Sunday, April 27, 2014

Libyan writer Ahmed Fagih's 'Maps of the Soul' published in English

Darf Publishers of London has published what may well turn out to be the longest Arabic work of fiction to appear in a single volume in English translation this year: Libyan author Ahmed Fagih's 613-page Maps of the Soul. The volume is the first three books of Fagih's 12-novel sequence of historical fiction, which bears the same title as the Darf trilogy. The entire 12-book sequence - which runs to more than 3,000 pages - was published as single volumes in Arabic in 2009 by Darf in Libya and al-Kayyal in Beirut. The three volumes in Darf's translated Maps of the Soul are Bread of the City, Sinful Pleasures and Naked Runs the Soul

The trilogy went through quite an odyssey of translation before this final version was reached. The contents pages credit Thoraya Allam and Brian Loo with the initial translation, revised and edited by the Libyan writer, surgeon and blogger Ghazi Gheblawi. On the trilogy's final page Fagih thanks Graeme Estry and Ghazi Gheblawi for their efforts in editing and translation. 

Ahmed Fagih

Fagih was born in the  Libyan village of Mizdah in 1942 and since the mid-1960s he has written numerous novels, short stories and plays. Maps of the Soul is the first of his works to be published in English translation by a UK publisher since Quartet Books published the well-received novel Homeless Rats in 2011. Like that novel Maps of the City shows Fagih's talent as a storyteller and his interest in writing in fictional form on aspects of Libyan history and life which are not much known to the wider world.

Maps of the Soul traces the fortunes of Othman al-Sheikh after scandal forces him to leave his desert village of Awlad Al Sheikh hidden in a coal lorry heading for Tripoli. Under the Italian occupation Tripoli is being transformed into an Italian city in which Othman uses his wits and charm to try to improve his prospects, with varying results. The trilogy gives a rich, multilayered portrait of Tripoli under the Italians, and of relations between the colonisers and the indigenous Libyans.  

As Darf Publishing puts it: "Othman falls for the city and its temptations, and with a natural instinct for survival, he perseveres on chance and opportunity. Maps of the Soul takes us in a journey into a different Libya, a country that has emerged from resistance wars in the early 1930’s, where the charismatic Italian colonialist Italo Balbo envisioned a new Rome for the fascist dream on what was named The Fourth Shore. It is a story of painful survival in the face of defeated dreams."

 In an interview with this blog in October 2012 Fagih said that he sees the 12 volume sequence of novels as a series of four trilogies "which deal with the life and soul of Othman Habashy through his ups and downs." One noticeable feature of the first trilogy is the use throughout of the second person "you". Fagih says that over the 12 volumes he uses a variety of viewpoints including "third person, first person, second person and the all-knowing, god-like authority."

Fagih hopes that publication of Maps of the Soul will encourage translation and publication in English of the other three trilogies. The second trilogy is "a trilogy of war, set during the Italian campaign to take over Ethiopia - the second Italo-Abyssinian war - connected in its last part with World War 2 in the Western Desert where Othman is transferred and fights with the Italians. He later fights with the British against the Italians: this is a historic fact, with many Italians changing sides and giving themselves up during the fighting with the Italians and returning to fight them with a Libyan regiment, helping liberate Libya under the British Army".

The third trilogy "deals mostly with the birth of independent Libya, the birth of a nation." With Libya liberated from the Italians and now under British rule "Othman returns to Tripoli, this time as an officer in a position of power as head of the police. This part of the novel depicts Libya under British mandate and Libyans preparing to get their independence."

 The fourth, final, trilogy "takes place in the desert. The country of nomads is depicted with all its multi-colours and flavours and desert traditions, and power structure, arts and folklore, bad and good and ugly and beautiful guys. Othman has been accused of breaking the law in pursuing his duties and feels that the colonial rulers are trying to make a scapegoat of him, so he flees the capital and takes refuge in the desert. It is a period of rehabilitation, of purifying himself in the solitude of the desert, becoming almost a holy man." 

shining a light on the short stories of Kuwaiti writer Mai Al-Nakib

Kuwaiti author Mai al-Nakib's beautifully accomplished first collection of short stories, The Hidden Light of Objects, was published recently by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. Al-Nakib, born in Kuwait in 1970, has a PhD in English Literature from Brown University in the USA. She lives in Kuwait where she teaches postcolonial studies and comparative literature at Kuwait University. Al-Nakib is currently writing her first novel.

Susannah Tarbush interviewed Mai Al-Nakib

Your collection gives a wonderfully cosmopolitan portrayal of the Kuwait in which the stories are set, and of links with other countries in the Arab world and beyond. Could you please say a bit more than there is in the book jacket about your family background?

Although I was born in Kuwait, I was just a few months old when I was whisked away to London, then Edinburgh, then St. Louis, Missouri, by my parents who, like many of their generation, were gaining knowledge and expertise abroad in order to return to help develop their young nation-state. We did not return to Kuwait until I was six, which meant that my first language was English. And once back in Kuwait, this did not change as much as you might imagine. My parents enrolled me in the American School of Kuwait (ASK)—this at a time when it was exceedingly rare, even slightly untoward, for girls whose parents were both Kuwaiti to attend international schools. But my mother staunchly believed in the benefits of an American system of education and so she insisted (not to my father, who was always on her side), but to concerned friends and family, that her girls would go to ASK, even if it was socially exceptional.

So English was and remains, quite literally, my mother tongue. In fact, it was my mother’s own first language too. Like many merchant families in Kuwait, her family had settled in India. Like me, my mother was born in Kuwait and was soon after relocated to India, where she attended a British mission school. She, like most of her family, was also fluent in Hindi, something she passed down to me and my sisters. My father’s side of the family traces its own intricate map across the region with points in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and, of course, Kuwait. His particular linguistic trail shifts from Arabic to German and Latin, followed by English. Between them, my parents configure a complicated constellation of places and languages, a cosmopolitan chart that has, needless to say, informed my perspective on the world.
Mai Al-Nakib signs copies of her collection at its Kuwait launch

But it is not a perspective unique to me. It is, I am convinced, a point of view common to many in Kuwait because of its historical cosmopolitanism. Both as a thriving commercial port town since the 1700s and as an emerging nation-state in the first half of the twentieth century, Kuwait and its population tended to be globally interactive, developing an outward-looking, generally tolerant sensibility. In the 1970s, it was a sensibility that still dominated my parents’ generation—taught as they were mainly by Palestinian teachers in Kuwait, then educated abroad, then, in their prime, back to build the country according to the exciting range of images collated along the way.

Furthermore, it was a sensibility passed on to their children, the generation of us coming of age in the 1980s. As evident on the streets of Salmiya or Hawalli or among the student body at ASK or even government schools, the texture of our community was decidedly varied and complex and, for the most part, harmonious. For example, up until 1990, Palestinians in Kuwait made up about eighteen percent of the population. This community, in Kuwait starting from at least the 1940s, played an indispensable role in helping to develop the country as a modern state and was well integrated early on. Their presence, as well as that of other nationalities from all over the world, contributed to Kuwait’s rich cosmopolitanism. Sadly, and for a variety of knotty reasons, I’d say this pluralistic perspective and way of life has been on the decline since the early 1980s.

Mai Al-Nakib at the Kuwait launch of The Hidden Light of Objects

The stories in The Hidden Light of Objects are written with a high degree of skill and have a distinctive poetic and economical style, and a touch that is light yet moving. When did you start writing short stories? Did you study creative writing during eg university studies, and do you teach it?

Although in one way or another I’ve been writing my whole life, it wasn’t until I completed my graduate work and started teaching at Kuwait University that my focus shifted to fiction. I studied English literature at Brown University, with a special focus on postcolonial studies and modernism. I did not study creative writing, nor do I teach it. I teach graduate and undergraduate courses mainly in postcolonial studies and comparative literature. I learned to write by being a voracious reader.

You write in a remarkably fresh way about the lives of young people and uninhibitedly depict their passions. When were these stories written and how do you find the experience of writing about children and young adults? How do you manage to recreate their world so effectively? 

These stories were written long after my own experience of young adulthood!  But the experience of childhood and adolescence is something that has always appealed to me, in books and, especially, in film.  In his remarkable collection of vignettes, titled Berlin Childhood around 1900, German cultural critic Walter Benjamin revisits the world of his childhood at the turn of the last century by presenting to his readers a series of seemingly ordinary objects and experiences—from a sock and sewing box to a carousel ride and butterfly hunt.  As Benjamin well recognized, the world of childhood is socially irretrievable—there is, in other words, no going back, not for the child, nor for the society into which that child happened to be born.

Walter Benjamin's Berlin Childhood around 1900

Paradoxically, remembering these ephemeral moments of childhood (whether in criticism, as Benjamin does, or in fiction or film) becomes a way to look forward. Recapturing the past—making it visible to those who may have experienced something similar and forgotten about it or even to those completely unfamiliar with a given era or locale—allows us to reconsider what the present might have been and what the future might still become.

For the Jewish Benjamin, whose present was dominated by the catastrophe of Hitler and World War II, the exigency of an alternative future to the one unfolding before him was no trivial matter.  In the remnants of his childhood he hoped to decipher the possibility of a better future for Europe, if not for himself.  In my own emphasis on childhood and adolescence in my stories, I attempt something similar in the context of the Middle East:  to remember a version of the past different from the one offered up by the various orthodoxies dominating the region post 9/11 and to imagine a future other than the one being assumed.
I read your story “The Year of Selma” in the Summer 2011 issue of The First Line  after following your Facebook link to it, and I saw its connection with the stories in your collection. Before publication of The Hidden Light of Objects had you had other stories published, whether in eg a collection, anthology or online? Do you think it is true that, as is often said, it is harder to get a book of stories published than a novel? 

I only had two stories published before The Hidden Light of Objects: “The Year of Selma” in The First Line and a slightly different version of “Chinese Apples” in Ninth Letter. Both literary journals are based in the US and are print rather than electronic. Publishing stories is no easy task—every accepted story is normally preceded by many rejections.

To be honest, because I work as a full-time professor, I didn’t have the time to keep sending work out systematically, which is what needs to be done. I decided instead to focus on completing what, after the third or fourth story, I knew would be a loosely linked collection. When I felt I had a finished draft, I submitted a query letter and sample to Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, which I believed would be a good fit for me and which at the time was accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I think I made the decision to wait and submit a collection on some kind of odd faith, since I do believe it is harder for a book of short stories to get published than it is for a novel. Of course, this is not to say that short story collections don’t succeed with readers. Great writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Nathan Englander, and Alice Munro, among others, provide evidence to the contrary.
Mai Al-Nakib

Your collection made me feel that the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War are somehow remembered less by the wider world than say the 2003 invasion of Iraq. My memory was jogged by references in your stories to for example abductions, fatal lung disease, fish dying en masse. Yet the events of 1990/91 had profound consequences for those living through them, as is reflected in your stories. Do you see the events as having a continuing effect? 

I think of the 1991 Gulf War as the forgotten war. Not only in the West or the region, but in Kuwait itself, where a generation born after the invasion remembers nothing first hand, of course, but are not taught much about it either. In some ways, I think this forgetting might not be a terrible thing since it softens the path toward normalization of relations with Iraq and with Iraqis—an extremely important thing.

 In other ways, forgetting this event that was, at least in part, the culmination of ill-conceived decisions made over the course of the previous decade, the 1980s, makes it more likely that similar mistakes happen again. Forgetting also blots out a version of Kuwait that existed up until that point (before the late 1970s or early 1980s), the version I mentioned earlier: cosmopolitan, outward-looking, generally tolerant, with a population (significantly both Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti) eager to develop an egalitarian nation-state, less self-centered, less consumed by materialism. The consequences of the invasion and post-invasion period continue to haunt the present—socially, economically, ecologically, demographically. My stories trace some of the more overlooked or subtle of these effects.

It is interesting to see the way in which you have interspersed the stories with vignettes, printed in a different typeface, which are related to the stories in various ways. Could you say something about this technique and why you chose it?

The stories in The Hidden Light of Objects are loosely linked, through language, images, characters, the trope of objects, and the series of vignettes, narrated in the first person, which precede each story. I wrote the vignettes together and, at first, thought they might stand together as a story in their own right. But once the collection was almost complete, it seemed to make more sense to introduce each story through a vignette tangentially linked to it.

That link between the vignette and its story was quite accidental. I didn’t have to change any of the vignettes to make them fit with their respective story. In fact, the stories don’t actually need the vignettes; but I felt their addition could provide a window into a specific experience and period in Kuwait—coming of age in the 1980s—that does relate to each of the other stories, even those not set in the same period or location. Their placement creates a kind of contrapuntal resonance that interests me. I think of the vignettes as an invisible wire holding the stories together or, more organically, as the collection’s connective tissue.

You are now working on your first novel. Could you tell us something about it: eg where and when it is set? How do you find the experience of writing a novel compares with writing shorter fiction? 

I can’t say much about my novel because I feel awkward discussing work in progress. What I can say is that it is set in the Middle East, India, and the United States, from the 1920s to the present. Writing a novel—despite the difficulty that always comes with writing regardless of form—is proving to be a great pleasure. I like its sprawl and openness, the feeling that there is time and space to develop geographies and characters, to live in its world for longer than the period allowed by the short story form. In some ways, poetry and short stories seem more unforgiving to me. Their concentration insists on a kind of perfection the novel does not necessarily demand. I like living in the novel’s tolerance of imperfection.

Friday, April 25, 2014

issue #3 of Beirut urban journal Portal 9 focuses on fiction

Portal 9 Issue #3
With its third issue the Beirut-based journal of stories and critical writing on urbanism and the city  Portal 9 again shows its capacity to surprise and delight in terms of both presentation and content. Whereas the first two issues were each on a particular theme, the third issue focuses on a genre -  Fiction: Contemporary Arabic and Russian Pursuits

In his editorial the journal's editor-in-chief — the poet, journalist and translator Fadi Tofeili — writes: "With this, our third issue, Portal 9 begins to experiment with form. Whereas the first two issues, 'The Imagined' and 'The Square', revolved around a broad theme, 'Fiction' prompts a nuanced engagement with a literary and artistic genre that enriches the journal’s exploration of culture and urbanism.

English translation of Hassan Daoud's novella As She Once Was

He adds: "Portal 9, which is published twice yearly, will henceforth dedicate the spring issue to a theme and the autumn issue to a genre, its own shape and structure uniquely adapted to the form at hand."

 In Issue #3 "by focusing on fiction – prose, visual, or otherwise – we threw the doors wide open for experimentation with the written word and sheer imagination as we sought to do with 'The Imagined', the inaugural issue, which featured the perspectives of researchers, academics, and writers on the city. The process has been a remarkable and gratifying adventure." 

Tofeili co-founded Portal 9 with Nathalie Elmir, the journal's creative director. She brought to Portal 9 a track record as an award-winning designer of publications for Solidere - the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of the Beirut Central DistrictPortal 9 is backed by Solidere, and published by Solidere Management Services.

From its launch the journal was ground-breaking and adventurous. A bilingual publication, the English and Arabic editions of the first two issue came packaged side by side in a durable sleeve. The two language editions were not mirror-image translations of each other. Some of the articles were exclusive to the English or Arabic editions, with the translations found on the Portal 9 website. The copious photographs in the two editions were complementary rather than strictly identical.

  Hassan Daoud (L) and  Fadi Tofeili at Beirut launch of Portal 9 Issue #3

Issue #3 takes the form of two books, six booklets and a foldout, each with stylish covers of strong brown card engraved with intricate gold designs, all packed into a matching box. On one side of the box the contents are listed in Arabic, on the other in English.

The two books in the box are the Arabic original, and the English translation, of a new novella by the distinguished Lebanese fiction writer and journalist Hassan Daoud.

"We commissioned novelist Hassan Daoud to author a novella in Arabic from start to finish, oversaw the translation by Lina Mounzer of the work in tandem with its composition, and are now pleased to share with readers both the Arabic and English editions of Naqqil Fouadaka  (As She Once Was)," writes Tofeili. "All this in a matter of six record-breaking months! Collaborating with Daoud as he was structuring and writing the novella, following his progress step-by-step, truly enriched the experience."

The novella of around 150 pages is a thoroughly engaging read that blends memory and time with the cityscape of a reconstructed Beirut permeated with a pungent smell from new shops "selling outrageously expensive clothing." The 58-year-old first-person narrator Qassem hankers after his Palestinian first love Dalal Abbashi whom  he last saw in 1965.

In present-day Beirut Qassem is fascinated by three brown-skinned Asian girls whom he passes every day on his way to work. He gradually strikes up a rapport with them. The wryly humorous Qassem reflects on the pains and absurdities of ageing and how it impacts on his behaviour with women. There are expertly-observed scenes of social tension and awkardness. Qassem is working on the launch of a magazine, and the novel amusingly depicts his feeling out of place amidst his techno-savvy young colleagues from an internationally mobile generation.

Four of the booklets in #Issue 3 contain the English and Arabic versions of stories written in Russian by Irina Bogatyreva - born in 1982 in Kazan, Tatarstan - and Arslan Khasavov, born in 1988 in Turkmenistan. Khasavov's critically acclaimed  novel Sense was published in Russia and the US. Khasavov's story "Steven Seagal's Personal Assistant" was translated into English by Arch Tait and into Arabic (from English) by Carmel Badr. Irina Bogatyreva's story "Exit" was translated into English by John Freedman and into Arabic (from English) by Fadi Tofeili.

The other two booklets contain the Arabic original, and English translation by Meris Lutz, of Egyptian writer Mansoura Ez-Eldin's story "Al Siqilli Dream". The foldout is a poster of a montage of photos and text  "Robbery in Area A" by Palestinian artist Yazan Khalili. The artist explains on his website that the piece tells the story of a bank robbery that took place in the West Bank city of Ramallah a few years ago. It is based on a police report and the narrative of one of the thieves, and reveals how the thieves were able to use their reading of the geopolitical conditions to get away with the robbery.

the Arabic translation of Irina Bogatyreva's story "Exit"

The choice of contemporary Russian authors is an interesting one. It is true that the Russian literature scene in English translation in the West is still dominated by the 19th century giants of Russian literature. As Tofeili puts it: "A kind of historical amnesia has perpetuated the hegemony of international Russian classics by the likes of Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, and Tolstoy, and this is at the expense of the new, post-Soviet Russia." But in the Arab world "we have become more insistent on reading and learning about contemporary Russia, particularly in light of the convergence of our sociopolitical circumstances." 

Similarly, when Russia was the Market Focus of the London Book Fair in 2011, with more than 70 publishers and 50 writers, British audiences became aware of how much contemporary Russian literature is out there waiting to be explored.

a section of the fold-out poster text and picture story Robbery in Area A by Yazan Khalili 

Portal 9's talent for stimulating literary creativity is shown not only by its commissioning the new novella from Hassan Daoud but also by also by Mansoura Ez-Eldin's expanding of her Issue #3 story "Al Siqilli Dream" into a full-length novel. Like her story, the novel features Cairene urban planner Adam Khalifa,  an obsessive admirer of the Fatimid commander and founder of Cairo Jawhar Al Siqilli.  Khalifa dreams of building another version of Al Siqilli's Cairo.

Mansoura Ez-Eldin

report by Susannah Tarbush

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

shortlist of 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing announced

Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka announces Caine shortlist 
Jackie Kay MBE (photo credit Denise Else)
“Compelling, lyrical, thought-provoking and engaging." This is how the chair of the judges of the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing Jackie Kay MBE summed up this year's five-story shortlist, which was unveiled yesterday . The shortlisted authors are Billy Kahora and Okwiri Oduor (both of Kenya); Diane Awerbuck (South Africa); Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe) and Efemia Chela (Ghana-Zambia). Kahora was previously shortlisted for the Prize in 2012. As so often in previous years, no authors from North Africa feature on the shortlist.

 Wole Soyinka
The shortlist was announced by Nobel Prize winner and Caine Prize Patron Professor Wole Soyinka, as part of the opening ceremonies for the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The other two living African winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature - Nadine Gordimer and J M Coetzee - are also patrons of the Prize.

"From a daughter's unusual way of grieving for her father, to a memorable swim with a grandmother, a young boy's fascination with a gorilla's conversation, a dramatic faux family meeting, to a woman who is forced to sell her eggs, the subjects are as diverse as they are entertaining,” said Jackie Kay, the award-winning Nigerian-Scottish poet and author.

Diane Awerbuck (South Africa) shortlisted for "Phosphorescence"
Diane Awerbuck is shortlisted for "Phosphorescence" from her short-story collection  Cabin Fever (Umuzi, Cape Town. 2011);  Efemia Chela for "Chicken" from the anthology Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013); Tendai Huchu for "The Intervention" in the quarterly Open Road Review, issue 7, New Delhi. 2013; Billy Kahora for  "The Gorilla's Apprentice" from Granta magazine (London. 2010);  and Okwiri Oduor for "My Father's Head" from Feast, Famine and Potluck.  For the first time an audio version of a shortlisted story is available: Tendai Huchu’s "The Intervention" on Open Road Review. The Caine Prize has posted PDFs and publication details of the shortlisted stories on its website.

judges 'heartened by the many gay narratives'
The Prize is awarded for a short story of 3,000-10,000 words by an African writer published in English.  An “African writer” is defined as someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or who has a parent who is African by birth or nationality. This year a record 140 qualifying stories from 17 African countries were submitted to the judges. This was  a major upturn from  2013, when there were 96 stories from 16 countries. In 2012 there were 122 stories from 14 countries, and in 2011 126 entries from 17 countries.

The judging panel found that “the standard of entries was exceptionally high, so much so that it was actually very difficult for the judges to whittle it down to a shortlist of only five stories," Kay said. "We were heartened by how many entrants were drawn to explorations of a gay narrative. What a golden age for the African short story, and how exciting to see real originality - with so many writers bringing something different to the form."

caine prize marks its 15th year
This year the Caine Prize celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. To mark this milestone, in addition to the £10,000 that will go to the winner each shortlisted writer will receive £500. The winner will be announced at the prizegiving dinner to be held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, on Monday 14 July.
Tendai Huchu, shortlisted for "The Intervention"
As in previous years the winner will have the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. The winner will also be invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September, the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi and the Ake Festival in Nigeria.

Gillian Slovo
Kay 's fellow judges are the South African-born novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, Zimbabwean journalist Percy Zvomuya, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgetown Dr Nicole Rizzuto and the Nigerian winner of the Caine Prize in 2001 Helon Habila.

As part of events around the Prize, the shortlisted writers will read from their work at the Royal Over-Seas League in London on Thursday 10 July at 7pm and at the Southbank Centre on Sunday 13 July at 5pm. On Friday 11 and Saturday 12 July they will take part in the Africa Writes Festival organised at The British Library by  ASAUK and the Royal African Society.

As always the Caine Prize events include publication of an anthology including the shortlisted stories, plus stories produced at the annual Caine Prize Workshop. The book of the 2014 prize will be launched at the award dinner in Oxford on 14 July. It is  published by New Internationalist and seven co-publishers in Africa: Jacana Media (South Africa), Cassava Republic (Nigeria), Kwani? (Kenya), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), FEMRITE (Uganda), Bookworld Publishers (Zambia) and ‘amaBooks (Zimbabwe).

last year's Caine Prize anthology: A Memory This Size and Other Stories

The Caine Prize Workshop takes place in an African country: this year it was held in Zimbabwe, from 21 March to 2 April. Writers Henrietta Rose-Innes (Caine Prize 2008 winner) and Nii Parkes were the tutors and animateurs.

Last year the Caine Prize was won by Nigerian writer Tope Folarin. He has subsequently signed up with the Lippincott Massie McQuilkin literary agency and is working on his first novel, The Proximity of Distance.

Biographies of shortlisted authors
Diane Awerbuck is the author of Gardening at Night (2003), which was awarded the Commonwealth Best First Book Award (Africa and the Caribbean) and was shortlisted for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. Her work has been published internationally and translated into a number of languages. Awerbuck develops educational materials, reviews fiction for the South African Sunday Times, and writes for Mail and Guardian’s Thoughtleader. Awerbuck’s collection of short stories, Cabin Fever, was published in 2011. Her most recent full-length work, Home Remedies, was published in 2012. Her doctoral work and non-fiction deal with trauma, narrative and the public sphere.

 Efemia Chela 
 Efemia Chela was born in Chikankata, Zambia in 1991, but grew up in England, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa. Her 2014 Caine Prize shortlisted story "Chicken" - her first published story- won third prize in the  Short Story Day Africa Prize. Efemia lives in Cape Town.

Tendai Huchu is the author of the novel The Hairdresser of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Warscapes, Wasafiri, The Africa Report, The Zimbabwean, The Open Road Review, Kwani?05, A View from Here and numerous other publications. In 2013 he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. His next novel will be The Maestro, The Magistrate, and The Mathematician.  

Billy Kahora
Billy Kahora is the managing editor of the Kenyan literary journal Kwani? and the author of The True Story of David Munyakei (2009). His writing has appeared in Granta, Kwani?, Chimurenga and Vanity Fair. His short story "Urban Zoning" was shortlisted in 2012 for the Caine Prize and in 2007 "Treadmill Love" was highly commended by the Caine Prize judges. He is working on a novel titled, The Applications and is writing a book on Juba.

Okwiri Oduor
Okwiri Oduor was born in Nairobi. Her novella The Dream Chasers was highly commended in the Commonwealth Book Prize 2012, and she is currently working on her first full-length novel. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The New Inquiry, Kwani?, Saraba, FEMRITE, and African Writing Online. She recently directed the inaugural Writivism Festival in Kampala, Uganda. She teaches creative writing to young girls at her alma mater in Nairobi, and is a 2014 MacDowell Colony fellow. She was recently named as an Africa 39 writer (see below). Her 2014 Caine Prize shortlisted story "My Father's Head" won first prize in the Short Story Day Africa Prize last September.

Africa 39 features Caine Prize authors
This is a heady year for African literature, what with the 15th anniversary of the Caine Prize, the choice of Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital, and  Africa 39 - a list of 39 African writers aged 39 or less whose work is judged of particular interest. The list was released at the London Book Fair earlier this month by the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 (PHWBC) and Hay Festival.

The Africa 39 list includes Caine Prize 2014 shortlistee Okwiri Oduor , the Nigerian 2012 winner Rotimi Babatunde, the Ugandan 2007 winner Monica Arac de Nyeko and the 2006 South African winner Mary Watson. Africa 39 also includes writers shortlisted for the Caine Prize in its 15 years, including Nigerian writing star Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (shortlisted in 2002), and the Malawian writer Stanley Onjezani Kenani (shortlisted in 2012 and 2008). The strong presence of Caine Prize writers on the Africa 39 list shows the importance of the Prize in identifying and encouraging young African writing talent.
The Africa 39 project comes after similar Hay Festival initiatives for young Arab Writers - Beirut 39 - and for writers from Latin America - Bogota 39.
 report by Susannah Tarbush, London

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BQFP wins rights to 2013 IPAF winner The Bamboo Stalk

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing wins rights to 2013 ‘Arab Booker’ winner

Saud Alsanousi

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) has reached a deal to publish the English translation of Kuwaiti author Saud Alsanousi's novel Saq al-BambooThe Bamboo Stalk - which won the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, known informally as the ‘Arab Booker’ award.) Alsanousi is the first, and so far only, Kuwaiti novelist to have won this prestigious prize, worth a total of $60,000 to the winner.

The Arabic original of the novel was published by Arab Scientific Publishers of Lebanon. It is being translated by the acclaimed British translator of Arabic literature Jonathan Wright. In January Wright was declared  joint winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation 2013, for his translation of Egyptian writer Youssef Ziedan's 2009 IPAF-winning Azazeel.

BQFP Head of English Publishing Thalia Suzuma - who recently joined the Doha-based publisher from HarperCollins UK - won the English language rights to the daring novel from the London-based Susijn Agency. The translation will be published in 2015. Susijn's website has a page dedicated to  information on the novel and its author. The translation is due to be delivered by the end of July.

The Bamboo Stalk takes an unflinching look at the phenomenon of foreign workers in Arab countries and deals with the problems of identity, race and religion through the life of a young man of dual Kuwaiti-Filipino heritage returning home to Kuwait. The Arab Times described the novel as ‘a force to be reckoned with', which 'will take the Arab world and the whole world by storm.’

 The Bamboo Stalk

Thalia Suzuma says: ‘The Bamboo Stalk is a wonderful novel – an effortless, page-turning read; emotionally compelling and powerful. The themes of displacement and mixed roots are universal and handled with an extraordinary lightness of touch.

"BQFP is delighted to be publishing this book for an English-reading audience around the world, and we are so pleased to have award-winning translator Jonathan Wright on board.’

Saud Alsanousi, born in 1981, is a Kuwaiti novelist and journalist. His work has appeared in a number of Kuwaiti publications, including Al-Watan and Al-Arabi newspapers. He currently writes for Al-Qabas newspaper.

BQFP is a partnership of Qatar Foundation and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, which was  established in October 2008 and is headquartered in the Qatari capital Doha. BQFP has four main aims: to publish books of excellence and originality in English and Arabic; to promote the love of reading and writing and help establish a vibrant literary culture in Qatar and the Middle East; to cultivate new literary talent, especially in Arabic, through events and creative writing workshops; and to achieve the transfer of knowledge and publishing related skills into Qatar. It achieves the last of these aims through regular internships, secondments and training courses in key areas of publishing, and mentoring of aspiring Qatari publishers.
Susannah Tarbush

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lord Taylor questioned on British PM David Cameron's Muslim Brotherhood review

House of Lords Tuesday 8 April 2014

 Muslim Brotherhood Question 3.01 pm 
Asked by Baroness Falkner of Margravine  (Liberal Democrat)

"To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what basis they have established an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the United Kingdom." 

 Lord Taylor of Holbeach

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach) (Conservative):
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s decision to commission a review was taken on the grounds of national interest against a backdrop of substantial recent change, particularly in the Middle East and north Africa. The review will make sure that we have a thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, its impact and influence on our national security and interests, and on stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My noble friend will be aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is a pan-Islamic organisation which takes very different forms in different countries. If the Government believe that the Brotherhood might be involved in violent extremism, why do they not use existing counterterrorism laws to prosecute it in the courts?

 Baroness Falkner of Margravine

If, on the other hand, this inquiry is being driven at the behest of Saudi Arabia to discredit the Brotherhood, I respectfully suggest to my noble friend that it is the United Kingdom’s Government and its foreign policy which risk being discredited, by portraying the Brotherhood in the eyes of its many Muslim supporters around the world as victims of a politically motivated Government acting at the behest of an authoritarian foreign power: Saudi Arabia. Can the Minister tell the House whether the results of the inquiry will be made public?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, my Answer made it quite clear that this is about the UK’s national interest and the UK Government forming their own view. The review will make sure that we have a thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, its impact and influence on our national security and other national interests, and on stability and prosperity in the Middle East. We are not talking about the view of another Government; we are talking about this Government. The review will consult widely with experts, regional Governments, the EU and US partners. The UK Government will make up their own mind.

 Lord Wright of Richmond

Lord Wright of Richmond (Crossbencher): My Lords, if press reports are correct, this review is being headed by Her Britannic Majesty’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Does this not put Sir John Jenkins in an extremely invidious position, given that the Government to whom he is accredited take every possible step, as the noble Baroness has said, to discredit and to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I cannot agree with the noble Lord, although he speaks with a great deal of authority. He will know that Sir John Jenkins has been asked to lead the review because he is one of our most senior diplomats, with extensive knowledge of the Arab world, and his role is to serve Her Majesty’s Government. He was not chosen because of his current role as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He is not working alone, and will draw on independent advice from other places.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour): My Lords, the Minister referred to a review, but the Prime Minister used the words “an investigation” or “an inquiry”, and there may be some difference. It would be helpful if we could have some information on that. Has he taken the opportunity to talk about this to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who always impresses your Lordships’ House with her knowledge of such issues?

Baroness Smith of Basildon

A report in the Financial Times says that a senior government figure reported on “tensions” between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Prime Minister’s Office on this, saying: “This cuts against what the FCO has already been doing in this area, both domestically and in the Middle East. It risks turning supporters of a moderate, non-violent organisation that campaigns for democracy into radicals”. Is there a tension at the heart of the Government, and is this a review or an investigation?

 Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Not at all, my Lords. My noble friend and I are at one on the issue.

Lord Elton (Conservative): My Lords, can my noble friend tell me and the House whether the ambassador will go on being an ambassador while he is also leading the inquiry, and if so, is there not a conflict of interest?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am sure that ways will be found whereby his duties as ambassador can be delegated where necessary. However, he has been appointed to that role as an ambassador, and will continue to undertake that role. I see no conflict of interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Wright, recognised, the diplomatic skills that Sir John Jenkins has are essential for a proper understanding of the situation.

 Lord West of Spithead

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many other reviews or investigations have been conducted in this manner into groups we have been concerned about? I cannot remember that we undertook any reviews or investigations in this manner of the groups that we were worried about during the three years that I was a Minister.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That was a decision for the previous Government. This Government have made up their own mind that they want to know more about the Muslim Brotherhood and its influence on politics and groups in this country. I hope that noble Lords will understand that this is a British review conducted by the British Government. I was asked earlier and did not give an answer—this is obviously an internal review for the Government themselves. However, it is expected that Sir John Jenkins and the group will want to make some of their findings public. Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords—

Lord Dykes (LD): As this is manifestly a sordid plot from Saudi Arabia, would it not be more interesting if HMG had conversations with the Saudi Government about allowing women to drive cars in that country?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That question is not worthy of my noble friend. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, was trying to get in, as I had named him.

Lord Wright of Richmond: With the permission of the House I wish to make a very brief remark. As a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, I would find it extremely difficult if anyone were to ask me to head this review.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: In answer to that, I can say only that I am very pleased that Sir John Jenkins has not found it so. I am sure that he will do an excellent job in the national interest.

[transcript from Hansard]