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May 2007

Behind Bars: Writings From Inside

We confess to smuggling out the arresting details, strong convictions, and guilty pleasures of these writings from prison. Fatos Lubonja recalls his chilling "Second Sentence." Fadhil al-Azzawi negotiates prison politics in "Cell Block Five." Khadija Marouazi's phobic captive rats out his innocent cellmate in "Biography of Ash," while Tirdad Zolghadr cuts a deal with his new "Friends." Jorge Garcia and Fidel Martinez's defiant women prisoners sing "The Ballad of Ventas Prison." Leena Lander's political activist in "The Order" writes her last letter to the foster father she served, then betrayed. Mario Benedetti reveals the captive unconscious in "He Dreamed That He Was in Prison." And in escapes from other forms of confinement, Guillermo Saavedra's "Runaway Country" captures a nation fleeing political and economic chaos, while Cuban exile and mental patient Guillermo Rosales "checks out" of his euphemistic "Boarding Home." We trust you'll be a captive audience.

By Gamal al-Ghitani
“The most important Arab novelist today.”—Naguib Mahfouz
Translated from Arabic by Humphrey Davies
from Biography of Ash
By Khadija Marouazi
There, where my body seemed to lay a great distance from me, I put my hand on my leg, on my fingers, and I couldn't tell they were mine. My thighs. My legs. My waist. Everything was dry and withered.…
Translated from Arabic by Alexander Elinson
Other People
By Franziska Gerstenberg
You’re not going to cause me any trouble now, are you, the conductor said.
Translated from German by Edna McCown
By Tirdad Zolghadr
A warden takes me by the arm as I slip on my blindfold and step out of the cell. I’m led down several corridors and seated down somewhere as a door swings shut behind me. I raise my head to peer…
By Mario Rigoni Stern
The departure came in the month of March, when the thaw opened up the passes, which in our mountains were like gateways toward the countries of central Europe. They would go on foot, with the tools of…
Translated from Italian by Gregory Conti
from A Short History of Dance
By Marjana Savka
If you can, travel to the end on wire bridges / above the boiling lava.
Translated from Ukrainian by Askold Melnyczuk
He Dreamed That He Was in Prison
By Mario Benedetti
That prisoner dreamed that he was in prison. Naturally, the dreams had details and patterns. For example, on the wall of the dream there was a poster from Paris; on the real wall there was only a dark…
Translated from Spanish by Harry Morales
from Second Sentence
By Fatos Lubonja
February 1979 started with heavy snow, a biting wind, and the baying of the Alsatian kept by the guards to foil escape attempts. Superstitious prisoners claimed that the dog’s howling at night augured…
Translated from Albanian by John Hodgson
Runaway Country
¡Argentina, Little green branch afire! -Ricardo E. Molinari LIGHT Fire? No: light. Flame? No: light. Light? Yes: this light. Light like this? No: like smoke from humid candles feeble putrid light…
Translated from Spanish
from Cell Block Five
By Fadhil al-Azzawi
It took me some long months to realize that I was incarcerated. My dreams had suddenly ended. Like Zoroaster I awoke from a lengthy slumber to discover rudely and bitterly that justice does not always…
Translated from Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins
From The Order
By Leena Lander
Translator’s Note: The story takes place in 1918 Finland, right after the end of the Finnish Civil War, where some 30,000 Finns were killed, most by summary execution or in detention camps. This…
Translated from Finnish by Jill Timbers
Boarding Home
By Guillermo Rosales
Introduction: Willie in Miami, Rey in Nueva Yorkby Norberto FuentesThree of us made up that sad brotherhood at the end of the Sixties in Cuba: Guillermo Rosales, Reinaldo Arenas, and their faithful servant.…
Translated from Spanish by Anna Kushner
There Are No Hopeless Situations
By Vera Kobets
“I’m very happy,” said Personov as he left the house for work. “I’m very happy,” he reminded himself as he performed the process in reverse that evening. “I’m…
Translated from Russian by James Russell