Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World

Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World

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by Samuel Shimon

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This fascinating collection of pieces by 39 young Arab voices from all over the world was put together by the Hay Festival in celebration of Beirut's 2009 selection as World Book Capital. Incorporating stories, poems, and novel excerpts, the enormously varied lineup includes Abdellah Taia's “The Wounded Man,” about a gay university student in Morocco watching a forbidden French film during Ramadan; an excerpt from Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmad Saadwi, in which a garbage-diver searches for the perfect nose to complete the “hybrid body” he's assembling; and “Haneef from Glasgow” by Mohammad Hassan, in which a Kashmiri immigrant is viewed through the eyes of his Saudi employers' son. Nazem El Sayed contributes delightfully compact revelations in his “Thirteen Poems”; Randa Jarrar takes a tender look at a Palestinian boy in “The Story of My Building”; Hala Kawtharani explores the Beirut of the 1950s and '60s in “Lebanon/Switzerland? Beirut/Paris?” Because they are so involving and diverse, readers may be frustrated by the entries' brevity, though anyone working on their to-read list will find plenty of ideas. (June) Karen Rigby
The best of these works frequently underscore darker moments, running the gamut from a bombing and a book-burning to schoolyard bullying, but do so without criticizing the characters nor the conditions of the societies which shaped them. Read together, a sense of restlessness—of migrations from village to city, from childhood to adulthood, from living with hesitation to gradually accepting fate—emerges. These stories dig at human fallibilities with imaginative risks.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-conceived gathering of poems, short stories and other work by 39 Arab writers under the age of 40. By editor Shimon's account, these writers are part of a "youthful pan-Arab literary movement" that respects few national boundaries, and that highlights individualism and a yearning for personal freedom. Moreover-and anathema to a purist-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." In other words, it's a Pushcart of another kind, though without all the establishment figures. Many of the authors are residents of non-Arab countries, especially France, but most set their themes pointedly in Arab concerns. Among the highlights of the collection is a story by Syrian architect-turned-novelist Rosa Yassin Hassan, who depicts a young Darfurian refugee, a victim of torture, being interviewed for political asylum in Canada, one of many such exiles whose "chances were few, their words for ever [sic] doubted." Palestinian writer Islam Samhan delivers a poem that, as if in response to James Wright's "A Mad Fight Song for William S. Carpenter," recounts the victim of a bombing: "He enjoyed the phosphorus toys / that lit up brightly. / He didn't know / that he burnt up like a butterfly / without a sound." The Dutch-Moroccan writer Abdelkader Benali imagines a young man, presumably much like himself, who has trouble wrapping his brain around the fact that his sister is outdoing him, appreciatively listening to his father mutter, "Nobody wants to marry a woman who's had too much education. Educated women have loud mouths and opinions of their own." And Algerian writer Abderrazak Boukebba delivers an odd allegory that enfolds the world of the exile abroad: "The homeland is not the dust we are born on, but the memory of that dust that accompanies us."Despite a few duds, this is a well-made anthology, of much interest to students of world literature and of the contemporary Arab world.

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Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
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5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

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Beirut 39

By Samuel Shimon

Bloomsbury USA

Copyright © 2010 Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts Limited
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60819-202-1


'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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
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