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April 2006

Multi-Multi-Culti: Writing Between The Lines

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.

House Work
-1- How often did I go in the morning to Thursday's market. I bought our house supplies, and chose an orchid and mailed the letters. A rain made me wet and filled me with the scent of oranges. Did…
Translated from Arabic
from “White Masks”
By Elias Khoury
Chapter IV: The Dog-1-There’s the clatter of the ancient truck lumbering through the hazy Beirut morning, the sea, and the mingled smell of salt and fish. Sky, gray clouds and waves. Engine clacking,…
Translated from Arabic by Maia Tabet
Omega: Definitions
I am a Muslim feminist from the Fertile Crescent. I have a tattoo on my right wrist. It's of God. I designed it. Do you know where the Fertile Crescent is? One day when we were alone together Shah…
Last Rites
By Enrique Serna
The maid whispers, “It’s Sixto, he wants to know if you can come out to see his boss, says the poor old woman won’t last until morning.” I listen to the news with a feigned serenity,…
Translated from Spanish by Toshiya Kamei
Jameel Bouthaina, and I
We grew older, Jameel Bouthaina and I, each alone, in two separate eras . . . It is time that does what sun and wind do: it polishes us then kills us whenever the mind bears the heart's passion, or…
Translated from Arabic
from “Self-Portrait Abroad”
To my wife and children I dedicate these pages of Corsica (to my teammate go my thanks). TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This slender collection consists of glimpses, less essays than reminiscences, of places…
Translated from French
By Esther Kinsky
The villages here are small and scattered. The houses are low, and trees hardly reach the height of the roofs before they begin to grow crooked. Once a young girl lived in a low-built, brown wooden house…
Translated from German by Martin Chalmers
Broken Glass
By Alain Mabanckou
I need to start by describing the row that accompanied the birth of the bar, to tell you a bit about the calvary the Captain had to face, because some people wanted to drive him into his grave, to draw…
Translated from French by Nick Caistor
By Azhar Abidi
Family tradition relates that in the year of grace 1667, my grandfather, the Count de la Savoia eloped with a beautiful nun from the monastery of Domus Ciliota. The Corpa della Nobilita Venezia revoked…
On Literature
A writer friend of mine told me that a few weeks ago he had had to exclude the most gifted of his students, a young man from Swabia or Baden or Württemberg – neither he nor I can really tell…
Translated from Farsi
from “Ashes of the Amazon”
By Milton Hatoum
I’m from where I was born. I’m from elsewhere. –João Guimarães RosaI read Mundo’s letter in a bar in the Beco das Cancelas, an alley-way where I found refuge from the hubbub of…
Translated from Portuguese by John Gledson
from “Nettles”
IV. At what line and on what page did they begin their emigration the mother asks herself ought one to connect it to the windows which reflect and stare at each other to the rains which jump feet together…
Translated from French
from “Twelve Grams of Happiness”
By Feridun Zaimoglu
This WorldAn Invocation to God – IHe asked me to meet him at the Kreuzberger Café, promising to tell me a story I could use while still staying within the confines of propriety. His call came at…
Translated from German by Margot Bettauer Dembo
from “May the Sun Shine Tomorrow”
By Abdelkader Benali
1Malik Ben weighed 300 pounds on the day he decided to have his name removed from the Yellow Pages. Lugging all that weight around day after day had gotten to be a chore, which is what prompted his second…
Translated from Dutch by Susan Massotty
from “The Belly of the Atlantic,” Chapter One
By Fatou Diome
The first free kick goes to the Italians. Madické's delighted. They've rallied, he thinks, and that reassures him. But his optimism's soon frustrated. The Dutch value their honor. They…
Translated from French by Lulu Norman & Ros Schwartz
How I Went to School
By Tera Fabiánová
I liked doing math. The seven-times table was my darling.
Translated from Czech by David Chirico