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Multi-Multi-Culti: Writing Between The Lines

April 2006

What the US has long known as “multiculturalism” (never without controversy) is now Europe’s most conflicted issue. Yet immigration has brought great, fresh literary voices-and wry, often humorous eyes on the paradoxes of contemporary First World culture-to a continent rich in world-renowned writing. In Senegalese-French author Fatou Diome’s “The Belly of the Atlantic,” a sensitive footballer forfeits his role during sudden death overtime; in Moroccan-Dutch writer Abdelkader Benali’s “May the Sun Shine Tomorrow,” an alternative healer quits the phone book. Congolese-French novelist Alain Mabanckou proves the lasting power of the phrase “J’accuse” in “Broken Glass.” In Iranian-German Navid Kermani’s classroom tale, “On Literature,” a brilliant and impossible writing student vows never to write anything. A Roma girl in the Czech Republic learns a harsh lesson in Tera Fabiánová’s “How I Went to School.”

Hungarian-German Esther Kinsky’s “Love,” follows a quiet and unpredictable man who seduces and then breaks the heart of a village woman. In Lebanese-French Elias Khoury’s White Masks, a Beirut garbage collector recalls the mysterious discovery of a corpse. Lebanese-French poet Vénus Khoury-Ghata creates a kind of fairy tale from an asylum garden, a surrealist homage to the speaker’s mother, in “Nettles.”

While Words Without Borders is devoted to literary work in translation, in rare circumstances, English language authors receive a visa, allowing publication here of Lebanese-British Zeina Ghandour’s personal meditation, the “Omega Definitions,” and Pakistani-Australian Azhar Abidi’s fantastical family history, “Rosa.”

From our archives, Moroccan-Dutch Hafid Bouazza shows that there are people for whom patience or passivity is a sort of job in itself in “Paravion,” and Japanese-German Yoko Tawada sends up a controversial “Hair Tax.”

Finally, we thank Pete Ayrton of Serpent’s Tail, the UK publisher of international literature, for his recommendations and contributions to this issue.