Saturday, December 31, 2016

how does Brexit stand, and what is 2017 outlook? - George Magnus & Jon Moulton have their say

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning presenter Sarah Montague heard some sobering end-of-year views on Brexit, the markets and the outlook for 2017 from economic consultant and commentator George Magnus and venture capitalist Jon Moulton. 

George Magnus 

Sarah Montague:
The London Stock Market closed at a record high yesterday after rising 14 per cent over the year. The Dow Jones in New York had a bad last day but it also had an excellent year. So what happened to the predictions of doom and gloom in the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and what should we read into these buoyant markets? Here in the studio is the economist and author George Magnus and joining us from Guernsey is Jon Moulton, the venture capitalist and founder of Better Capital.
George Magnus – do you want to kick us off – how should we be reading this, both the UK and US markets which have done so well – what do we read into that?

George Magnus:
Yes, I think a little humility is certainly in order in the face of these rather unexpected developments and in the face of political shocks that we've had this year. And it just kind of goes to show that actually the traditional reliance on economic thinking to drive – you know, the way the markets work – actually isn't everything and we are making kind of a big risk, or a big mistake I should say – if we think that this is going to guide us through 2017. But having said that we have to remember at the beginning of the year markets were in terrible shape, they were haemorrhaging all over the world, America and China both looked as though they were going to go down some sort of economic tube and it did all come good. I mean the American economy has kind of snapped an unusually long - five-quarter long - kind of funk of profits in recession and slow growth and of course the markets now are making a huge bet on the predictability of the Trump presidency particularly insofar as fiscal budgetary stimulus is concerned, and tax cuts and so on.

Sarah Montague:
OK. Now as far as you’re concerned Jon Moulton do you see this as a form of vindication - because you were a supporter of Brexit.

Jon Moulton

Jon Moulton:
I still am a supporter of Brexit. Yes, the forecasts for sort of nuclear winter that were put out by the Treasury and Bank of England were manifestly garbage if you bothered trying to read them, so I’m not greatly surprised that things haven’t collapsed terribly. There’s an awful long way to go on Brexit though, I thought I knew a lot about Brexit before we actually got the vote – I’ve realised since I didn’t know that damned much, it’s incredibly complicated and the uncertainties in front of us are really quite daunting.

Caroline Montague:
And so in terms of what we’re reading now this has such a long way to go that it’s not factored anything into the markets.

Jon Moulton:
I think the market doesn't have a clue how to value it. Hard Brexit might be good and it might be bad for the economy, nobody knows.

Caroline Montague:
George Magnus?

George Magnus:
I agree completely. We should remind ourselves that Brexit hasn't happened yet so all we've had really is the referendum and a limited period of huge uncertainty about what Brexit actually means and I dare say that not even the government actually knows what that means at this stage. So as Jon said, it might work out OK, it depends if the government is capable of evolving what I would call a mitigation strategy – can it offset the negatives that we know will happen as a consequence of trade disruption and investment disruption and so on. It’s possible, but so far we don’t really have very much to go on. All we have to go on, which is why the FTSE is so buoyant, is huge depreciation of the pound.

Caroline Montague: Indeed Jon Moulton, because what we’re looking at here is in pound terms it’s up, it’s not such a good position if you’re priced in euros or dollars.

Jon Moulton: No no no, if you’d bought the FTSE in dollars you’d actually be where you started at the end of the year, there was just no growth in it, so to some extent the FTSE, which has a lot of overseas earnings in it, has gained in value from the collapse of Sterling. Going forward though Mr Trump I’m afraid rears his head a lot into how Brexit plays out. He seems very likely not to be a man who’s going to promote free trade. That could very much affect what sort of deals the UK’s actually able to get. All desperately uncertain and Mr Trump is a sort of random variable they don’t know how to take into account.

Caroline Montague:
Are you saying what deal we have with the United States could affect what deal we get with the EU?

Jon Moulton:
Well it could be wider than that, there’s already a bit of deglobalisation, international trade’s not going as strongly as it was, trade walls are being put up a bit but Mr Trump’s talking about very serious trade walls. So instead of talking about conferences where countries get together to cut the barriers to international trade, we may well see countries stacking up trade barriers all over the place which would make it harder for the UK to actually negotiate its own free trade arrangements going forward, or at least its low duty arrangements going forward.

Caroline Montague:
Well it will start being played out in the year ahead. Jon Moulton, George Magnus, thank you very much.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Writers retreat to Abu Dhabi resort for IPAF workshop

IPAF hosts eighth nadwa at Abu Dhabi desert retreat of Qasr Al Sarab

 mentors and participants in the nadwa

A group of six emerging Arab authors - four women and two men -  is currently gathered at the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort in Abu Dhabi for the annual 'nadwa' organised by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). The week-long workshop, running from 3-10 November, brings together writers from Bahrain, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As before, it is sponsored by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.

The workshop involves daily group discussions as well as the opportunity for one-on-one guidance with the mentors. It is led by two prominent Arab literary figures: Mohammed Hasan Alwan from Saudi Arabia and Hammour Ziada from Sudan. Each has been shortlisted for IPAF: Alwan in 2013 for The Beaver and Ziada in 2015 for The Longing of the Dervish.  

The six participating writers range in age from 30 to 38 years old. They were identified by the organisers as emerging talents following an application process. Two of them - Eyad Abdulrahman and Nidaa Abu Ali - are from Saudi Arabia. The two other participants from the Gulf region are Leila al-Mutawa (Bahrain) and Lamees Yousef (UAE). From Syria there is Rabab Haidar, and from Morocco Hecham Mechba.

The annual nadwa in Abu Dhabi has nurtured a number of writers who have gone on to be shortlisted for, or even to win ,the annual IPAF. Previous participants include Mohammed Hasan Alwan, Iraqi Ahmed Saadawi, Egyptians Mansoura Ez Eldin and Mohamed Rabie, and Syrian Shahla Ujayli. The previous nadwa, in July 2015, was the first to be held in Jordan.

a group discussion

Hammour Ziada comments: “The writing workshop is not a collective endeavour to create a piece of writing. Rather, it is like winds blowing from different directions, turning the pages of the novel as it is being written, or water flowing from various channels onto a single plant.”

Mohammed Hasan Alwan says: “A nadwa such as this reaffirms to us that writing is an activity worth travelling and taking time out for in an isolated location, something that has become an unthinkable luxury in today's world. Since writing a novel is a lengthy project, it sorely needs the different perspectives offered by six writers who have withdrawn from the routine of their daily lives and joined the nadwa purely for the sake of writing. In a single week the nadwa's special programme puts writing under two microscopes: the writer alone with his text in deliberate isolation and the other writers who read the text as it is going through initial birth pangs, identifying with the writer in his moments of confidence and doubt.”

IPAF is the leading international prize for Arabic literature. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and run in association with the Booker Prize Foundation in the UK, the Prize aims to celebrate the very best of contemporary Arabic fiction and encourage wider international readership of Arabic literature through translation.

The Mentors

Mohammed Hasan Alwan was born in Riyadh  in 1979. He graduated with a doctorate in International Marketing from the University of Carleton, Canada. Alwan has published five novels to date: The Ceiling of Sufficiency (2002), Sophia (2004), The Collar of Purity (2007), The Beaver (2011), and A Small Death (2016), as well as a non-fiction work, Migration: theories and key factors (2014). His work has appeared in translation in Banipal magazine ("Blonde Grass and Statistics", translated by Ali Azeriah), in The Guardian ("Oil Field", translated by Peter Clark), and in Words Without Borders ("Mukhtar" translated by William M. Hutchins). In 2009-10, Alwan was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project and his work was published in the Beirut 39 anthology. He was also a participant in the first IPAF Nadwa in 2009. In 2013, The Beaver was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and in 2015, its French edition (translated by Stéphanie Dujols) won the Prix de la Littérature Arabe awarded in Paris for the best Arabic novel translated into French for that year.

Hammour Ziada was born in Khartoum in 1977. He has worked for charitable and civil society organisations, and as a journalist for a number of Sudanese newspapers, including Al-Mustaqilla, Ajras al-Horriya, and Al-Jarida. He was Chief Editor of the cultural section of the Sudanese Al-Akhbar paper. He is the author of several works of fiction includinng A Life Story from Omdurman (short stories, 2008), Al-Kunj (a novel, 2010), Sleeping at the Foot of the Mountain (short stories, 2014). His second novel, The Longing of the Dervish (2014), won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2014 and was shortlisted for IPAF  International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

the mentors and participants with Fleur Montanaro, IPAF Administrator and nadwa coordinator

The Participants

Eyad Abdulrahman  (Saudi Arabia) is a writer and novelist, born in Medina in 1987. He obtained a BA in Computer Engineering from Utah University, an MA in Software Engineering from Chicago University, and a second MA in Computer Science and Education Technology from Harvard University. He is currently finishing his doctorate from Harvard University, focusing on the same field of study. His published works of fiction include a collection of prose texts entitled Emancipation (2012) and two novels, The Misfortune of Life (2014) and The Caliph (2015).

Nidaa Abu Ali (Saudi Arabia) is a writer and diplomat, born in 1983. In 2009, she obtained an MA in Strategic Studies, specialising in counter terrorism, from Singapore, and worked as a political analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism as well as at the Middle East Institute in Singapore. She is the author of four novels: The Days Passed (published in 1998 when she was 15), The Heart Has Other Faces (also 1998), Paper Flutes (2003) and Shadow and Mirror (2011). She also works as a journalist, publishing literature and film reviews and political analysis.

Rabab Haidar (Syria) is a writer and translator, born in 1977. She has a BA in English Literature and is a translator accredited by the Palace of Justice in Damascus. In 2013, she published two books in translation: The Book of the Female, the translation into English of a volume of poetry by the Bahraini poet Iman Aseeri, and (from English to Arabic) the autobiography of a contestant on the Arabic ‘Survival’ programme. Her first novel Land of the Pomegranate was published in 2012.

Leila al-Mutawa (Bahrain) is a novelist and journalist, born in 1986. She is well known for her articles and writings defending women's rights, which have been widely translated, and she writes several blogs. She has one published novel My Heart is Not for Sale (2012) and has mentored aspiring writers on the Al-Jil workshop project. The Saudi writer Fahd 'Arishi wrote about her life in his book of biographies of influential people, Dreams Do Not Die (2015).

Hecham Mechbal (Morocco) is a researcher and novelist, born in 1979. He obtained a PhD in Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis from Tetouan University, where he is a member of the Rhetoric and Discourse Analysis forum. His field of research is rhetoric and narrative. As well as a number of academic studies, he is the author of a biography of a political prisoner, Dreams of the Darkness (2003) and two novels: The Free Bird (2009) and Bells of Fear (2014). He is a regular contributor to academic journals and participant in seminars in Morocco and abroad. The Free Bird won the Moroccan Channel 2 Prize in its third edition, and in 2010 he was awarded the Abdelmalek Essaadi University Award for Excellence.

Lamees Yousef (UAE) is a presenter and novelist. After studying Media at Sharjah University, Lamees Yousef worked in media and events management at the Dubai World Trade Centre. She researched and presented ‘Cultural Dimensions’, a programme for Sama Dubai TV in collaboration with the Dubai Cultural and Scientific Association, which won the 2015 Al-Owais Award for Creativity. In 2014, she published a novel, Rock, Paper, Scissors, and her next novel, White Clothes in the Cooking Pot  was to be launched at the 2016 Sharjah Book Fair.

Susannah Tarbush, Londo; pictures courtesy of IPAF

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Saturday, August 06, 2016

nineteen titles submitted for 2016 Saif Ghobash Banipal Arabic translation prize

The number of entries for the £3,000 2016 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, now in its 11th year, is 19 works translated by 18 translators, comprising 17 works of fiction and two poetry collections. This is a major drop from the record figure of 29 titles submitted for the 2015 prize. But 2015 may have been something of an exception: in 2014  17 titles were submitted.

In terms of gender, there are eight female and ten male translators. Of the 19 titles,just  four are by women while there are 15 by men.

Only translations of works originally published in Arabic in 1967 or later are eligible for entry. Darf Publishers, Syracuse University Press, and CMES, University of Texas at Austin, USA, each have two titles in the running. Two of the 19 titles are novels by Sudanese author Amir Tag Elsir.

The 18 translators are: Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, Nesreen Akhtarkhavari and Anthony A Lee, Roger Allen, T M Aplin, Charis Bredin and Emily Danby, Nicole Fares, Russell Harris, Michelle Hartman, William M Hutchins (3 titles), Abdulwahid Lu‘lu‘a, Melanie Magidow, Nancy Roberts, Jonathan Smolin, Karim Traboulsi, and Jonathan Wright (2 titles). 

The chair of the judges of this year's prize is Dr Paul Starkeywinner of the 2015 prize for his translation of Youssef Rakha's The Book of the Sultan's Seal. His fellow judges are Professor Zahia Smail Salhi, Chair of Modern Arabic Studies at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, The University of Manchester; writer, editor and critic Lucy Popescu, who has a background in human rights; and literary consultant and freelance editor Bill Swainson.

The submitted tiles are:

Confessions by Rabee Jaber, translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid (New Directions, USA)

The Bride of Amman by Fadi Zaghmout , translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Signal 8 Press, Hong Kong)

Desert Sorrows, poems by Tayseer al-Sboul, translated by Nesreen Akhtarkhavari and Anthony A Lee (Michigan State University Press, USA)

My Torturess by Bensalem Himmich, translated by Roger Allen (Syracuse University Press, USA - I reviewed the novel for Banipal magazine.)

Hurma by Ali al-Muqri, translated by T M Aplin (Darf Publishers, UK)

Ebola ’76 by Amir Tag Elsir, translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby (Darf Publishers, UK)

32 by Sahar Mandour, translated by Nicole Fares (Syracuse University Press, USA)

The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany, translated by Russell Harris (Knopf in the USA, Canongate in the UK) 

Ali and his Russian Mother by Alexandra Chreiteh, translated by Michelle Hartman (Interlink Publishing, USA)

Telepathy by Amir Tag Elsir, translated by William M Hutchins (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, Qatar)

The Scarecrow by Ibrahim al-Koni, translated by William M Hutchins (CMES, University of Texas at Austin, USA)

A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed, translated by William M Hutchins (CMES, University of Texas at Austin, USA)

All Faces but Mine the poetry of Samih al-Qasim, translated by Abdulwahid Lu‘lu‘a (Syracuse University Press, USA)

Mortal Designs by Reem Bassiouney, translated by Melanie Magidow (AUC Press, Egypt/USA)

The Dust of Promises by Ahlem Mostaghanemi, translated by Nancy Roberts (Bloomsbury Publishing, UK)

Whitefly by Abdelilah Hamdouchi, translated by Jonathan Smolin (Hoopoe Fiction, Egypt/USA)

The Holy Sail by Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud, translated by Karim Traboulsi (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, Qatar)

The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, Qatar - my review for Banipal here)

The Televangelist by Ibrahim Essa, translated by Jonathan Wright (Hoopoe Fiction, Egypt/USA)
report by Susannah Tarbush

Friday, June 17, 2016

International relations expert Dr Rod Abouharb: 'I am very much in the Remain camp'

 Dr Rod Abouharb

Dr Rod Abouharb is Associate Professor in International Relations and Director of the International Public Policy Program at University College London. He featured on this blog last year when he stood in the 7 May 2015 general election as the Labour candidate in the safe Conservative seat of Kensington in London. He fought a strong campaign, succeeding in increasing the Labour share of the vote by 5.6 percentage points from 25.5% to 31.1%.

With the EU referendum  due to be held in the UK on 23 June, I thought it would be interesting to know Dr Abouharb's position on whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU.

Abouharb said: "I am very much in the Remain camp. I do think that it is an incredibly complex issue. From a historical perspective the EU was begun to make war between European states unthinkable. It has succeeded in that. The three largest debates are around sovereignty, the economic consequences of leaving and the impact of migration in the UK.

"In terms of sovereignty, in 2014 the UK was a member of 80 intergovernmental organisations, the EU being one of them. In all these organisations we pool our sovereignty because there are transnational issues that we think it's easier and more cost effective to tackle in concert with other countries than on our own. If we left the EU we would still have pooled sovereignty in these other issue areas. I think that the UK must remain in the EU. It needs to make a strong case for a much more democratic and accountable intergovernmental organisation that at its heart governs to realise the economic and social rights of all EU citizens.

"It is very difficult to predict the economic consequences of leaving the EU because something like this has never happened. Nevertheless, it is possible to estimate the effects of an economic shock on the British economy. I have reviewed the Treasury's estimation of the consequences of Brexit and I think it is a reasonable one. They use fairly standard models of trade as the basis for the predictions.

"Renegotiating trade deals with all 27 other member states would be complex. Other states will act in their own self interests in any negotiations. This means that they will only liberalise those areas where their economies' have a comparative advantage in comparison to the UK and will avoid liberalising their economic sectors where they do not.

"Perhaps the most contentious issue related to Brexit is the issue of migration. One of the things that migration exposes is the limited capacity of key state services like the provision of school places, access to the NHS, and access to affordable housing. These problems pre-existed any migration flows. We have not invested enough in these services for decades. Moreover the complicating factor is that many of our key services simply wouldn't function without migrants coming into the UK. The evidence indicates that migrants slot into employment gaps in the market rather than taking jobs away from British citizens. They also pay much more in tax than they use in state services so they are a net benefit to the British economy. We do have problems with poor training and a lack of investment in the skills of our workforce. That is one of the reasons why productivity remains so low in the UK, but these are national government issues."

Remain and Brexit have been running closely in opinion polls, with the most recent polls indicating that Brexit has pulled slightly ahead. Many voters are confused and dismayed by the heated exchanges of claims between the two sides, and a substantial number may not vote. Dr Abouharb urges voters: "Regardless of your views on leaving the EU it is really important to make your voice heard and vote on June 23rd.'
posted by Susannah Tarbush, London

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Book of Khartoum: ten short stories offer a dynamic tour of Sudan's capital

"The stories in this collection pick up where Season of Migration leaves off," write Ralph Cormack and Max Shmookler in their introduction to The Book of Khartoum: A City in Short Fiction which they edited for Comma Press of Manchester, England. "From the 1960s to the present, these stories explore a post-colonial world shaped by conflicting aspirations and daunting obstacles."

The editors' reference to Tayeb Salih's novel Season of Migration to the North, published in Arabic in 1966 and in Denys Johnson-Davies's English translation in 1969, reflects the towering and enduring presence of Salih (1929-2009), the great pioneer of Sudanese, Arab, African and post-colonial literature. But in the years since Salih burst onto the international literary scene far less Sudanese literature has been translated into English than has literature from certain other Arab countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Morocco. 

The Book of Khartoum claims to be the first major anthology of Sudanese stories to be translated into English, and is much to be welcomed. The acclaimed Sudanese novel and short story writer Leila Aboulela -  who writes in English - says in a comment on the cover that the book is "an exciting, long-awaited collection showcasing some of Sudan's finest writers. There is urgency behind the deceptively languorous voices and a piercing vitality to the shorter forms."

The Book of Khartoum won from English PEN both a PEN Translates Award and a PEN Promotes Award. It is the latest, and tenth, anthology in the Comma Press series 'Reading the City'. Previous titles in the series include  Madinah: City Stories from the Middle East  (2008) edited by Joumana Haddad, and The Book of Gaza: A City in Short Fiction (2014) edited by Atef Abu Saif.

Raph Cormack

The editors of The Book of Khartoum are from the new generation of Arabic scholars and translators. Cormack is a translator and PhD student at the University of Edinburgh in modern Arabic literature. Max Shmookler is a doctoral student and translator in Columbia University's Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies. His research is on Arabic literary history, particularly modern prose, and he has also worked as a refugee rights advocate.

Cormack has a translation blog, Curiosities, on which he has translated works by, among others, Egyptians Mohammed Taymur and Ahmed al-Kashif, and Sudanese writer and politician Mohammed Ahmed Mahjoub. A 30 December 2015 post, 'Muawyia Nur: Buying Books in Early 20th Century Egypt and Sudan' , profiles this key figure in the development of the Sudanese short story who died  in 1941. In their introduction to The Book of Khartoum the editors describe how Nur "moved back and forth between his home in Sudan and a bohemian existence in Cairo, writing stories and literary criticism and producing a huge body of work in his 32 years of life."

Max Shmookler

Cormack and Shmookler note that the countryside remains an important theme for much Sudanese literature: many authors including the famous Tayeb Salih and Ibrahim Ishaq made their names through works based outside big cities. Sudanese literary culture has also taken much interest in folk tales. The focus of The Book of Khartoum is avowedly urban, showing many facets of the Sudanese capital. The introduction includes a map of the city, with the confluence of the White and Blue Niles, and sets the scene of Khartoum's geography and literary activity, past and present. The derivation of the city's name is uncertain. It may come from the Arabic word for an elephant's trunk, or the "meeting point of two rivers" in the Dinka language, or the local Beja word hartooma meaning meeting place. Others claim the name refers to a drink that leads to speedy intoxication.

The Book of Khartoum contains ten short stories by ten authors including two women - Bawadir Bashir and Rania Mamoun - rendered into English by ten translators. Cormack and Shmookler write: "These literary portraits of Khartoum offer a dynamic tour of the city, its residents and its many peripheries. Yet the authors are not only guides to the city, but also sophisticated literary figures in their own right. They both draw from, and contribute to, a variety of literary movements in Sudan, the broader Arab world, and beyond."

Sudan's modern history has been filled with wars and turmoil and its writers practise their art in an often difficult environment. A number of the country's writers now live abroad. Take the example of Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin, born in Kassala in eastern Sudan in 1963. The author of many novels and short story collections, his 2010 novel al-Jango was banned by the Sudanese government shortly after it won the al-Tayyib Salih prize. Sakin's  books were confiscated from the Khartoum book fair and banned. They included Woman from Campo Kadis (2004) from which his contribution to The Book of Khartoum, 'The Butcher's Daughter', is taken. Sakin left Sudan and lives in Austria, while his work is published in Cairo.

a nightmarish vision 

The stories in The Book of Khartoum have energy, humour and vividness of expression. The techniques used are often experimental and enigmatic, with forays into fantasy. Violence, explicit or lurking under the surface, is present in several stories. 'The Passage' by poet, journalist and short story writer Mamoun Eltlib, translated by Mohamed Ghalaeiny, presents a nightmarish vision reminiscent of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The story, written in poetic prose, has a cosmic quality and is full of disturbing images. "I saw all kinds of creatures and behaviours and horrific experiments. I saw people smiling acquiescently, as they were being slaughtered on blocks cast from solid gold. I saw men and women arriving with dry nibs to dip in fresh warm blood, before rushing to darker corners to start their writing - great stacks of books rising high beside them, their edges dripping with blood." Eltlib is a prime mover on the Khartoum literary scene, and part of a group which organises a monthly book market-cum-cultural event called Mafroosh which promotes literature in the capital.

Hammour Ziada

Several of the stories have footnotes containing essential historical or literary information. This is particularly the case with Hammour Ziada's story 'The Void', translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, set after the Battle of Omdurman or Karari in 1898. The story is prefaced by a Reuter report from The Egyptian Gazette headlined 'Shocking Details' describing the stench, the hundreds of wounded, streams of blood blackened in the sun. But 'no sympathy can be felt for them, for these fiends have already disniterred and mutilated our dead. If the Sirdar errs it is on the side of leniency.' The Sirdar refers to Kitchener, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army. Ziada shows the aftermath of battle from the other side, mown down with the weapons of modern warfare. The protagonist of his story is a wounded soldier who has endured horrific experiences on the battlefield. His sister tends to his wounds and cuts out a bullet embedded in his thigh. The story of military conflict is intertwined with that of her brutal marriage.

'The Void' is part of Ziada's literary explorations of Sudanese history. His novel The Longing of the Dervish set in nineteenth century Sudan won the 2014 Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Literature and was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in 2015. Jonathan Wright's English translation of the novel is forthcoming from Penguin.

'you're a disgusting refugee'

Over the years many refugees have made their way to Khartoum. The story 'It's Not Important, You're From There' by the young South Sudanese writer and journalist Arthur Gabriel Yak, translated by Andrew Leber, gives the perspective of a refugee from "down there - that city with a Southern air." The story is  written. largely in the second person. The refugee will find "the office you've heard so much about. Inside there'll be people with pale faces who can't stand you. You're a disgusting refugee." The Christian refugees from the South suffer torture, imprisonment and possible death. The story conveys the depersonalisaton of the refugee, still dreaming of  possible futures and of being resettled abroad:  "Smiles of a 'migration to the North' will be drawn across the faces of your children."    

Ahmed al-Malik's 'The Tank', translated by Adam Talib, is a satirical exploration of the gaining of power by an individual through  the acquisition of arms. The deadpan first-person narrator buys a second-hand army tank, parks it under a tree outside his house and observes the effect on his friends ('it hasn't escaped my notice that most of them haven't visited me since'), tradesmen and others.

Several stories explore tensions between life in the countryside and in Khartoum. The central figure in 'Next Eid' by Bawadir Bashir, translated by Thoraya El-Rayess, is a village boy who has gone to university in Khartoum. Uthman returns to his village every Eid carrying presents, but he is envied by other villagers and 'despite his attempts to get closer to them, a coldness has formed between them...' A rumour spreads that he has a girlfriend in the capital, to the dismay of the village girl who longs for him. But the reader learns that Uthman's life in Khartoum is not what the villagers assume, and that he is caught in a cycle of deprivation. 

'In the City' by Ali al-Makk (1937-1992) , translated by Sarah Irving, depicts a boy named Hassan who leaves his village to go to secondary school close to Khartoum and faces difficulties in meeting women. His new friends take him to a brothel and he is quietly certain that, despite his lack of skill in engaging in small talk and the other rituals of the establishment, his innate virility will prevail.  "The guys in the village bragged much of this hidden potency, and left the sweet-talk and the niceties to the regular city folk... talk ... and more talk... let him be what he is."  The outcome is sad and comic.

'The Butcher's Daughter' by Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin, translated by Raph Cormack, concerns a father who takes the bus to Khartoum, tormented by suspicions that his student daughter is engaged in shameful behaviour and may have entered an Urfi (unregistered and unwitnessed) marriage. He uses his ingenuity and a touch of menace to try and outwit the teacher with whom he believes she is involved.

'A Boy Playing With Dolls' by Isa al-Hilu, in translation by Marilyn Booth, is a delightfully imaginative tale in which a toymaker leaves his 13-year-old son alone in his shop. The boy creates a kind of theatre with dolls on  a glass surface. "He made each of them move in turn, like in a waking dream, or a dreaming wakefulness. On this mirror-surface the child remade his world." The boy invents a succession of scenarios, culminating in a voyage on a paper boat. The stories within a story reveal the boy's psychic state, anxieties and sexual awakening.

Bushra al-Fadil's 'The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away' translated by Max Shmookler gives an atmospheric portrait of crowds in the streets of Khartoum before zooming on a beautiful girl and her younger sister. The story includes a small drawing of the girl, with whom the first-person narrator becomes  obsessed. The story has references to Arabic and Sudanese poetry and mythology. Al-Fadil has a doctorate in Russian language and literature, and Russian influences are discernible in his engaging story. He now lives in Saudi Arabia.

Rania Mamoun

Rania Mamoun's elegiac story 'Passing', translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, is a delicately nuanced account of a father's death seen through the eyes of the daughter who knows he was disappointed by her failure to  keep her promise to become a doctor. The daughter senses her father's presence: "Your scent fills every inch of space. It pulls me out of a whirlpool of memory, tossing me into another, wider and deeper, and the feeling that you are close to me swells."

The launch of The Book of Khartoum happens to coincide with the publication of Banipal Magazine issue 55 which is largely devoted to a special feature on Sudanese Literature Today, comprising short stories, novel extracts and poems by Sudanese authors, and reviews of published works. The focus on Sudanese literature will continue in Banipal issue 56. The two publications complement each other well. Several authors feature in both, and in one case the same story appears in both, with different translators.  Readers may like to compare  Elisabeth Jaquette's translation of Rania Mamoun's  'Passing' with William M Hutchins' translation of the story in Banipal 55.
by Susannah Tarbush - London

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

chair of judges reveals the five Caine Prize finalists

Seventeenth Caine Prize shortlist announced

The five-writer shortlist for the £10,000 Caine Prize for African Writing 2016 was today announced by the chair of this year's judges, writer and academic Delia Jarrett-Macauley. The judges' chair described the finalised entries as "an engrossing, well-crafted and dauntless pack of stories. The high standard of the entries was clear throughout and particularly noteworthy was the increasing number of fantasy fictions, with the sci-fi trend resonating in several excellent stories...The panel is proud to have shortlisted writers from across the continent, finding stories that are compelling, well-crafted and thought-provoking.’"

Delia Jarrett-Macauley

The shortlist comprises Abdul Adan (Somalia/Kenya); Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria); Tope Folarin (Nigeria); Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe), and Lidudumalingani (South Africa). It includes a former Caine Prize winner (Tope Folarin, in 2013) and a former regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The Caine winner will be announced at an award ceremony and dinner at the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, on Monday 4 July. In addition to the £10,000 prize, each shortlisted writer will receive £500.

This year a record 166 short stories from writers representing 23 African countries were entered for the Prize, a marked increase from last year's 153 qualifying stories from 17 countries.

the stories and their authors

Abdul Adan

Abdul Adan (Somalia/Kenya) is shortlisted for ‘The Lifebloom Gift’ published in The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2014 (New Internationalist, United Kingdom, 2014). His work has appeared in African magazines Kwani, Jungle Jim, Gambit, Okike, Storytime and elsewhere. He was a participant in the 2014 Caine Prize workshop in Zimbabwe, and is a founding member of the Jalada collective.
o Read ‘The Lifebloom Gift’

Lesley Nneka Arimah

Lesley Nneka Arimah  (Nigeria) is shortlisted for ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’ published in Catapult (Catapult, USA, 2015). A Nigerian writer living in Minneapolis, her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s and other publications. When she isn't spreading peace and joy on Twitter, Arimah is at work on a collection of short stories (What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky) forthcoming in 2017 from Riverhead Books. There are rumours about a novel.
o Read ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’

Tope Folarin

Tope Folarin  (Nigeria) is shortlisted for ‘Genesis’ published in Callaloo (Johns Hopkins University Press, USA, 2014. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013, and in 2014 he was named in the Africa39 list of the most promising African writers under 39. In addition, his work has been published in various anthologies and journals. He lives in Washington DC.
o Read ‘Genesis’

 Bongani Kona

Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe) is shortlisted for ‘At Your Requiem’ published in Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You (Burnet Media, South Africa, 2015). He is a freelance writer and contributing editor of Chimurenga. His writing has appeared in Mail and Guardian, Rolling Stone (South Africa), Sunday Times and other publications and websites. He is also enrolled as a Masters student in the Creative Writing department at the University of Cape Town.
o Read ‘At Your Requiem’·


Lidudumalingani (South Africa) for ‘Memories We Lost’ published in Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You (Burnet Media, South Africa, 2015). He is a writer, filmmaker and photographer, and was born in the village of Zikhovane in Eastern Cape province.  Lidudumalingani has published short stories, non-fiction and criticism in several publications. His films have been screened at various film festivals.
o Read ‘Memories We Lost’

an inspiring degree of risk-taking

Delia Jarrett-Macauley's co-judges are acclaimed film, television and theatre actor, Adjoa Andoh; writer and founding member of the Nairobi-based writers’ collective, Storymoja, and founder of the Storymoja Festival, Muthoni Garland; Associate Professor and Director of African American Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC, Dr Robert J Patterson; and South African writer and 2006 Caine Prize winner, Mary Watson.

Jarrett-Macauley said her fellow judges "commented on the pleasure of reading the stories, the gift of being exposed to the exciting short fictions being produced by African writers today and the general shift away from politics towards more intimate subjects – though recent topics such as the Ebola crisis were being wrestled with.’

She added: ‘It was inspiring to note the amount of risk-taking in both subject matter and style, wild or lyrical voices matching the tempered measured prose writers, and stories tackling uneasy topics, ranging from an unsettling, unreliable narrator’s tale of airport scrutiny, to a science-fictional approach towards the measurement of grief, a young child’s coming to grips with family dysfunction, the big drama of rivalling siblings and the silent, numbing effects of loss.’

 Caine Prize anthology 2015

The five shortlisted stories will  be published in New Internationalist’s Caine Prize 2016 Anthology in July, and through co-publishers across Africa, who receive a print-ready PDF free of charge from New Internationalist. In addition to the shortlisted stories, the anthology will include stories written at the Caine Prize workshop held in Zambia in March this year.

The co-publishers of the anthology are New Internationalist (UK), Jacana Media (South Africa), Lantern Books (United States), Kwani? (Kenya), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), FEMRITE (Uganda), Bookworld Publishers (Zambia), Langaa Research and Publishing (Cameroon) and amaBooks (Zimbabwe).

The Caine Prize, awarded annually for African creative writing, is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. The Prize is awarded for a short story by an African writer published in English (indicative length 3,000 to 10,000 words). An African writer is taken to mean 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.

The African winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka and J M Coetzee, are Patrons of The Caine Prize. Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne is President of the Council, Ben Okri OBE is Vice President, Jonathan Taylor CBE is the Chairman, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey OBE is the Deputy Chairperson and Dr Lizzy Attree is the Director.
Susannah Tarbush, London

Friday, May 06, 2016

Banipal 55 helps propel Sudanese literature onto international stage

Sudanese literature is in general less known internationally than the literatures of certain other Arab countries. But since the beginning of the 21st century Sudanese literature has been increasingly emerging on the global stage, a trend that can only be enhanced by the new issue, No. 55, of Banipal Magazine of Modern Arab Literature. The issue is largely devoted to works by Sudanese authors -  short stories, novel extracts, poetry, non-fiction, memoir, essays, reviews and an interview. They convey a picture of a vibrant, varied and distinctive Sudanese literature by authors living both inside and outside Sudan. 

In  her editorial in Banipal 55 the magazine's publisher Margaret Obank writes: "Like our earlier features on the little known literatures of Yemen [issue 36], Tunisia [issue 39] and Libya [issue 40], we look forward to Sudanese literature in translation finding new audiences around the world, particularly through the encouragement and promotion this issue gives."  Furthermore, the next issue of Banipal, 56, will contain additional works by Sudanese writers.

Banipal 55's special feature Sudanese Literature Today kicks off with novelist and storyteller Ahmad Al Maliks' essay "A Short Introduction to the Sudanese Literary Scene". This essay is complemented  further on in the issue by novelist and critic Emad Blake's comprehensive eight-page article "The New Novel in Sudan."

Emad Blake

The Sudan special feature includes short stories by Al Malik, Hammour Ziada, Leila Aboulela, Rania Mamoun, Tarek Eltayeb, Abdel Ghani Karamallah, and Rania Mamoun, as well as extracts from novels by Hamed El-Nazir (The Waterman's Prophecy); Emad Blake (Shawarma) and Mansour El-Sowaim (Dhakirat Shirrir). There is also poetry by Mohammad Jamil Ahmad and Najlaa Osman Eltom.

From Abdel Ghani Karamallah comes the children's story "The Jealous Star", illustrated by the author. And Egyptian writer Azza Rashad has conducted a frank interview in Cairo with the prominent Sudanese publisher Nur al-Huda Mohammad Nur al-Huda, head of Azza Publishing which he founded in 1991. 

Abdel Ghani Karamallah at a story-telling session

One of Azza Publishing's authors is Stella Gaitano, born in Khartoum in 1979 to a family from South Sudan. She was forced to relocate to South Sudan in 2012. She contributes to Banipal 55, in its first English translation (by Adil Babakir), her compelling "Testimony of a Sudanese Writer" which she presented in a speech at the Tayeb Salif Award. In her testimony she recalls her annoyance at always being introduced as "the southern writer who writes in Arabic." This gave her a feeling of exclusion: "Why couldn't I be introduced simply as a Sudanese writer just like all the others?" But ironically, following the secession of the South, she finds the "southern writer who writes in Arabic" description has become a reality. With English being the official language of the new state she is now trying to write also in English as a way of trying to reach out to everyone.

Jamal Mahjoub, who writes in English, is best known as a novelist and - under the penname Parker Bilal -  as a crime writer. But in Banipal 55 he is represented by an extract from a non-fiction work-in-progress on the modern history of Sudan. The extract, "The Ghost of John Garang", tells of the death in a helicopter crash of Garang, the first vice-president of the new interim Government of National Unity and President of the Government of South Sudan.

Stells Gaitano
In his essay "The New Novel in Sudan", Emad Blake traces the development of the Sudanese novel from the first half of the 20th century. Tayeb Salih - whose 1966 novel Season of Migration to the North, published in Denys Johnson-Davies's English translation in 1969, is regarded as a landmark of Arab, African and post-colonial literature - "confronted the crucial issues of his time, such as the clash of Eastern and Western civilizations, as well as boldly employing sex and a style of writing we might term the 'impossible easy'." Whereas Salih drew on his experiences as a young émigré in London, and balanced dialect with more neutral language, Ibrahim Ishaq's writing explores the cultural environment of Western Sudan, and exclusively uses the local tongue in dialogue. "Most critics would agree that it was these two writers who were the true driving force behind the transformation of the form and content of the Sudanese novel."

Between the early 1970s and late 1990s, poetry and the short story rather than the novel were at the forefront of the Sudanese cultural scene, observes Blake. But since the turn of the millennium there has been a flourishing of the Sudanese novel, "in a spirit of openness and true revolution. Pushing poetry and short stories to the margins, it was now time for the novel to take centre stage amongst the  new wave of young writers. Most wrote from abroad, where they could read and immerse themselves in the culture of the 'Other' - with fewer concerns over problems of publishing."

Blake's essay is rich in information on contemporary Sudanese novelists, and he gives the flavour of themes in their work including the wars in the south and in Darfur.  

Hammour Ziada

As Ahkmad Al Malik notes in his introductory essay, one way in which the profile of Sudanese authors has been rising is through various literary prizes that have sprung up in recent years. In 2002 the Abdel Karim Mirghani Cultural Center organised a Tayeb Salih tribute event, at which it decided to establish an annual award in Tayeb Salih's name, for an outstanding work of fiction from Sudan. Al Malik says the award has created significant momentum in the Sudanese cultural scene although like all community-driven activities it has met with considerable obstances from the authorities. A major telecommunications company launched another award in Tayeb Salih's name, but Al Malik explains that this second award, which has unprecedented government support, is "widely believed to have some hidden agenda."

Hammour Ziada won the 19th edition of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for his novel The Longing of the Dervish, which was also shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2015.  Jonathan Wright's translation of the novel is forthcoming from the American University in Cairo Press's new imprint Hoopoe Fiction.

Banipal 55 features Ziada's short story "The Wad Azrag District", which shows the author's excellent storytelling skills. The story depicts the fragile boundary between the nomadic and the settled, and the prejudice that arises after a Bedouin, Ahmed Wad Azrag, arrives in the village of Hajar Narti with his family. It takes a long time for the distrcit of Wad Azrag to be accepted as part of the village; Ziada's story is epic in scope and has a  timeless, archetypal quality.

Hamed el-Nazir's novel Nubuat al-Saqqa made the longlist of IPAF 2016. In the Banipal 55 extract from the novel the title is translated as The Waterman's Prophecy, though IPAF translated the title as The Prophecy of Saqqa.

Amir Tag Elsir
The prolific novelist Amir Tag Elsir, by profession a medical doctor based in Qatar, was shortlisted for IPAF 2011 for The Grub Hunter. The novel was published, in William M Hutchins' English translation, in Heinemann's African Writers Series in 2012. Last year Tag Elsir's novel 366 won the Katara Prize for Arabic Literature, after in 2014 being  longlisted for IPAF.

In Banipal Clare Roberts reviews Tag Elsir's novels Ebola '76 , (Darf Publishers, 2015) translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby and French Perfume (ANTIBOOKCLUB, 2015) translated by William M Hutchins. These reviews follow her review in Banipal 53 of Tag Elsir's novel Telepathy translated by Hutchins (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2015). The English version of French Perfume is a finalist in the Best Translated Book Awards 2016.

Volker Kaminski reviews Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin's fifth novel Der Messias von Darfur, translated by Günther Orth, and Olivia Snaije reviews Nouvelles du Soudan (Magellan & CIE, Paris, 2009) a collection of short stories from Sudan translated into French by Xavier Laffin. "In a mere 95 pages, the selection of short stories in this collection reflect powerful and engaging story-telling recounted in an astonishing variety of styles," writes Snaije. 

Leila Aboulela

The best-known Sudanese author currently writing in English is the multiple prizewinning novelist, short story writer and radio dramatist Leila Aboulela, who lives in Scotland. She is author of four novels, most recently The Kindness of Enemies, a short story collection and a number of radio plays. Banipal 55 contains her short story "Amulet and Feathers" in which a young girl dresses up in her brother's clothes and, armed with a dagger, sets off to avenge her father's death. She masquerades as a  child fortune-teller, hoping thereby to track the woman she holds responsible for her father's stabbling.The story is rendered in a graceful poetic style blurring dreams and reality.
report by Susannah Tarbush, London


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rabai al-Madhoun's novel 'Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba' wins IPAF

Palestinian author Rabai al-Madhoun wins IPAF 2016

Rabai al-Madhoun receives the IPAF award from Mohammed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of TCA Abu Dhabi

Palestinian novelist and journalist Rabai al-Madhoun was last night declared winner of the International Prize for Arab Fiction (IPAF) 2016, for his novel Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba. His winning of the award was announced by this year’s Chair of IPAF  Judges, Emirati poet and academic Amina Thiban, at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. In addition to winning $60,000 - the $50,000 prize plus the $10,000 awarded to every shortlisted author - Al-Madhoun is guaranteed English translation of his novel, and is assured increased book sales and international recognition. IPAF is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi). The Prize is popularly known as the Arabic Booker.

Rabai al-Madoun addresses the IPAF award ceremony

A pioneering novel written in four parts, Destinies chronicles Palestinian life both in occupation and exile. Each part representing a concerto movement, the novel looks at the holocaust, the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 (known as the nakba) and the Palestinian right to return. Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is a novel of Palestine from outside and from within. It examines everyday Palestinian life, telling the story of Palestinians living under occupation and compelled to assume Israeli nationality, as well as exiled Palestinians trying to return to their now-occupied home country.

Speaking on behalf of the judges, Thiban said: “In Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba Rabai al-Madhoun invents a new fictional form in order to address the Palestinian issue, with questions of identity underpinned by a very human perspective on the struggle. This tragic, polyphonic novel borrows the symbol of the concerto, with its different movements, to represent the multiplicity of destinies. Destinies can be considered the complete Palestinian novel, travelling back to a time before the nakba in order to throw light on current difficulties faced by the Palestinian diaspora and the sense of displacement felt by those left behind.”

Al-Madhoun, Palestinian-born but now a British citizen, lives and works in London as an editor for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper. His family fled Ashkelon, Palestine – now Israel – for Gaza after the 1948 Nakba exodus. After leaving Gaza to attend Alexandria University, al-Madhoun later became involved in the Palestinian liberation struggle as a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He left activism in 1980 to focus on writing and has produced a number of works of fiction and non-fiction. Destinies is the 70-year-old author’s third novel. His 2010 novel The Lady from Tel Aviv was shortlisted for IPAF 2010. It was published in Elliott Colla's English translation by Telegram Books in 2013 and won an English PEN Writers in Translation award that year.

an image of the cover of Rabai al-Madhoun's IPAF-winning novel

Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the Board of IPAF Trustees, commented: “Another brilliant novel has joined the distinguished list of IPAF winners. Rabai al-Madhoun has been recognised as one of the leading voices of his generation and we hope that this award will take his work to an even wider audience, both in the Arab world and beyond. As we approach our 10th year, it is gratifying to see such animated discussion around IPAF novels, cementing the Prize’s reputation as one of the most prestigious and important literary awards in the Arab world.”

Leading Arab critic and former IPAF judge, Palestinian Faisal Darraj, has likened Destinies to works by Palestinian literary giants Ghassan Kanafani, Emile Habibi and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. In Al-Ghad newspaper he said “Destinies has added to all these a fresh dimension that the Palestinian novel has not seen before. It has laid a foundation for new innovation in Palestinian writing”. He praised al-Madhoun’s ability to capture “the eloquence of longing”. An article in Al Qahira newspaper quotes al-Madhoun as saying: “I believe in co-existence as the only way to find an end to the bloody and painful struggle of the last 100 years. I don’t think it will happen in my generation, but it will happen one day.”

Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba was chosen by the IPAF judges as the best work of fiction published within the last 12 months, selected from 159 entries from 18 countries across the Arab World. The five other shortlisted finalists were also honoured at the ceremony alongside the winner, each receiving  $10,000.

The six names on the shortlist were announced by the judging panel in February 2016, at a press conference hosted by The Cultural Club in Muscat, Oman. In addition to al-Madhoun's Destinies the shortlisted titles were: Numedia (Dar al-Adab) by Tareq Bakari of Morocco;  Mercury (Dar Tanweer, Lebanon) by Mohamed Rabie of Egypt; Praise for the Women of the Family (Hachette Antoine) by Mahmoud Shukair of Palestine; A Sky Close to Our House (Difaf Publications) by Shahla Ujayli of Syria, and The Guard of the Dead (Difaf Publications) by George Yaraq of Lebanon. 

Chair of the IPAF judges Amina Thiban is an Emirati poet and academic specialising in literature. Her fellow judges were Sayyed Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist and poet, who is currently editor of Al-Qahira newspaper; Mohammed Mechbal, a Moroccan academic and critic; Munir Mujię, a Bosnian academic, translator and researcher, and Abdo Wazen, a Lebanese poet, critic and editor-in-chief of the cultural pages of Al-Hayat newspaper.

Delivering on its aim to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction, the Prize guarantees English translations for all of its winners. Raja Alem’s novel, The Dove’s Necklace (Duckworth), will be published on 2 June this year and Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing - BQFP) was published in 2015. Other winners published in English include Bahaa Taher’s Sunset Oasis (Sceptre), Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel (Atlantic Books), Abdo Khal’s Throwing Sparks and Mohammed Achaari’s The Arch and the Butterfly (both published by BQFP). 2014 IPAF winner Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi has also secured English publication, in translation by Jonathan Wright, with Oneworld in the UK and Penguin Books in the US. Since 2008,  winning and shortlisted IPAF books have been translated into over 20 languages.

Friday, April 22, 2016

'Sicily: Culture and Conquest' at British Museum explores 4000 yrs of multicultural history

The Sicily: Culture and Conquest exhibition, which opened yesterday at the British Museum and runs until 14 August, is the first major exhibition in the UK to explore more than 4000 years of history of the largest island in the Mediterranean. The show, sponsored by Julius Baer, brings together more than 200 objects, many of which have never been displayed outside Sicily. They reveal the richness of Sicily's architectural, archaeological and artistic heritage, shaped by numerous peoples and cultures.

 a double-page map of Sicily from A copy of Muhammad al-Idrisi's Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq c 1300-1500 AD © The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

"We want to show a Sicily that is different from the stereotypes that people have" said co-curator Dirk Booms at the press view of the exhibition on Tuesday. "Sicily is not just beaches, lemons, oranges, sunshine and Mafia -  it's much more, and we want to show that unknown history to a much larger public."  Booms is a British Museum curator of Roman archaeology; his co-curator Peter Higgs is from the museum's Department of Greece and Rome

Terracotta altar with three women, and a panther mauling a bull. Gela, Sicily, c 500BC ©Regione Siciliana

The exhibition is an eye-opener, illuminating the fascinating history of Sicily and its character as a multicultural society where different cultures and styles fused intriguingly. Over a period of four millennia Sicily was the target of waves of conquest and settlement by different peoples. From the 8th century BC, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans settled or invaded the island. They were lured by Sicily's strategic position and its fertile volcanic soils bestowed by Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe and one of the world's most active volcanoes. Over time, this series of conquests forged a unique cultural identity and made Sicily a cultural centre of the ancient and medieval worlds.

 ceramic dinos with triskelion, fired clay, c.650-600 BC ©Regione Siciliana

Sicily: Culture and Conquest highlights two key eras in Sicily's history. The first began with the arrival of the Greeks from the latter half of the 7th century BC and their encounters with earlier settlers and the Phoenicians. The second is the extraordinary period of enlightenment in the Middle Ages under Norman rule, between about AD 1100 and 1250. The exhibition also includes a small bridging section between these two periods.

The Greek Era

When the Greeks made their first official colony at Naxos on the east coast of Sicily in about 735 BC they imported new ideas and forged cultural and trading links with earlier indigenous settlers. At the press view Peter Higgs said: "There's this old-fashioned view that the Greeks went around civilising everybody and everyone was Barbarians before that, and most people that said that in antiquity were Greeks themselves. But we wanted to start the exhibition with a very small section about prehistoric Sicily and the wonderful sophisticated cultures that archaeologists have been turning up over the last 100 years or so." Such discoveries show that before the Greeks and the Phoenicians arrived on the island "there were thriving communities, hierarchies were taking place, the island was really the hub of the trade network of the Mediterranean from very early periods".

The Phoenicians set up trading colonies in western Sicily from the 9th century BC, and from the eighth century BC the Greeks arrived from different towns, city states and kingdoms all over the Greek world. They set up individual isolated communities on the island which then interacted with the Phoenicians and the people that were there earlier. "The Greeks though started to establish a different political system and one of the most famous systems of government was the Tyrants of Sicily who became notorious, particularly in Roman and later traditions, as being amongst the most cruel of all the Greek rulers in the Mediterranean," Higgs noted.
terracotta roof ornament with head of a gorgon, Gela, Sicily, c500 BC ©Regione Siciliana

"Luckily, they don't show much of this cruelty on their objects: alongside some of these alleged terror incidents they built great temples, some of the largest Greek-style temples anywhere in the Mediterranean. They didn't have their own marble source, they didn't have metal sources, so that any marble, gold or silver that came onto the island was extremely important. But what they did is decorate some of their wonderful temples with terracotta architectural sculptures which soften those harsh lines that you see on those wonderful stone buildings on the island today.

"They were famous, these Tyrants, for taking part in the Olympic and Pythian Games on a world stage where they could show in equestrian events, particularly the daredevil chariot racing in which they themselves they didn't drive the chariots -  they got someone else to do that - but they took all the glory and set up monuments in the mainland of Greece and also back home in Sicily."

The poet Pindar was commissioned to write victory odes for the Tyrants, "so they go down in different ways in history. But they created these extremely cultural courts, very rich, very vibrant, attracting famous names like Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Plato, and it was the birthplace of Archimedes the famous mathematician and scientist. And it's this richness that attracted different people over time to come to Sicily. Some invaders, the Carthaginians had their eye on it, the Athenians tried to invade - but most unsuccessfully- in the 5th century BC.

 marble statue of warrior, Akragas, Sicily, c 470 BC ©Regione Siciliana

"By the 3rd century BC Syracuse became the most important Greek city on the island and Hieron II the Tyrant there was the first Tyrant to have his image on coins - Sicilian coins, fortunately for all those visitors to museums, are among the biggest and best of all ancient Mediterranean coins. He became very wealthy and set out a huge boat around the Mediterranean designed by Archimedes that was going to take the Sicilian treasures - all the wonderful riches and the textiles and agricultural produce - around the world to show off, but the only port that could take it was Alexandria, so he had a very good relationship with the Ptolemaic rulers there. And finally of course Sicily attracted the attention of the next great superpower, and that was to be Rome, and the Carthaginians and some of the Greeks united against this new threat."

gold libation bowl decorated with six bulls, Sant'Angelo Muxaro c 600 BC © The Trustees of the British Museum

Dirk Booms added that " in the 3rd century BC no one was safe anymore from the Romans who were becoming this new Mediterranean superpower. After having conquered the rest of Italy after their own region around Rome what better than to go immediately to your direct neighbours - which were of course in Sicily at just that tip of the foot of Italy." In the exhibition "we show that moment of conquest, - we are very fortunate because Rome won a decisive battle on 10 March 241 BC and conquered, slaughtered,  the Carthaginian fleet by the Egadi islands off the west coast of Sicily. And we show that in this one bronze battering ram that was put on the prow of a ship to sink your enemy ships, and this particular one is actually from that battle. It's an important object that symbolises that moment.

bronze rostrum (battering ram) and detail from Roman warship from the seabed near Levanzo, c 240 BC
©Regione Siciliana

"The rest of the section that bridges our Greek and Norman periods tells the same story over and over again - we have Romans, we have Vandals and Goths, we have Byzantines, we have Arabs. Sicily keeps its richness because it's still fertile and there are still people working the land  but it is ruled by the debauched elite on the island and by foreign powers outside - the Emperor in Rome, the Emperor in Constantinople, the Caliph in Egypt -and they don't care about the island as long as that richness keeps coming. So there is very little drive for innovation, little drive for art, and that's why this section is deliberately, and naturally, poorly represented in the records."

The Norman Period 

The Normans were the Christian descendants of Vikings that settled in France "and then there were just too many of them. So they start moving elsewhere: in 1066 they came here. Before that they had gone to Italy and  from around the year 1000  they start dominating the south of Italy. And again it's just one logical step from there to the island of Sicily, which was at that point in turmoil because the ruling Arab dynasties were battling each other. The Normans took that moment of opportunity to conquer, and in just 30 years the entire island was theirs," Booms said. 

Very quickly Roger I and his son Roger II - who  figures prominently in Sicily: Culture and Conquest -  "realised that in order to make his kingdom work he should not marginalise the other peoples on this island but should include them in society. Of course he was thinking that because  80 per cent of the population was still Muslim," Booms said. "And so we see a deliberate policy of Roger to incorporate elements from the big kingdoms around him - who also happened to be the people inhabiting his island - including them in  in art, in architecture, in daily life, in society."

In his prestige architectural project all these influences can be seen. "Fatimid craftsmen from North Africa built the woodwork, the wooden ceilings of his churches, of his palaces. Italian craftsmen working in the tradition of the Roman Empire have all the inlaid marble for their walls. And he had Byzantine mosaicists from Constantinople come to lay all those golden mosaics you can still admire today in Monreale, in Palermo, in Messina. It's a deliberate policy."

 Quadrilingual tombstone in 4 languages , marble, Palermo 1149 AD ©Regione Siciliana

One  object that highlights the period is a quadrilingual tombstone in four languages - Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Greek, and Latin - which "really shows Roger's policy of including all the peoples on his island, not just Latin-speaking Christians but Greek-speaking Orthodox Byzantines and Arabic-speaking Arabs and Muslim,  Berbers were there as well, but also the Jewish community, barely recorded in the archaeological record but still on this tombstone in the Judeo-Arabic dialect that they spoke."

"The exhibition shows Roger's  interest in sciences, in new techniques coming ino the land, and the exhibition finishes with the legacy of both the Romans and Frederick II. Frederick II maybe more than Roger on the world scale was an enlightened ruler in the Middle Ages because as well as being grandson of Roger II he was  the grandson of Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, making him basically ruler of most of France, Germany, Italy and Sicily. He also became King of Jerusalem; he went on a crusade, the only peacefully negotiated surrender of Jerusalem was that of Frederick II."

 marble bust of Frederick II, Italy, 1220-50 AD ©Deutsches Archaologisches Institut, Rome

"But his story was more than just Sicily - he was rarely ever there - his Kingdom, his Empire, is much bigger. And so we finish with his period because it's still a splendorous period on Sicily but it's just a continuation of what  the Normans already did before him," Booms said. "Unfortunately at his death the Pope sees it as his time to finally get his hands on Sicily, something he had tried to do for centuries, and there was no heir of Frederick that could hold onto the island."

 lid of a casket with peacock decoration, Enamel, gold, copper, probably Sicily, c1250-1300 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Culturally, this is a cyclical event. "We go back to what happened in the Roman period,  the Byzantine and Arab period, it's ruled from afar, firstly the French, then the Spanish,  different Spanish dynasties -  the Habsburgs, the Bourbons - and the people become again impoverished, illiterate, and that's also how they were meant to feel by these rulers from far away," Booms said.

"But that didn't prevent the island from still being full of amazing artists, artistic styles and architecture, following European trends rather than leading them. We show that by ending with a painting by Antonello da Messina, perhaps the most important painter of the Renaissance, born on Sicily. He moves away to train elsewhere but goes back to Sicily."

 Salting Madonna by Antonello da Messina c 1460s
© National Gallery, London

Arab-Norman Palermo a World Heritage Site

In 2015 UNESCO elected  nine civil and religious buildings in Arab-Norman Palermo as a World Heritage Site. Located on the northern coast of Sicily, the buildings comprise two palaces, three churches, a cathedral and a bridge, as well as the cathedrals of Cefalú and Monreale. UNESCO said: "Collectively, they are an example of a social-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on the island which gave rise to new concepts of space, structure and decoration. They also bear testimony to the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins and religions (Muslim, Byzantine, Latin, Jewish, Lombard and French)."
Monreale Cathedral © CRICD

Sicily: Culture and Conquest includes objects loaned from some of these  nine buildings. They include a 12th century Byzantine-style mosaic showing the Virgin as Advocate for the Human Race, originally from Palermo Cathedral and held at the Museo Diocesano di Palermo. 

12th century Byzantine-style mosaic  c 1130-1180 AD (on display only from 14 June)

The British Museum is holding a programme of events to complement the exhibition. There is a Music of Sicily concert on 20 May, and on 20 June the Channel Four news presenter Jon Snow chairs a discussion, Crossing borders: European Migration Throughout History. On 22 July there is Sicilian Splendour, described by the Museum as "a free, multisensory evening celebrating the soul of Sicily, past and present - including music, drama, workshops and poetry performances." Sicilian food and drink will be on sale, and the evening includes a wine tasting and a flower mosaic workshop.

Three evening lectures will be held: John Julius Norwich on The Normans in Sicily, on 29 April; author Helena Attleee on Sicily: The Land Where Lemons Grow, on 6 May, and on 24 June Michael Scott of Warwick University talks on Sicily: A Force to be Reckoned With in the Ancient World. 

There is also a series of lunchtime lectures and talks, which are free but for which booking is essential. The curators of Sicily: Culture and Conquest  Dirk Booms and Peter Higgs give a 45-minute illustrated introduction to the exhibition at 13.30 on 28 April, 26 May, 11 June and 15 July.

Other lunchtime lectures and talks are on Athens' Sicilian Adventure (12 May); The Greeks in southern Italy and Sicily (27 May); Multicultural Sicily (3 June); Greeks in Sicily (4 June); Sicilian coins and their stories (14 June); Multiculturalism in Norman and Hohenstaufen Sicily (16 June); An Archaeological detective story in early Byzantine Sicily (27 June); Storms, war and shipwrecks: treasures from the Sicilian seas (8 July); and Sicily under Muslim Rule (14 July).

The exhibition is also accompanied by a season of films, presented in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute: The Leopard (21 May); Cinema Paradiso (27 May); A Bigger Splash (4 June), and Nuovomondo (28 July). 
report by Susannah Tarbush, London 

gilded falcon, bronze, traces of gold, Sicily or southern Italy 1200-1220 AD
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art