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The Magic Lanterns Of Libyan Literature

July 2006

Like a bottled genie, Libya’s literature whispers to us mysteriously, until those moments when its container is buffed properly, its luster blazes and the spirit within reveals marvels and wonders beyond the imagination. It happened when Libya discovered oil in the 60s, and it struck a well of poetry, prose, and press that its fearful master soon bottled up.

Libyan storytellers have conjured literary styles and strategies to outwit dull-minded and tin-eared bureaucrats, revealing the magic words of free artistry. Ibrahim Al-Koni’s “Right Course” shows the downside of desert-style finance. In Sadiq Neihoum’s “The Sultan’s Flotilla,” the nail-biting ruler of a city fears its coming doom and manifold misfortunes, and in Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Fagih’s “The Locusts,” villagers join forces against a horde of insects while they sleep. And Mohammed Al-Asfar addresses life and loss in “Wet Sleeves,” where elderly men observe the cycles of mourning, and in his “Mint Flavored Hiccups,” where a fugitive’s family revisits the past while awaiting the future.

Our poets echo the oral tradition while venerating the personal, in the intimacy of Salem el-Okli’s love lyrics, Laila Neihoum’s wry notes on modern life, and Ashur Etwebi’s snapshot of a spot of time at a café.

Finally, we thank our guest editor, Khaled Mattawa, for collecting the work of this issue, and for his brave and shimmering introduction to contemporary Libyan literature.