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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
When Rafa‘a died, the last human desires in the bosoms of the people of Huzum village were extinguished, most of all in the bosoms of its women.  The burning desire for Rafa'as comeuppance…
Translated from Arabic
Declining Freedom
By Haytham El Wardany
Translator’s Note:  In Wajdi al-Ahdal’s novel Donkey in the Choir, Tha’ira, the rebellious wife of a Yemeni politician, has neglected work on her master’s degree since her…
Translated from Arabic by Sarah Moore
Main Character
By Rania Mamoun
A Man. Here he is. He has height and breadth. And something in his eye. The man picks his eye. He picks at his eyelashes, eyelid. On the whole the man has face. It could be described. How should we describe…
Translated from Danish
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
When my mother asked me to spend the summer in her brothers’ house in the south, I employed every sophistry of my sixteen years—an age when only a mother pays attention to your budding philosophy…
Translated from Arabic by Pablo Strauss
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
It’s August 2000, and I’m overwhelmed by this emotional leavetaking. It’s the first time you’ve ever dreaded visiting your grandfather al-Atawi, but it’s because you’re…
Translated from Arabic by Jeremy Klemin
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
Hannan didn’t realize how late it was or even that it was late. Today was different. It was an extraordinary moment in every respect. Her mother was no longer the woman she knew, and the neighborhood…
Translated from Arabic
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