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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
Dear Brother: I write these few lines to let you know we’re doing well, on the whole, though it varies from day to day: sometimes the wind changes, it rains lead, life bleeds from every pore. To…
Translated from French
Multilingual
Is This How Women Grow Up?
It is all a matter of décor Change your bed change your body What’s the use since it is still Me betraying myself Indolent and scattered And my shadow undresses In the arms of girls, all…
Translated from French
Multilingual
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
Multilingual
The Mothers
By Erín Moure
From now on the mothers will sleep alone among the portraits of the dead only the mothers know where they’ve gone and how the long labour of dying had distanced them already from the living alone…
Translated from French
Multilingual
Founding Fathers
Author’s note: The Iraq in the novel is an imaginary Iraq, and I tried to use it as a symbol for all the Arab countries. Most of the characteristics of the four dictators in the novel are derived…
Translated from Arabic by Francesco Verso
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
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Alaska
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
Multilingual
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
Multilingual
Living to Write: An Interview with Doménico Chiappe
Jonathan Blitzer: “The Writer of Memories,” the story we’ve published in this issue of the magazine, is the first one to appear in your book of stories, Párrafos Sueltos (2003).…
Translated from Spanish
Vigils
By Ahd Niazy
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.…
Translated from Spanish
Multilingual
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
Multilingual
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
Multilingual
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
Epistle
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
Multilingual
The Writer of Memories
Of my first emigration, I have no memories. Of the country that I left, I think I may still have the images from some small colorless photographs. I cannot make out the pain of my mother’s good-bye…
Translated from Spanish
Multilingual
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
Multilingual
The Rook, the Crow, the Magpie
the rook, the crow, the magpie, like humans, one step and the next, in order to walk lost in thought each could become a talker; head weighted down, learning almost reflective, touch of iridescent light,…
Translated from Spanish by Lee Jong San
Multilingual
The City of the Sun
By Horacio Castillo
How could they suffer us to name the bird magnolia?
Translated from Spanish by Samuel Gray
Multilingual
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
Multilingual
from “The Grub Hunter”
Translator’s Note:  The Grub Hunter is the story of a former secret service agent who, on being forced to retire after an accident costs him his right leg, becomes obsessed with the idea of…
Translated from Arabic by T.O. Bobe
The Egyptian Revolution Won’t Be Fooled
By Nawal El Saadawi
The battle continues and the revolution continues.
Translated from Arabic by Chip Rossetti
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