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August 2011

The Arab Spring, Part II

This month we continue our exploration of the Arab Spring with literature from the countries of the uprisings. Moving from North Africa to the Middle East, we present writing from Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.  In prison memoirs and comic fiction, from the distance of exile and the immediacy of the barricades, writers interpret both the insurrections and the contexts in which they occurred, providing an invaluable perspective from which to consider this ongoing revolution.

We open with an interview with Rafik Schami, whose work has been banned in his native Syria for forty years, discussing the tortured history and uncertain future of his country. Cécile Oumhani and Syrian poet Aïcha Arnaout discuss writing the revolt. Jordan's Elias Farkouh finds a child's dream day ends in a nightmare, while Beirut39 honoree Mohammed Hasan Alwan observes a young man's musical (and sentimental) education. Bahraini poet-activist Ali Al Jallawi recalls his brutal arrest and imprisonment. On the brink of his departure from Yemen, Mohammed Algharbi Amran's young medical student confronts the past, and the father, he's never known.  And Arab Booker nominee Wajdi Muhammad Abduh al-Ahdal tests the grammar of freedom.

Elsewhere, in a gathering of Scandinavian poets, Rune Christiansen ponders memory and death, Thomas Boberg feels dejection, Frederik Bjerre Andersen invents a character, and Gunnar Harding looks back fifty-five years.

The Well
By Badriyah Al Bishr
The jinn began shaking Rafa’a’s body like a leaf.
Translated from Arabic by Chip Rossetti
Declining Freedom
By Wajdi Muhammad Abduh al-Ahdal
The assailant had pulled the niqab from her face during the struggle.
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
Main Character
By Frederik Bjerre Andersen
His face is a baby’s bottom. And yet. Not.
Translated from Danish by Morten Høi Jensen
The Fountain
When the inscrutable embraces sluggish time spreading its invisible light between two suspended shores rags of screams, a flight of black cloth spread a hollow vertigo down the native alley Sanctuaries…
Translated from French
A Conversation with Rafik Schami
By Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Rafik Schami was born in Damascus in 1946, came to Germany in 1971, and studied chemistry in Heidelberg. Today he is the most successful German-speaking Arabic writer. His novels have been translated…
Translated from German
A Scream Has No Alphabet: An Interview with Aïcha Arnaout
By Cécile Oumhani
Born in Damascus, the poet and novelist Aïcha Arnaout has lived in Paris since 1978. We have had quite a few conversations over the past few years, often at the Marché de la Poésie,…
Translated from French by Cécile Oumhani
By Mohammed Hasan Alwan
I spent all the funds my mother sent and returned to Riyadh at the end of vacation having slept with the woman fifteen times.
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
A Telephone Conversation
Dear little squirrel, can you hear me, do you understand what I say when I talk to you, can you feel me lifting you, as we cross the yard together in order to bury you in the ditch where the soil is soft…
Translated from Norwegian
By Mohammad Algharbi Amran
You won’t believe me when I tell you that I am meeting my son for the first time.
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
When the snow covers your grave you have forgotten the snow. Translation of “Impromptu.” Copyright 1994 by Rune Christiansen. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by…
Translated from Norwegian
God After Ten O’Clock
By Davit Gabunia
The State Security Building: The First Arrest of the Seagull It was maybe three or four o'clock, or maybe sometime in between. Why am I trying to establish an exact time? Curses on the clock that…
Translated from Arabic by Scott Shanahan
Dolls and Angels
By Elias Farkouh
When Hannan was within a few steps of her house, she saw everything.
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
from “The Horse Eaters”
You can feel dejected, thwarted, dead, even as you walk about breathing soundly. You can sense that the bat back home is considerably larger than yourself. And were your fingers to get tangled in the…
Translated from Danish
So much of this happened in basements, in thick woolen sweaters, in B major but with strong passages in minor. On the outskirts. That’s where we were from but our thoughts had wings like the pigeons…
Translated from Swedish by Sarah Moore