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“A well-conceived gathering of poems, short stories and other work by 39 Arab writers under the age of 40.”—Kirkus Reviews
“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 … anyone working on their to-read list will find plenty of ideas.”—Publishers Weekly
“This collection will appeal to literature lovers and anyone interested in understanding Arab culture.”—Library Journal
“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."—Karen Rigby, BookBrowse.com
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.
Preface Hanan al-Shaykh v
Judges' Announcement xi
Introduction Abdo Wazen xiii
Editor's Note xv
from the novel Bedouins on the Edge Abdelaziz Errachidi 1
from the novel The Trip to the Slaughterhouse Abdelkader Benali 8
The Wounded Man Abdellah Taia 17
Amazigh Abderrahim Elkhassar 24
from the novel Skin of Shadow Abderrazak Boukebba 28
from the novel The Twentieth Terrorist Abdullah Thabit 34
At the Post Office Adania Shibli 43
from the novel Frankenstein in Baghdad Ahmad Saadawi 51
eight poems from The Utopia of Cemeteries Ahmad Yamani 57
Coexistence Ala Hlehel 62
Three Poems Bassim al Ansar 68
Two Stories Dima Wannous 72
Mimouna Faïza Guène 82
Three Stories Hala Kawtharani 92
from the novel Secret Pleasures Hamdy el Gazzar 98
from the novel The Last Hanging Poem Hussein al Abri 109
Three Poems Hussein Jelaad 118
Layla's Belly Hyam Yared 123
Who Are You Carrying That Rose For? Islam Samhan 128
from the poem 'The Geology of the I' in The Book of J Joumana Haddad 131
from the novel The Scalpel Kamel Riahi 137
from the novel The Threshold of Ashes Mansour El Souwaim 146
The Path to Madness Mansoura Ez Eldin 155
Haneef from Glasgow Mohammad Hassan Alwan 161
A Boat That Dislikes the Riverbank Mohammad Salah al Azab 168
four poems from Like the Blade of a Knife Nagat Ali 175
The Pools and the Piano Najwa Binshatwan 182
Six Poems Najwan Darwish 194
Thirteen Poems Nazem El Sayed 198
from the novel America Rabee Jaber 204
The Story of My Building Randa Jarrar 215
Guardians of the Air Rosa Yassin Hassan 223
from the novel The Scent of Cinnamon Samar Yezbek 230
Nine Poems Samer Abou Hawwash 237
A Crime in Mataeem Street Wajdi al Ahdal 242
from the novel Raven's Leg Yahya Amqassim 255
Two Stories Yassin Adnan 264
Suicide 20, or The Hakimi Maqama Youssef Rakha 272
Nine Poems Zaki Baydoun 282
Notes on the Text 287
Notes on the Authors 295
Notes on the Translators 301
Posted July 26, 2010
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