Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab Worldby Samuel Shimon
Beirut 39 presents the best work of young Arab writers from around the world. Selected by a panel of eminent Arab critics, writers and editors, in a competition sponsored by the Hay Festival, these thirty-nine emerging talents are all under the age of thirty-nine, and hail from sixteen different countries-from Morocco to Oman, from Sudan to the Netherlands and… See more details below
Beirut 39 presents the best work of young Arab writers from around the world. Selected by a panel of eminent Arab critics, writers and editors, in a competition sponsored by the Hay Festival, these thirty-nine emerging talents are all under the age of thirty-nine, and hail from sixteen different countries-from Morocco to Oman, from Sudan to the Netherlands and France. Their fiction and poetry collected here represents the vibrancy and diversity of Arab literature today.
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By Samuel Shimon
Bloomsbury USACopyright © 2010 Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts Limited
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Introduction'Beirut39' is a unique initiative that aims to identify and highlight contemporary literary movements among Arab youth, and to gather young faces and names and provide them with an opportunity to meet, exchange expertise and ideas, and work together in literary workshops.
Young Arab writers have transcended geography and local identity in their creative work, aligning themselves with — and inspired by — global literary currents and movements. It is obvious, for example, that many novelists from all over the Arab world, Mashriq and Maghreb, belong to the same literary current across regional barriers. Through their work, they communicate and bond with each other despite geographical distance, such that one can easily speak of the youthful realist novel, or neo-realist novel, or fantastic novel or post-modern novel that young writers from all the Arab countries have contributed to. The literature of young Arab writers has invaded the Arab literary market, making it difficult to speak of the young Lebanese novel, or the young Egyptian novel, or Syrian, or Saudi, etc. A youthful pan-Arab literary movement currently dominates, bringing together novelists from all the Arab countries, and aiming to break down regional boundaries. This definition also applies to poetry: there is no longer a youthful Lebanese poetry that is different from a youthful Egyptian poetry, or a Saudi, Iraqi or Palestinian one. Poets are collaborating to establish new styles and a new poetic language, in addition to their unique visions. The internet age has certainly helped them to overcome the obstacles posed by the difficulty of meeting and communicating in person.
What brings together most young Arab writers is their tone of protest, and their rebellion against traditional literary culture. They have announced their disobedience against the ideological bent that exhausted Arabic literature during the 1960s and 1970s. They have also risen above the idea of commitment so prominent a few decades ago, which was imposed by a political-party and communal way of thinking. Instead, they strive towards individualism, focusing on the individual, the human being living and struggling and dreaming and aiming for absolute freedom. Many young writers have declared their disdain for what they describe as contrived, 'proper' language. Often, they aim to express their personal concerns as they see fi t, freely and spontaneously. And it is important that they protest and reject and announce their frustration with language itself, this language that differs between writing and speech. They want to write as they speak, absolutely spontaneously, unbounded by the censorship imposed upon them firstly by the language itself, and then by religious or moral apparatuses.
These writers believe that the new era, the information age, the computer and internet age does not leave them with enough time to decipher the mysteries of grammar and rhetoric. They seek the language of life. These writers are not afraid to make grammatical errors. Some purposefully don't finish their sentences, others are fond of slang and street talk and dialect.
This book contains selections from novels, short stories and poems by 39 young Arab writers, and presents the reader with a panoramic glimpse of Arab youth literature. It aims to engage the reader in a conversation, and to help illuminate this scene.
Abdo Wazen Beirut, February 2010
Excerpted from Beirut 39 by Samuel Shimon Copyright © 2010 by Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts Limited . Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The collection is the product of a literary competition in the Arab world, young authors and poets, all under 40 years of age, competed in a contest sponsored by, among others, Banipal magazine in the Hay festival. The best 39 short stories, poems and novel parts were published. The stories and poems touch on many varied subjects, politics, sexuality and culture. The selections are as individual as the authors and tell such tales as the wife of a Damascus man who is measuring, for good or bad, her various lovers; or the man who hides his gay identity from his mother while watching a movie about the subject on satellite, hoping she wouldn't wake up. There were two standout stories I thought, in this book which were a cut above the rest: "The Twentieth [9/11] Terrorist" by Abdullah Thabit and the straight-to-the-point "Coexistence" by Ala Hlehel. Both stories were told from a very believable and vivid point of view which I found refreshing as well as enlightening on an intellectual level. "The Twentieth [9/11] Terrorist" tells of the harsh system of education in religious schools, how a young boy could get sucked into such an education - against the wishes of his parents - and he is literally beaten into submission and submits to a life of misery. "Coexistence" is the ironic story of a Palestinian-Israeli writer who scribes a letter to a Palestinian general (in the words of the author) begging to stop bombing attacks in the Israeli port city of Haifa; a city which is ofen portrayed as a model of Arabs and Jews sharing the same piece of land. However, the writer's motives are selfish, because of the writer's high profile in the Haifa; journalists are calling for comments for their stories - and that is a bother. "Beirut 39" has to be read slowly, I felt, as the Arab language is spoken, with emphasis on certain words and phrases. The book's topics jump greatly, from sad war stories to joyous self discovery and the fast reader might find himself or herself confused. The pieces in this book are diverse and wide ranging; the collection is complex and challenges the mind and ranges from traditional to modern. Some of the stories are excellent and I can only imagine that are much better in the original Arabic, some I thought were not as good. I found the "short stories" which are simply extracts from longer novels to be disruptive and not as moving as the short stories themselves. The rhythm of the book is a bit of a challenge, maybe because the translations of each piece was done by a different person (mostly), some excellent and others simply good, is why the book doesn't seem to flow - but that's OK since it is a collection of stories and is not meant to be read in a marathon session. This book certainly isn't for everyone. If you like to try new topics, new writers or new cultures you could learn a lot. The stars are just an average, you really cannot give a book like this in a blanket rating. For more book reviews go to ManOfLaBook.com