tea: the incident of the opposite balcony' is from Kikili's collection 'Sana'a Mahaliya' meaning 'Local Product' published in Tripoli in 2000.

Kikili, born in 1953, is described as a renowned Libyan short storyteller who published his early works in the 1970’s. He has published two collections of short stories, and is working on a third collection titled 'Sejnyat' meaning 'Jail tales' ('sijn' is Arabic for jail) on the period when he spent ten years as a political prisoner in Libya.

The translation of the Libyan short story (and presumably this Kikili story has been translated from Arabic) is an area of some interest. It was given a boost by the publication of American scholar and diplomat Ethan Chorin's book Translating Libya: The Modern Libyan Short Story last year.

'assessing italy’s grande gesto to libya'

From the latest issue of Middle East Report Online an interesting analysis of Italy's August 2008 agreement to pay $5 billion payment over 20 years to Libya.

Assessing Italy’s Grande Gesto to Libya
Claudia Gazzini
March 16, 2009
(Claudia Gazzini is a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University.)
Under a tent in Benghazi on August 30, 2008, Silvio Berlusconi bowed symbolically before the son of ‘Umar al-Mukhtar, hero of the Libyan resistance to Italian colonial rule. “It is my duty to express to you, in the name of the Italian people, our regret and apologies for the deep wounds that we have caused you,” said the Italian premier.[1] Eastern Libya was the site of the bulk of the armed resistance to the Italian occupation, which lasted from 1911 to 1943. More than 100,000 Libyans are believed to have died in the counterinsurgency campaign, many in desert prison camps and in southern Italian penal colonies. Inside the tent, Berlusconi and Libyan leader Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi signed a historic agreement according to which Italy will pay $5 billion over the next 20 years, nominally to compensate Libya for these “deep wounds.” The treaty was ratified by Italy on February 3 and by Libya on March 1.
Politicians in both Libya and Italy have often presented the $5 billion as reparations for the harm done to Libya by colonial rule. Qaddafi hailed the treaty as an important historical precedent that proves that “compensation entails condemnation of colonialism regardless of the amount paid.”[2] Yet neither the title nor the text of the treaty mentions the word “reparations.” The text alludes to settlement of colonial-era disputes, but officially the accord is called a “treaty of friendship, partnership and cooperation.”
The treaty was certainly not signed because Italy has suddenly come to terms with its colonial past and desires to make amends. Although the premier has made public noises of atonement for Italy’s colonial past, Italians suffer from a general colonial amnesia and know very little about their country’s adventures in Africa -- far less, for instance, than the French know about Algeria. Even the 1981 Anthony Quinn vehicle Lion of the Desert, about Mukhtar’s rebellion, was utterly banned in Italy for many years because, in the government’s words, it was “damaging to the Italian army’s honor.” ..continued

'arab media today' conference in london

Some pictures from the excellent conference 'The Arab Media Today: New Audiences and New Technologies' held yesterday in the Brunei Gallery of London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The event was organised by the SOAS's London Middle East Institute with support from the Media Outreach Center of the US Embassy in London and the MBI Al Jaber Foundation. The day started with a session on assessing Arab audiences, chaired by Dina Matar of the Centre for Film and Media Studies. It then moved to a session on Old and New Media chaired by Dr Naomi Sakr, reader in Communication at the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster, and Director of the CAMRI Arab Media Centre.

Marc Lynch - AKA blogger Abu Aardvark - of George Washington University - chaired the third session, on the Arab Blogosphere. This session brought to London some of the Arab world's best known bloggers - Wael Abbas of Egypt (chief blogger at Misr Digital), Naseem Tarawnah (Black Iris) of Jordan, Olfa Jami of Tunisia and Ali Abdulemam of Bahrain. The Syrian IT and new media researcher and consultant Anas Tawileh of Syria, spoke on the Syrian blogosphere in this session; he had already given an eye-opening presentation on the emergence of Arabic new media in the light of Web 2.0 in the previous session. The conference provided many invaluable notes, pointers and nuggets. The were titters in the audience when Mariam Abu-Adas of, who blogs at Driven by Curiosity, included in her presentation a table on the findings of an ISP on the top 25 web search terms in the Arab world: no prizes for guessing what the terms were. The top search terms also included references to Sex and the City and to the immmensely popular Turkish soap opera Noor which follows the ups and downs of the relationship between Noor and her husband Muhannad.

Speakers gave fascinating and sometimes hair-raising accounts of the price that blogger activists can pay at the hands of Arab governments and security forces, and of the cat-and-mouse games bloggers play with the authorities - over for example the blocking of blogsites and attempts at identity detection or at discrediting bloggers seen as troublesome. Wael Abbas (pictured at the top of the posting) is an example par excellence of an Egyptian activist blogger and gave a full account of the "unique" Egyptian blogosphere which has helped cirulate videos on such practices as sodomisation of a male detainee in a police station, vote rigging, and police brutality against demonstrators. Wael's mention of the fact that he is keen to use Egyptian slang rather than classical Arabic in his blogging, so as to encourage youth participation, led to quite a bit of discussion over the choice of Arabic language in blogs. Wael has his own YouTube channel.

Pictures from top: Wael Abbas; Marc Lynch; Maher Othman (deputy editor-in-chief of, Ali Abdulemam: Anas Tawileh; Mariam Abu-Adas Below - Maha Taki (PhD scholarshp student University of Westminster, London, currently researching use of the internet, and in particular blogs, in Lebanon and Syria); (L ) Khaled Elshami (presenter of Awraq Misria on al-Hiwar TV) with Faisal Abbas (editor of the weekly media supplement of Asharq al-Awsat); Jihad Fakhreddine (Regional Research Director for the Middle East and North Africa for the Gallup World Poll), with Dina Matar; Will Ward (managing editor of Arab Media & Society); Hosam El Sokkari (head of BBC Arabic).

the myerson affair and issues over memoir west and east

Washing dirty linen in public through memoirs
Susannah Tarbush

How far are authors entitled to go in revealing sensitive details about family members, particularly children, in their writing? This question has preoccupied the British “chattering classes” in recent days, following the disclosure by novelist and journalist Julie Myerson that her new book “The Lost Child” tells of how her son Jake’s heavy use of skunk cannabis from the age of 15 almost destroyed her family. Jake is not named in the book, but is referred to as “our boy”.

Myerson claims that her son became addicted to skunk, a particularly strong form of cannabis which has been linked to behavioral and mental health problems. When she started writing “The Lost Child”, she intended it to be the story of the gifted 19th century child artist Mary Yelloly who painted a remarkable series of watercolors and died of tuberculosis in 1838 at the age of 21. But in the process of writing, Myerson found that the story of Jake became interwoven with the story of Mary.

In the book she describes how Jake’s addiction led the previously high-flying schoolboy, who seemed destined for Oxford University, to neglect his studies and to steal from her handbag to fund his drug habit. The scenes between parents and son became so violent that on one occasion he perforated Julie’s eardrum.

In the end she and her playwright husband Jonathan felt they had no alternative but to kick Jake out of the house and change the front door locks, days after his 17th birthday. Jake became homeless and moved between squats and friends’ floors. Now aged 20, and described as “working in the music business”, he has described his mother as na├»ve and “slightly insane”. He told the Daily Mail: “What she has done has taken the very worst years of my life and cleverly blended it into a work of art, and that to me is obscene.”

Many media commentators have condemned Myerson for in effect betraying her son and possibly blighting his future. She stands to profit from all the publicity, which is expected to boost sales of her book. The book was to have been published in May, but the publisher Bloomsbury has brought it forward by two months.

The accusations of betrayal grew when Julie admitted a few days ago that she had been the author of the anonymously written column ‘Living with Teenagers’ which ran for two years in the Guardian newspaper. The columns, based on real-life events involving her three children, were published in book form last year under the title “Living with Teenagers: 3 Kids, 2 Parents, 1 Hell Of A Bumpy Ride.”

Julie Myerson and her husband justify the publication of “The Lost Child” on the grounds that there is an emergency over the damage skunk is doing to young Britons. They say the book may help other parents.

The Muslim columnist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is one of the few writers to have come to Myerson’s defense. She wrote in the Independent : ”Myerson’s crime is that she is unflinchingly honest.” She added: “I would say that wouldn’t I? I frequently use personal experience in columns and books and even in a one-woman show.”

Alibhai-Brown says that when she wrote her short 1995 autobiography “No Place Like Home”, about growing up as an Asian in East Africa up to the time of Idi Amin, half her family cut her off, “one because I said she had ‘generous hips’ – which she did.” She is apprehensive about possible reactions to her latest book “The Settler’s Cookbook”, a food memoir which is not always flattering about Asians in East Africa and about members of her family.

Alibhai-Brown explains that she writes about her personal experiences “partly out of a passionate opposition to cultural protectionism. Asians are brought up never to expose what goes on behind the closed doors of homes, the secure gates around communities, cultures and faiths.”

In the Arab world too there has been a reluctance to publish revelations that are considered shameful. But this is changing. Speaking as a panelist in a seminar on contemporary Arab memoir during the 2008 London Book Fair, the Egyptian economics professor and writer Galal Amin said he is very fond of George Orwell’s dictum that “an autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.” His autobiography “What Life Has Taught Me” created a stir when it was published in 2007.

Galal is son of the renowned intellectual Ahmad Amin who died in 1954. In his autobiography Galal was unusually frank about his parents and their marriage. For example, he wrote that his mother had fallen in love with her cousin at the age of 17, and although her uncle had refused the marriage she had remained in love with him. Some family members were upset about such disclosures.

Another panelist was Jean Said Makdisi, sister of the late Palestinian scholar and activist Professor Edward Said. She is author of two volumes of memoir: “Beirut Fragments: A War Memoir” and “Teta, Mother and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women”.

Makdisi pointed to the growing number of memoirs by Arab authors written in English. They include Edward Said’s “Out of Place”, Leila Ahmed’s “A Border Passage”, Suad Amiry’s “Sharon and my Mother- in-Law: Ramallah Diaries”, Mai Ghoussoub’s “Leaving Beirut”, Ghada Karmi’s “In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story”, Serene Husseini Shahid’s “Jerusalem Memories” and Raja Shehadeh’s “Strangers in the House”, “When the Bulbul Stopped Singing” and “Palestinian Walks: Forays Into a Vanishing Landscape”.

Makdisi said: “Writing in English means imposing on the world the Arab story, the Arab view of things, which is not necessarily the view the world is keen to hear.” The central theme that unites these memoirs is “war, occupation, revolution, displacement, loss, dispossession.” The perpetual political crises in the Arab world have for long been “the bedrock on which everyone’s life is constructed or destroyed”.

As well as depicting the political upheavals their authors have lived through, such memoirs often candidly depict family relationships. For example Edward Said conveys movingly his troubled relationship with his father, and Ghada Karmi describes the difficulties her depressed mother had in adjusting to London after the family settled there as refugees from Jerusalem.

In both West and East, the trend is for memoirs to be ever more open over personal matters. This trend is accelerated by the spread of new technology, such as blogs and social networking sites, which encourage self disclosure. But it seems unlikely that many memoirists will for the moment follow Julie Myerson in lifting the lid on their traumas with their children.
Saudi Gazette 16 March 2009

17 March 2009: The first reviews of The Lost Child have started rolling in, and are on the whole extremely favourable. In the Guardian Mark Lawson describes it as "honest, affecting and noble". For the Guardian's Sunday sister the Observer Kate Kellaway says that writing the book was "in the most complicated sense a maternal act". At the Telegraph, Jane Shilling maintains that, "despite the flaws of structure noted above, it is not journalism, but a serious, writerly, self-critical account of what it means to feel that, despite love and hope and good intentions, you have failed as a parent, and that the child you bore (while still eerily, painfully familiar) is lost to you."

Friday, March 13, 2009

'in our time' focuses on the library of alexandria

Yesterday's edition of Melvyn Bragg's weekly Thursday morning Radio 4 programme In Our Time was on the Library of Alexandria. It can be listened to or downloaded as a podcast via the programme website.

The blurb on the website says: Had the library at Alexandria not existed, it would have been invented by one of the many stories housed within its walls. It is a building of legendary status, a library built to contain all the knowledge of all the world on rank upon rank of Egyptian papyri. Others were not so impressed. Timon of Phlius evoked the spirit of the place in his remark that ‘in populous Egypt many cloistered bookworms are fed, arguing endlessly in the chicken coop of the Muses’.Whatever your view of it, the legacy of the library is with us today, not just in the ideas it stored and the ideas it seeded but also in the way it organised knowledge and the tools developed for dealing with it. It still influences the things we know and the way we know them to this day.
Simon Goldhill, Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge
Matthew Nicholls, Lecturer in Classics at the University of Reading
Serafina Cuomo, Reader in Roman History at Birkbeck College, University of London

In the e-mail circulated to subscribers after the programme, Melvyn Bragg writes:

Oh dear! I missed out a topic which would have been of the keenest possible interest to In Our Time listeners. The great library at Alexandria was noted for many famous things and lasted for centuries and had no small part in changing the world. But, for many of you, I think that, (the excessive use of commas will be justified in a moment) it was there that Punctuation was invented. Punctuation, accentuation, sentences, paragraphs – the whole box of tricks. I had circled it several times in the notes. I had transferred it to the main body of the questions. I was ready for it. And, for reasons which I cannot understand, I hopped over it. I also hopped over philology, but that, I presume, is more excusable.
The other thing I’d like to point out is that when Simon Goldhill said that without the library of Alexandria we would not have had the Renaissance in Europe, he is right of course, but, as In Our Time has tried to demonstrate on many occasions, the knowledge went through the brilliant translators of the Arab world and in fact, in one sense, the first great inheritors of the library at Alexandria were the scholars of Baghdad.
After the programme I went to the Royal Society for a meeting on the upcoming celebrations to mark 350 years of this most extraordinary institution. The reach of the Royal Society is staggering and celebrations will occur in China, Malaysia, Australia, America, all over Europe, the UK, most intensively in every city of the UK itself.
Martin Rees was in fine form at the Royal Society. By which I mean, specifically, he questioned whether I had really and properly got to the core of the measurement problem last week. He was unstinting in his admiration for the contributors and therefore, without doubt from this mildest mannered of brilliant men, I was the culprit! I’d thought as much and it was bracing to have it so charmingly confirmed.
After the meeting I went for a walk through St James’s Park. The lake has been dredged and various machines are scraping the bottom. It’s a very shallow pond and seems incapable of supporting the immense number and variety of birds that we see there. A few forlorn pelicans bore the brunt of the photography on the little remaining island of water opposite Horse Guards Parade.
The park, yet again, was full of herds of extremely well-behaved French children sitting on benches, eating. There seems to be a perpetual competition for how many young French schoolchildren can occupy one bench in St James’s Park.
There is something so attractive about the names that came up while reading about the library at Alexandria. I remember that Marlowe was seduced by the names that he came across in Tamburlaine and relished them. But what a parade we have here: Philo of Byzantium, Galen of Pergamum, Apollonius of Rhodes, Theocritus of Syracuse, Demetrius of Phaleron and Callimachus of Cyrene. Callimachus wrote ‘mega biblion, mega kakon’, meaning a big book is a big evil, and then proceeded to write 120 volumes cataloguing the collection at Alexandria.
I suppose we have our great names too – Richard the Lionheart, and our Dukes of… and Duchesses of… and Princes of… and perhaps I am taken by the antiquity and the learning involved in these names from the past.
And so to the rest of the day, which always needs to be re-geared after In Our Time. Somehow, there is a part of me that thinks at quarter-to-ten on Thursday morning, quite a bit of the day’s work is done.
Best wishes
Melvyn Bragg

The New Library of Alexandria

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

poetry animations channel on youtube

The 'poetry animations' site on YouTube has been growing rapidly, and now numbers 285 videos. The man behind the channel, Jim Clark, writes on the site: "Thankyou for visiting this channel dedicated to Virtual Animated movies of great poets reincarnated through the wonders of computer animation reading their best loved poems and presented in the style of old scratchy movies.I hope some of you may share my enjoyment in viewing these, if so please remember to take a few moments and leave me your kind feedback and rating."

The effects are variable, and facial distortions inevitable as the animations attempts to match movement to words; eg the virtual Dylan Thomas tends to look distractingly rubbery-faced. In many cases the poems are, for obvious reasons, not read by the poets themselves.
Four sample videos: W B Yeats "virtually" reads To Ireland in The Coming Times, Dylan Thomas reads Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night, Emily Dickinson reads My life closed twice before its close, and T S Eliot reads The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Maybe the current blocking of "premium" UK music videos on YouTube due to the dispute over fees will encourage UK users to explore other types of YouTube videos, including poetry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

religous police and censorship cause discontent at riyadh book fair

Three Saudi writers have demanded a public apology from the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai'a), Saudi Gazette reports, after agents of the Hai'a prevented a Saudi woman writer, Haleema Muthaffar, signing copies for them of her new book. The report reflects the growing willingness of Saudi individuals and the media to challenge the often overbearing, and sometimes vicious, behaviour of the Commission's mutaween.

Blogger Saudiwoman also comments on the behaviour of the Hai'a agents at the fair. She writes: "Everywhere you turn, there’s either an official muttawa from the vice cops or police. I wanted to stand in the middle and shout at the top of my lungs IT’S A BOOK FAIR NOT WOODSTOCK!"

The three writers who had a run-in with the Hai'a are Abdul Khal, Abdullah al-Thabet and Me'jeb Al-Zahrani, who say the bad treatment they received from the Hai'a agents put them in an awkward position. Khal said the writers had not even approached Haleema themselves, but had asked security guards at the fair to get her book signed for them. Al-Thabet said: "The fact that we attempted to greet a woman writer from a distance is not justification for accosting us in front of everyone and taking us to the Hai'a center." Al-Zahrani siad that the agents verbally abused Al-Thabet. "We are over 50-years-old, and when we went to the Hai'a center, we met a person who started lecturing us and giving us advice as if we had done something wrong."

Saudi Gazette reports that visitors to the fair complained not only about the treatment of the three writers, but also about the high prices of foreign books and the absence of books by Abdul-Rahman Badawi and Amin Maalouf. The newspaper had earlier reported that 100 books had been banned from the fair. "Some books were banned for religious and moral reasons, and some for not conforming to public taste,” said Yousef Al-Yousef, director of the Ministry of Information and Culture's publications administration.“Twenty-five people representing a range of specialties took part in the identification and removal of books. Some publishers also left out some publications at their own discretion.”

He added, somewhat redundantly: “All the participants in the event recognize that the censorship ceiling is particularly high.”

The pioneering Saudi blogger Saudi Jeans has a useful overview of the fair, which runs until 13th March. And a dispatch from AP puts the fair within the context of a rise in cultural events in Saudi Arabia, and gives further details of the Haleema Muthaffar fuss. "When word spread that Brazil was going to be the guest of honor at the Riyadh International Book Fair, a Saudi official had to reassure the public that the Brazilians wouldn't be dancing the Samba at the 11-day event that opened recently", AP journalist Donna Abu-Nasr writes.

Brazil and Saudi Arabia share a passion for football,and football was a particular focus of Brazil's guesting at the fair.

faber's philip larkin cd 'the sunday sessions'

The London publisher Faber and Faber has enjoyed a long association with the work of poet Philip Larkin, and has published a dozen or so of his books including poetry collections, novels, All What Jazz: A Record Library, Required Writing, and Further Requirements. It has also published books such as Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940-1985 edited by Anthony Thwaite, Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life, B C Bloomfield's Philip Larkin: A Bibliography 1933-1976 and Ben Brown's play Larkin with Women.

Now Faber has issued a CD - the Sunday sessions: Philip Larkin reading his poetry - which consists of Larkin's reading of 26 poems which were recorded by sound engineer and Hull colleague John Weeks on two tapes in February 1980 but which lay undiscovered for more than a quarter of a century. The recordings created a stir in newspapers including The Guardian when news broke in February 2006 of their discovery in the garage in which they were recorded (some reports wrongly stated they had been found in an attic). In March 2008 poet Paul Farley presented a BBC Radio Four programme on the tapes, in the Archive Hour slot, as previewed in the Times. Contributors to the broadcast included Larkin's biographer Andrew Motion, writer John Banville, friend Jean Hartley (who with her husband George was an early publisher of Hartley's work) and actress Jill Balcon.

Robert McCrum writes warmly of the Larkin CD in a posting entitled 'how audiobooks have changed the future' on the Guardian's books blog. Describing the CD as a "little jewel" he says that Larkin is "a revelation, almost animated, and decidedly relaxed (after a good lunch perhaps?) Gone is the middle-aaged man in the dirty mac and the pebble glasses. Instead we get an ironic boulevardier, parodying the English upper-class in 'Vers de Societe' and mimicking his landlady with saucy precision in 'Mr Bleaney'." All in all "there's nothing lugubrious or 'Larkinesque' here. He sounds much younger than his nearly 60 years."

It is a shame though that Faber has been sloppy in its production of the CD. Particularly given that Faber is publisher of Larkin's poetry it is extraordinary that it has allowed a misspelling of a title to creep into the sleeve notes. Larkin was passionate about jazz (0f a certain era), which he reviewed for the Daily Telegraph for a decade from 1961, and paid tribute to one of his favourite musicians in 'For Sidney Bechet' which the penultimate stanza of which is:

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes. My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood.

Unfortunately Faber has the title of the poem as 'For Sydney Bechet'.

Monday, March 09, 2009

prof may seikaly interviewed on palestinian women's oral histories

An Al Jazeera Everywoman interview of May 2008 with Palestinian professor May Seikaly of Wayne State University who has collected hundreds of stories from Palestinian women over the past 20 years. She speaks of the importance of oral history in recording the voices of those whose history is not written and whose suffering is untold. She has more recently carried out an oral history project on Gulf women, who displayed very varied reactions to the rapid developments in their countries. (As a bonus the programme includes a separate item on a doula, ie birth assistant or companion).

'this week in palestine' profiles reem kelani

Reem Kelani performs with the Turkish clarinettist Selim Sesler at the Babylon Club in Istanbul.
credit: Sahan Nuhoglu

The latest issue of This Week in Palestine has a profile of the Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani. To mark International Women's Day on 8 March, the issue focuses on Palestinian women.

some excerpts from 'Reem Kelani: A Sprinting Gazelle '

When the Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster Reem Kelani took to the podium in London’s Trafalgar Square on 17 January to address a rally of tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting over Israel’s Gaza offensive, she first paid tribute to the women she calls the “Palestinian big mamas”. Clad in an embroidered costume she declared: “I am wearing the traditional Palestinian dress in honour of every Palestinian mother - the wonderful Big Mamas.”

...The twin themes of Palestinian women and of Palestinian cultural and national identity have been interwoven throughout Kelani’s singing career. She dedicated her debut album “Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora” to her late mother Yusra Zu’bi and “to all the ‘Big Mamas’ who taught me to sing and to belong.” Some of her most joyful musical experiences took place in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon when she was researching music among women.

...Reviewers sometimes compare the power, soulfulness and range of Kelani’s voice to that of black American singers such as Bessie Smith. Kelani was born in 1963 in the northern English city of Manchester and grew up in Kuwait. Her interest in Palestinian music was ignited when at the age of 13 she attended a wedding in the village of Nein near Nazareth and was captivated by the singing and dancing of the women. Kelani returned to Britain in 1989 to do an MSc in Biological Sciences at King’s College, London University. But the pull of music proved too strong to resist, and she left her studies in order to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer and musician.

... In the twenty years since then she has built up a remarkably successful and varied career, and she has a high musical profile... As an independent Palestinian musician, Kelani faced particular challenges in issuing her first CD. “Sprinting Gazelle” did not appear until 2006, on the small private Fuse label. The CD was widely reviewed, and received much critical acclaim in both the non-Arab and Arab worlds. Its ten songs take the listener on a 74-minute odyssey through the Palestinian experience from the 19th century onwards. ...Kelani is now working on her second CD, featuring the work of Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923). She identifies with his “humanitarian, universal and politically non-compromising” approach and says: “As a Palestinian in exile at the turn of the 21st century, I relate to Sayyid Darwish at the turn of the 20th century. And like him I am torn between my music and my faith.”

... Kelani has pushed the boundaries of her Palestinian music ever wider, working with singers and musicians from different traditions. One such venture, the “From Palestine to Portugal Project” with the fado singer Liana, fuses Palestinian and Portuguese poetry and music. “We spent six months researching songs and rehearsing,” says Kelani. The project was premiered last October at the Musicport Festival in Bridlington, northern England. A collaboration with the Gaelic singer Catriona Watt resulted from a Radio Scotland interview. The presenter “asked me to play some of my field recordings of Palestinian women and instantly noticed the connections with the Scottish Big Mamas - through the songs they sing while beating newly-woven tweed.”
... An appearance with the legendary Turkish clarinettist Selim Sesler came about when Kelani was invited to Turkey in November for a cultural programme organised by the British Council. The programme included a performance by Kelani at the famous Babylon Club accompanied by British and Turkish musicians including Sesler himself.
...Kelani believes that "our mission as Palestinian artists and musicians is to establish our existence and not our victimhood. By researching our oral and musical traditions, we show that our art is ’actionary’ and not just ’reactionary’. We have always been there. With all the suffering inflicted upon us, we are hurt, we are injured, but we are not victims. We feel the pain, we acknowledge it, and then we carry on with our life and our struggle."
Susannah Tarbush

auc press publishes 'tales from dayrut' in english

Tales from Dayrut: Feudalism, folklore and fantasy
Susannah Tarbush

In Egyptian writer Mohamed Mustagab’s short story “Bughayli Bridge”, a police officer goes to a village in Upper Egypt to investigate a murder. After he is tipped off that the murderer has thrown the murder weapon, a cleaver, into the Dayruti canal under the Bughayli Bridge he brings a diver to explore the canal.

The diver brings up a bloodstained bag and an endless succession of body parts and skeletons. The villagers speculate over the identity of the human remains and some join the diver in his combing of the canal. “An elderly man came and requested that they search for his five children”.

All becomes chaos, and finally the bridge gives way and spectators tumble into the water. “The water of the canal filled with wheat stalks, turmoil, sycomore-fig branches, divers, peasant caps, arms, legs, timbers from the boat, and weeds from the bottom of the bridge. The spume scattered by the raging waves took on a bloody colour, like that of wisdom.”

The story lays bare the violent feud-ridden history of the village. It shows Mustagab’s surreal imagination, forthright language and characteristic narrative style teeming with characters and incidents, by turns hilarious and horrifying.

The English translation of “Bughayli Bridge” appears in the first anthology of Mustagab’s work to appear in English: “Tales from Dayrut” published recently by the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press.

Different Egyptian writers in translation have brought English-reading audiences different visions of Egypt; we have the Cairo of Naguib Mahfouz, the Alexandria of Edwar Kharrat, the Bedouin society of Miral al-Tahawy, the Damanhour of Khairy Shalaby. Mohamed Mustagab transports the reader to the strange, distinctive world of rural Upper Egypt with its poverty, superstition, vendettas, honor killings, rumors and folklore.

Mustagab was born in 1938 in the Upper Egyptian town of Dayrut al-Sharif. Although he had little formal education, he eventually became director general of the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo. He published his first short story in al-Hilal magazine in 1968 and was subsequently a prolific writer for that magazine and other publications including al-Musawwar magazine.

He won several literary prizes over the years. His novella “The Secret History of Nu’man Abd al-Hafiz” won the State Incentive Prize in 1984, and AUC Press notes that it was chosen as one of the top hundred novels from the Arab world in the last century. He was posthumously awarded a State Merit Award in 2006, the year after his death.

“Tales from Dayrut” consists of fourteen connected stories from his collection “Dayrut al-Sharif”, plus “From the Secret History of Nu’man Abd al-Hafiz”. In his vigorous translation, Humphrey Davies captures Mustagab’s rollicking style and vivid descriptive powers.

Davies was in 2006 the first winner of the annual Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his rendering of Lebanese author Elias Khoury’s novel “Gate of the Sun”. His translations for AUC Press include Alaa Al Aswany’s “The Yacoubian Builidng”, Naguib Mahfouz’s “Thebes at War”, Ahmed Alaidy’s “Being Abbas el Abd” and Gamal al-Ghitani’s “Pyramid Texts” and “The Mahfouz Dialogs”. He recently translated Egyptian writer Bahaa Taher’s novel “Sunset Oasis”, which was the inaugural winner in 2008 of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). The translation is due to be published in the UK in September by the Hodder & Stoughton imprint Spectre.

Before the publication of “Tales from Dayrut”, little of Mustagab’s work had appeared in English. The Egyptian scholar Mona Zaki, who did her doctorate at Princeton University, had however brought some of his writing to pages of Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature.

The Autumn 2001 issue of Banipal carried Zaki’s translations of two of Mustagab’s stories: “The Exit” (from the collection “Huzn Yumeelu lil-Mumazaha”) and “Hulagu” (from “Dayrut al-Sharif”) . Zaki’s translation of “Hulagu” was also included in Banipal Books’ 2005 anthology of short stories from North Africa, “Sardines and Oranges”. Humphrey Davies’ translation of the same story appears in “Tales from Dayrut”.

The Spring 2006 issue of Banipal marked Mustagab’s death the previous summer through publication of Zaki’s translations of his short story “The Hired Killer” and of his true account “Ola the Hit Man”.

The narrator of “A Woman”, one of the stories in “Tales from Dayrut”, tells us that “every village has a hired killer who takes care of it and is taken care of by it.” In an alarmingly matter-of-fact manner the men of the village agree to hire Mr A to kill Mrs N, an alluring woman about whom there are rumors.

“We knew when to expect that killings would take place in our village – in the morning, at dawn, or a little after the evening prayer – and were capable of discussing the murderer’s wages and the method he would use to dispatch his victim – a knife, burning, poison, strangulation using the hands or a palm-fiber rope, or smothering with the bedclothes.” Mr A is expected to strangle Mrs N, but she throws him out of the window, and stands on the roof of her house “steadfast, proud, and completely naked, looking at us with a smile of contempt.”

In “The Edge of the Day” Mustagab builds up through precise details a picture of a village and its people and wildlife towards sunset. The ominous hush is broken by fatal shots. In “The Battle of the Camel” clans gather and besiege the house of man, killing his children and butchering the man.

The villagers in “The Offering” lose the power of speech. They overcome this first through sign language and then develop a special form of clapping which makes them much in demand at weddings in other villages.

The novella “From the Secret History of Nu’man Abd al-Hafiz” is an entertaining account of Nu’man’s childhood and youth , complete with footnotes. Nu’man was born to a woman who sold salted fish on the banks of the Bahr Yusuf canal. As the novella’s first sentence states: “No one in this world can pinpoint the year in which Nu’man was born”.The narrative is full of digressions and references as disparate as Albert Camus, Islamic history, family dramas and the clock Harun al Rashid presented to Charlemagne.

Saudi Gazette 9 March 2009

the national of abu dhabi publishes ipaf shortlisted authors in english

Yesterday's issue of the Abu Dhabi-based English language daily The National came with a free booklet containing excerpts in English translation of the six novels shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, popularly dubbed the "Arab Booker". The booklet includes the Arabic originals of the extracts. This is a helpful initiative; one of the frustrations in trying to cover the announcement of the shortlist at a high-profile event in London's South Bank cultural complex last December was that those who are not fluent readers of Arabic were unable to access some of the the content of the novels via translation, and could only resort to the potted versions given in the press packs and to the comments made by the judges in their panel presentation (largely in Arabic - and the simultaneous tranlsation was not wholly satisfactory).

IPAF was established in Abu Dhabi in April 2007 with funding from the Emirates Foundation and support from the Booker Prize Foundation, which administers Britain’s leading fiction prize, the Man Booker. The winner is due to be announced in Abu Dhabi on 16 March, shortly before the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. In addition to the $50,000 prize, the winner receives the $10,000 that goes to each of the shortlisted authors.

The six shortlisted authors are: Jordanian-Palestinian poet and novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah, for Time of White Horses published by Arab Scientific Publishers of Beirut; Egyptians Muhammad Al-Bisatie for Hunger (Dar al-Adab) and Yusuf Zaydan for Beelzebub (Dar al Shorouk); Syrian Fawwaz Haddad for The Unfaithful Translator (Riad el Rayyes, Beirut); Iraqi journalist Inaam Kachahi (the only woman shortlisted) for The American Granddaughter (Al Jadid, Beirut), and Tunisian Al-Habib Al-Salmi for The Scents of Marie-Claire (Dar Al Adab).
One of IPAF’s main aims is to encourage the translation of Arabic fiction into English. The English translation of Bahaa Taher's “Sunset Oasis”, the first-ever IPAF winner in 2008, has been executed by the awared-winning translator Humphrey Davies, with funding by the philanthropist and publisher Sigrid Rausing. It is due to be published in the UK by the Hodder & Stoughton imprint Spectre in early September. The other five novels shortlisted in 2008 have been, or are being, translated into English and other languages.

The five judges, chaired bythe Lebanese critic and scholar Youman el-Eid, read 121 books to arrive at their 16-book longlist announced on November 11 from which the shortlist was subsequently selected. El-Eid’s co-judges are the Egyptian scholar Rasheed El Enany, Professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Director of Arab Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, England (his book Mahfouz: Life and Times was published in paperback by Haus last year); the Emirati writer, journalist and head of the Dubai Cultural Council Mohammad al-Murr; the Palestinian-Jordanian critic, journalist and author Fakhri Saleh, and the German translator of Arabic literature Hartmut Faehndrich.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

mini-film on gaza by animator of 'waltz with bashir'

The 90-second Gaza movie Closed Zone , made by the animation director of Waltz with Bashir Yoni Goodman, has been causing uproar in some circles. The Jerusalem Post cites Yariv Ben-Eliezer - director of media studies at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya - as saying the film is an "ugly disgusting piece of work".

Goodman is harshly criticial of Israel's Gaza offensive, telling the Post: "I'm very much against the Israeli blockade policy, and the last war was just a mistake. Anti-Semitism is up, Israel is seen as the aggressor around the world, and at the end of the day we didn't achieve anything."

The film was commissioned by Israeli human rights group Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. It portrays the life of a boy in Gaza in order to highlight the suffering of civilians in Gaza. The boy tries to follow a blue bird, a symbol of freedom. He is hemmed in by gigantic hands. Ben-Eliezer told the Jerusalem Post: "You have to be equally sensitive to the kids in the South of Israel being bombed every day by Hamas. He should get an award from [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad for this work."

Goodman told the newspaper: "I hate Hamas. They're out to kill us. Of course they are my enemies. I feel sorry for the Palestinian citizens who want to live their lives." He added that there should be a solution that doesn't involve violence or the sacrifice of innocent people.
"People don't like to hear that Palestinians are real people. People prefer to think of them as evil, that they're all Hamas," Goodman said. "It's easier to say, 'let's punish them, let's kill them all.' It's a lot harder to regard them as ordinary people who want peace."

A second video posted on YouTube tells of the making and aims of the mini-film.

Waltz with Bashir itself has been coming in for some criticism recently. Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz: "It deserves an Oscar for the illustrations and animation - but a badge of shame for its message. It was not by accident that when he won the Golden Globe, Folman didn't even mention the war in Gaza, which was raging as he accepted the prestigious award. The images coming out of Gaza that day looked remarkably like those in Folman's film. But he was silent."
MERIP (Middle East Report)
has a probing review of the film by Ursula Lindsey. The Angry Arab News Service blog of As'ad Abu Khalil published a long (and angry) critique of the film.