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July 2011

The Arab Spring, Part I

This month and next, we’re documenting the Arab Spring with literature from the countries of the uprisings. Following the sequence of events, we begin in North Africa with writing from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and Tunisia. In fiction and polemic, poetry and reporting, writers offer insights both on the insurrections and the contexts in which they occurred, providing an invaluable perspective from which to consider this ongoing revolution.

We open with German Trade Prize winner Boualem Sansal’s tribute to Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian whose self-immolation set the events of the Arab Spring in motion. Activist Nawal El Saadawi provides a snapshot of the first days of the Egyptian uprising, and Miral al-Tahawy tells of a peasant girl carried off by the Chief of Bedouins. Laila Marouane, author of The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris, contributes a harrowing portrait of Algerian misogyny and oppression. Laila Neihoum presents a manifesto for Libya, while her countryman Fadhil Al-Azzawi opens a theme park for deceased dictators. From Sudan, poet Tarek Eltayeb considers recent history, and Amir Tag Elsir’s novice writer courts a pompous novelist. And from Tunisia, Cecile Oumhani interviews the publisher Elisabeth Daldoul, while poets Amina Said and Tahar Bekri speak of a country under siege. Next month we’ll turn to Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.

Elsewhere, our Man in Madrid series wraps up with Doménico Chiappe’s tale of an author turned ghostwriter, and Jonathan Blitzer’s illuminating interview with the author. And in poetry from three Latin Americans, Nicaragua’s Ernesto Mejía Sánchez keeps watch in a translation by William Carlos Williams, Mexico’s Olvido García Valdés reflects on the moon, and Argentina’s Horacio Castillo considers the Arctic.

An Open Letter to Mohamed Bouazizi
By Boualem Sansal
You delivered the spark, your task is done, the task is ours now to finish.
Translated from French by Edward Gauvin
Is This How Women Grow Up?
By Leïla Marouane
When the massacres began in 1990 we had our doors bullet-proofed.
Translated from French by Alison Anderson
Path of Light
Where have you come from? From the other world. And where are you going? Towards the other world. Rabi’a al-’Adawiyya “Song of the Hermit”   I slept for three centuries on…
Translated from French
The Mothers
By Amina Saïd
From now on the mothers will sleep aloneamong the portraits of the deadonly the mothers know where they’ve goneand how the long labour of dyinghad distanced them already from the livingalone from now…
Translated from French by Marilyn Hacker
Founding Fathers
By Fadhil al-Azzawi
Some visitors responded to the waves of the leaders of yesteryear by giving them the finger.
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
The Guest
By Miral al-Tahawy
And she tells the story of how he came and took her away on his horse and shut her up in a house with high walls.
Translated from Arabic by Samah Selim
By Horacio Castillo
The eye of the seal—my amulet—will lead me to the white bear.Is there anything more beautiful than to pursue the white bear over the white ocean?I’ve followed his trail now through many dreams; these…
Translated from Spanish by Samuel Gray
The White Breast, the Black Breast
By Horacio Castillo
My mother had a white breast and a black breast.
Translated from Spanish by Samuel Gray
By Ernesto Mejía Sánchez
William Carlos Williams (1883–1963) produced a good many translations of Spanish-language poetry during the course of his poetic career, as well as translations of Greek, French, and Chinese poems. He…
Translated from Spanish by William Carlos Williams
Certain Suspicions
For a poet we loved very much When the paths of the two will intersect at noon, the observer from his high lookout will see a cross drawn on the ground. He will wait for a long time until one of the two…
Translated from German
Publishing in Tunisia: An Interview with Elisabeth Daldoul of Elyzad
Elisabeth Daldoul founded her publishing house, Elyzad, in Tunisia almost six years ago. My first experience with her was with A cinq mains, a book in which she published five short stories written by…
Translated from French
With March’s Moon the Photo
with March’s moon the photo arrived and we were all alive; rapid words from that essence that is fast and that turns and detaches itself; slow, the moon, returns month by month Translation of “[con…
Translated from Spanish by Stefan Bošković
I Call You Tunisia
By Tahar Bekri
II heard your voice at daybreakLike a scarlet dawnGiving birth in darknessThe years’ turning backOn themselvesRocking the ebb and flowOn the shore of a seaAt once full and emptyI caught your lightLost…
Translated from French by Marilyn Hacker
By Horacio Castillo
Jews ask for signs, Greeks for wisdom,but I say: Go crazy.Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe?The light of the world has been palmed.You’re blind?Rejoice in your blindness.You’re deaf?Rejoice in…
Translated from Spanish by Samuel Gray
My Lot in the Days of the Lord
I divide the days of the lord Into sunlit and sunless I found joy in the first of these Delight and peace of mind Yet the sun has been gone for months And I have no veil to delude me No memory of rites…
Translated from Arabic
The Rook, the Crow, the Magpie
By Olvido García Valdés
the rook, the crow, the magpie,like humans, one step and the next,in order to walk lost in thought each couldbecome a talker; headweighted down, learning almost reflective,touch of iridescent light, each…
Translated from Spanish by Catherine Hammond
The City of the Sun
By Horacio Castillo
How could they suffer us to name the bird magnolia?
Translated from Spanish by Samuel Gray
O My Libya
By Diane Oatley
We’ll go with you wherever you may go. Our palm trees blossom from your secret springs. Your face redeems us. When Nowhere’s left for you we’ll take your place. You will always be us…
Translated from Arabic by Sumaya Jirde Ali
from “The Grub Hunter”
By Amir Tag Elsir
Some texts I compose naked in a closed room with the drapes drawn and not a breath of air.
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
The Egyptian Revolution Won’t Be Fooled
By Nawal El Saadawi
The battle continues and the revolution continues.
Translated from Arabic by Chip Rossetti