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January 2014

Kurdish Literature

This month we present writing by Kurdish authors. Writers from the various regions and dialects of Kurdistan consider questions of nation, language, and identity, providing fresh perspectives on this ancient culture and its contemporary conflicts. Bakhtiyar Ali describes an assassin's tipping point. On her deathbed, Yavuz Ekinci's widow remembers the true love of her youth. Murathan Mungan draws on the Kurdish oral tradition. Alber Sabanoglu surveys recent writing about the history of Kurds in Turkey. Prominent poet Abdulla Pashew blends political and personal longing, then discusses the moral power of poetry with Ziad Rashad. Murat Özyaşar feels a shock of recognition. Kajal Ahmad delineates a politics of the body, Hama Jaza aches for freedom, and Jamal Khambar mourns the victims of honor killings. In our special section of Polish literary reportage, Paweł Smoleński interviews a painter in Iraqi Kurdistan, Witold Szablowski tours a Banga shipyard, and Andrzej Stasiuk explores Kyrgyzstan. And in the third installment of  "Spirit Summoning," Sakumi Takama's fake mediums get a real surprise.

The Beginnings of Ja’far-i-Magholi and Hasan Tofan
By Bakhtiyar Ali
I, Hasan Tofan, along with Ja'far-i Magholi grew up in the Party's network. The day Mamosta Shawboyan called us and told us the good news that we had both been assigned to a clandestine cell involved…
Translated from Kurdish by Kareem Abdulrahman
from “The Lost Lands of Paradise”
By Yavuz Ekinci
Aram, I am but a poor, ignorant woman. I have no one. My grandchildren laugh at me. I hear the whispers of the people who come to visit me. “She lived too long. Let her die and be at peace already!”…
Translated from Turkish by Kardelen Kala
By Murathan Mungan
The question I left you takes a lifetime to answerdear friend whose linen sleeve smells of bloodThe master’s gaze is bare, I lean back, untroubledmy checkmate at hand, a cyanide solitaire in my…
Translated from Turkish by Aron Aji & David Gramling
Breaking the Taboo: Turkish Writers Face the Kurdish Past
By Alber Sabanoglu
Istanbul is a booming city these days. Neighborhoods where no one used to venture after dark become “in” areas full of restaurants, cafés, and art galleries; old, decrepit…
By Abdulla Pashew
I don’t know how to become one with you.If you’re heaven, then tell me.I will kneel to every god.If you’re hell, then tell me.I will fill the earth with sin.I don’t know how to…
Translated from Kurdish by Hemn Bakr & Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse
The Poetry of Truth: An Interview with Abdulla Pashew
By Ziad Rashad
Ziad Rashad:  If you could begin the interview, what question would you ask yourself?Abdulla Pashew: In my poem “Kazewaya,” I say, “I have passed many questions, yet / Many are…
Translated from Kurdish by Dina Dara Omer Meran & Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse
Mirror Shock
By Murat Özyasar
My sister cycled through comments about my mom like beads on her tespih. “Mom is very sick, she’s starting to mix up who’s who.” This was all she knew and all she said to me every…
Translated from Turkish by Hardy Griffin
Separation from Earth
By Kajal Ahmad
When I explodedLike the horizon, my hairBecame a belt around the Earth’s waist.For the frozen poles of the south,I turned myself into a pair of socks,For the chills in the North, from threads of…
Translated from Kurdish by Darya Ali
Sudden Sorrow
By Hama Jaza
Oh, how tired, how exhausted I am from the day’s sorrowsI am so weary of my body with the sudden sorrows of the nightThere is not a night I don’t dream of punishments and executionsThere is…
Translated from Kurdish by Hakar Dlshad
Painting the Occupation
By Paweł Smoleński
What did Suleiman Shakir paint? An abandoned house. An old man on a donkey. Children picking daffodils. The pictures didn’t need captions. Everyone knew what he was trying to tell them about the…
Translated from Polish by Sean Gasper Bye
The Ship-breakers
By Witold Szablowski
1Shuel is eighteen years old, in a checked shirt hanging loose over his trousers, and with the trusting smile of a child to whom nobody has ever done any harm. Shuel and I are sunk up to our ankles in…
Translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
If You See Fatima
By Jamal Khambar
Translators’ note: Maria was the name of a girl murdered in an honor killing in Sweden; Fatima Shahindal was killed for the same reason a few years before Maria.Maria,If you see Fatima, tell herThey…
Translated from Kurdish by Alana Marie Levinson-LaBrosse & Soran Azad
Spirit Summoning, Part III
By Sakumi Tayama
My mother’s always been selfish and immature. She could be frustrating and drive me crazy from time to time but even I knew that there’s no such thing as a “perfect parent.” In…
Translated from Japanese by Mark Gibeau
Kyrgyzstan: Shade and Shadow
By Andrzej Stasiuk
No Bukhara, no Samarkand, no meaning, just bare life in the rarefied air. That had been what I was after. A clarity of existence. To see sand sifting through the post-imperial rust. That would be enough…
Translated from Polish by Bill Johnston