Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World

Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World

by Samuel Shimon

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Beirut is the 2009 World Book Capital, as designated by UNESCO, and at the center of the festivities, in collaboration with the world-renowned Hay Festival, is a competition to identify the thirty-nine most promising young talents in Arab literature. The selection of the "Beirut 39" follows the success of a similar competition in the 2007 World Book Capital, Bogotá, celebrating achievements in Latin American literature.

This year, for the first time, the winners-nominated by publishers, literary critics, and readers across the Arab world and internationally, and selected by a panel of eminent Arab writers, academics, and journalists-will be published together in a one-of-a-kind anthology. Edited by Samuel Shimon of Banipal magazine, the collection will be published simultaneously in Arabic and English throughout the world by Bloomsbury and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.

Beirut 39 provides an important look at the Arab-speaking world today, through the eyes of thirty-nine of its brightest young literary stars.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608192830
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/06/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 530 KB

About the Author

Samuel Shimon is the co-founder and deputy editor of Banipal, a highly respected magazine of new Arab writing in English translation. He is also the founder and editor of Kikah, the most popular cultural website in Arabic. His autobiographical novel An Iraqi in Paris was long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Amin Maalouf is the author of many works of fiction, including Leo the African and Samarkand, as well as non-fiction, including The Crusades through Arab Eyes and In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong
Writer and publisher Samuel Shimon was born into a poor Assyrian family in Iraq in 1956. He left his country in 1979 to go to Hollywood and become a film-maker, travelling via Damascus, Amman, Beirut, Nicosia, Cairo and Tunis. In 1985 he settled in Paris as a refugee, before moving in 1996 to London, where he has lived ever since. He co-founded Banipal, the renowned international magazine of contemporary Arab literature in English translation and is the founder and editor of the popular literary website in Arabic He also edited Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World (2010). He is working now on his second novel The Militant Lingerie.

Read an Excerpt

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.

Table of Contents

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

Customer Reviews

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Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is like being surrounded by a bunch of chefs, all offering you platters of their signature amuse-bouches. Basically, it's a little overwhelming, and my suggestion is not to have too many at one time or you won't be able to enjoy them properly. Read a few passages, digest, then read some more. Some of these short texts really pop out, but, unfortunately, mainly due to their brevity, many get lost. I understand the 39-under-39-idea and it's interesting, but I think the book suffered a little for it - fewer writers presenting longer pieces would have been preferable to me. Still, I've come away with a list of new writers to look out for, so it was a book I wouldn't have wanted to miss.
cransell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a slow read for me. I was excited to be introduced to new authors, but I didn't find it easy going and most of the stories and poems didn't engage me. I'm not sure if it is because the work was in translation (often I don't love works in translation), or because the stories told felt unfamiliar to me and I didn't have enough time to became engaged in any given story. Just okay for me.
PghDragonMan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After finishing a book, I usually know exactly what I want to say about it. This was not the case with Beirut 39. I have been agonizing over my review since I completed the book. Part of what I am wrestling with is my emotions over the content. Throwing political correctness to the winds, I am writing it as I feel it.The majority of the stories left me cold. I had no common frame of reference with the characters. I was reading just so many words on a page, nothing more. There were a few gems to be found in this collection, but most of these had a Western flavor to them, nothing I could clearly point to as being Middle Eastern. I very much enjoyed Age of Orphans and Sword of Medina, so it was not the setting that bothered me or left me feeling isolated.What bothered me was the hatred that seemed to permeate most of the writings. One of the stories mentioned local customs of revenge, how during a fight one person would try to scratch another¿s face to leave their mark. This also was the basis for a blood feud between the families and demanded the injured party kill the person who marked them. This story was allegedly set in modern times, so I am left to wonder even more about this part of the world. Is this really the way it is? And yet, if you read foreign media you can readily find accounts of ¿honor killings¿, women killed because they simply looked at someone who was not their husband or family.Perhaps the most grievous example of this type of story, one that borders on pure propaganda, was a story entitled Coexistence. In this story, our main character is writing to the unnamed head of some terrorist group planning suicide bombings in Haifa. Our letter writer is writing a letter of protest about these planned bombings. He is upset, not that the bombings are being planned at all, but he is upset that non-Jews may be killed. If this story was intended as satire, it was lost on me. I do not believe this piece is anything other than what it reads as: hatred against Jews. I almost quit reading the book at this point.If I had, I would have missed one of the better short stories I¿ve ever read, one that almost seemed like an homage to Kafka. A Crime in Mataeem Street is based on the premise that everyone has a price and given the proper incentive, anyone can be forced into abandoning their morals. What intrigued me were the rich descriptions, the characters rapidly sketched out for you in bold strokes of a pen. While you knew the ending of the story from the outset, the journey was enjoyable and satisfying. I also enjoyed the exotic locals described by the author. Truly an inspired piece. If all the stories had been of this caliber, I would have nothing but high praise for Beirut 39.This book is a work of fiction; at least I hope it is given the political sentiment of many of the stories. I had no idea that the concept of fiction would extend to the authors themselves. At least three of the authors listed in the Notes on the Authors at the end of the book, are described as being born in Palestine in the 1970s. I have consulted several maps and cartographic sources and I have yet to find this place. It does not exist. I also note that these same authors live in countries outside the Middle East. I openly question that they ever lived there at all.There was some discussion recently about some memoirs being less than true memories and these books, and the authors, have come under pressure and fallen out of literary favor. Shouldn¿t that same standard be imposed on works with fictitious authors? I feel this is only fair.I have received a fair number of books through Early Review. All have gone on to take a place in my personal library. That is not going to happen with this volume. Despite the one treasure I did find in the collection, I am not keeping this one. I am offended by enough of these stories I do not want to it to propagate further, so I am not even taking
jfetting on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beirut 39 is a collection of short writings (short stories, chapters from novels, poetry) from young writers (under 40) from the Arab speaking world. Overall they're pretty interesting. Some are great - I really liked the story "The Pools and the Piano", about increasing intolerance for foreigners in Libya. "Haneef from Glasgow", a story about a conversation about a Kashmiri servant living in Scotland and his former employer, is also excellent. My favorite piece in the whole book is the poem "The Geography of I", which is hard to describe but absolutely wonderful. The subject of the stories aren't always political - there are selections from murder mysteries, love stories, all sorts of things. Some are political, about bombings and whatnot. But in general, worth reading.
benn3012 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am sorry for the long delay in submitting this review, but I simply had to take a hiatus while reading this volume. The arrangement of the short prose left me a bit addled as I journeyed between cultures and then to have poetry sections interspersed was too much. Upon my return I focused on sticking to the short stories and then after a couple of weeks went back and enjoyed the poetry.The stories were for the most part well written and well translated. Having lived in the Maghreb as a lad and visited elsewhere in the Near East as an adult, it was refrshing to have my imagination filled with memories ofsandstone buildings, brutal heat and the depth of the blue when the sand meets the sea. But having worked in a war zone, it was also too easy to see in some works how the immense and seemingly random violence totally disrupts the psyche from any semblance of what is "normal" in the world.I congratulate the editors on their selevction of authors and translators. However, the ambition of the book was undercut for me by the sequencing.
Philotera on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sometimes a book provides you with a dusty window into a world that is very distant from your own. Distant not just in space, but in psychology. And for that, regardless of its imperfections, Beirut 39 is a jewelbox. More a collection of vignettes than stories, I found myself wandering down scirocco-blown streets, through hostile European squares, and sitting in tiny, dark living rooms with people I would like to understand but wasn't sure I could. Perhaps these little keyholes are enough to see that there are differences, and that differences can be respected. "The Twentieth Terrorist" is particularly fascinating for an American. It's presentation of a brutal, violant school for martyrs so at odds with what we expect, and yet so believable.There were stories by women, and those I studied to see where we, in that universal sisterhood of women, overlapped. I could find it in ways that both shocked and saddened me, and sometimes gave me hope.I wish the pieces were longer, and perhaps fewer, but then they might not have the urgency of communications sent with great difficulty from a very long way off.
Litfan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beirut 39 is a collection of short stories, poems, and novel excerpts from Arab writers, all under the age of 39, hailing from Morocco, Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Saudia Arabia, and other countries. There are also Arab writers living in Europe and elsewhere who have contributed. It¿s a lot to pack into 286 pages. The resulting product is sort of like a Whitman¿s Sampler of writers. For me, some didn¿t connect, and others connected in a very deep way. Islam Samhan¿s poem about Gaza moved me to tears. The book as a whole provides a wonderful, engaging overview of the literature emerging from the current generation of Arab writers as it presents a multitude of themes including repression of expression, gender relations, and religious fundamentalism. It provides a good starting point of promising writers to explore, and it¿s a good way to ¿try out¿ authors to see which ones you¿d like to read more of.There were a couple of things with regard to the format of the book that were awkward. There were several pages of endnotes at the end of the book, as well as a list of author biographies. It became cumbersome to flip back and forth each time I came to a new story, to get the author background and endnotes. It would have been more functional to have the author biography at the beginning of that author¿s contribution, and either endnotes at the end of each story or footnotes. In the end this proved to be a very worthwhile read. Some of the novel excerpts left me wanting more because I felt I¿d just get into the rhythm of the story and it was over. But they did well as stand-alone excerpts too. This is a diverse and engaging look into the world of Arab literature and life. Highly recommended.
chelseagirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's taken me awhile to get around to reviewing this book, largely because while I was interested in the notion of an anthology of Arab writing, the work failed to draw me in. There are 39 pieces in this book, fiction and poetry, winners of a competition for writers under 40. Some of it may have to do with the brevity of the pieces (39 works in less than 300 pages); few narratives have the opportunity for significant development, and several novel excerpts that might have drawn me to read more are for books that haven't been translated as a whole. I did find several stories particularly memorable: Mohammad Hassan Alwan's "Haneef from Glasgow", Randa Jarrar's "The Story of My Building", and the excerpt from Hamdy el Gazaar's novel Secret Pleasures. An intriguing notion for an anthology, but I enjoyed the concept of the book more than I enjoyed the majority of the reading.
LJuneOsborne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wouldn't know if this encompasses the feeling of most modern Arab literature, but it certainly makes me want to find and read more. This is a collection of short stories, poems, and excerpts from novels by 39 different authors under 40 years of age.The themes of the writings range from modern to traditional, from joyous to sadness, and from times of peace to devastating accounts of war. These mixtures make this book fun to read and engaging, though with these dramatic changes a reader might want to take a moment in between the short pieces to keep themselves from being confused. My most favorite story, also the one that will probably stick in my head the longest, is "The Path to Madness" by Mansoura Ez Eldin, though there are several others in close second. There wasn't any piece that I didn't find something to like about, though some are more memorable than others.I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to try something new or is interested in modern writing. There's also a lot to learn about Arab culture in here!
Sean191 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I cracked this book with a touch of skepticism. That feeling was based on two facts - the first, that I knew there would be, well, 39 different voices being introduced. The second, there would be excerpts from novels. In the first case, my worries were unfounded - there were 39 different voices, but they're the best voices from that generation. The second worry had some reinforcement, but not due to my original rationale. I was worried that an excerpt from a novel wouldn't provide enough to really flesh-out the story. Somehow, the editor and the writers managed to offer excerpts that stand alone well enough to give a whole story. My new problem is, that out of the (I believe nine) excerpts, I've written down seven of the titles in order to try to locate the full novels - as if my "to-be-read" list wasn't long enough! So, 39 writers, poets, authors....39 works all well-worth the read.I've passed the book onto a co-worker who shares my passion for reading, I believe she'll enjoy it just as much.Finally, I never do this, but I wanted to make note of this somewhere because I think it'll continue to make me laugh....Probably my favorite line in a book all year:"Don't call her Kenyan though; let's avoid geopolitical problems that cost us our sandwiches."
Miela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As with all anthologies, this was a bit uneven in quality. However, I was happy to see an author (Randa Abul-Jabbar) that I already knew I liked.
kaionvin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am essentially completely ignorant about ¿Arab literature", so I was very excited to delve right into Beirut 39. What a better way to be introduced than through thirty-nine contemporary viewpoints, I thought¿ Surely an impression along the edges will begin to form in my mind of a whole.The first impression that becomes incredibly obvious very quickly (if you choose to skip the introduction) is that the ¿promising young talents¿ represented were chosen as individuals, and not via specific writing selection. This probably benefits the quality of writer¿s list, but the quality of this anthology seems to suffer as a result. The selections, varying from 3-13 pages long, comprise of short stories, poems, and passages from novels-- but oddly few segments seem designed for any impact within that short length. I think the famous six-word-story exercise is plenty of proof that short word count is no excuse for lack of interest, and consequently I was very disappointed by how many of the selections seemed like half-thoughts. Ultimately long sections of the anthology felt uniformly (a difficult task indeed with so many writers) like a sad little notebook of writing exercises.The ones that managed to stick out of the forgettable crowd:1) Contrary teenager Adaf is able to find some respite ¿At the Post Office¿ (Adania Shibli) when she takes over operation from her lazy, collaborator dad.2) ¿Who Are You Carrying That Rose For?¿ (Islam Samhan) is a poem that plunks right down into the mind-state of warzone Gaza.3) A man is overwhelmed by memories upon a phone call from an old servant, ¿Haneef from Glasgow¿ (Mohammed Hassan Alwan).4) ¿Coexistence¿ (Ala Hlehel) is a blackly wry look at a man sick of the insipid conversations that follow bombings in Haifa. 5) Najwan Darwish¿s ¿Six Poems¿ juggles object and metaphor, statement and observation.6) A man is haunted into accepting his absurd fate as the latest incarnation of a ¿God¿s Anointed Ruler¿/inspired madman/tyrant in ¿Suicide 20¿ (Youssef Rakha).Overall, not a horrible waste of time or anything, but I suspect well-established writers don't need this dubious honor.**This review is of the advanced reading copy I received from Goodreads.
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