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November 2010

Tablet and Pen: Writing from the Modern Middle East

This month we celebrate the publication of our fifth WWB anthology, Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, edited by Reza Aslan. The aim of this book, and of this complementary issue, is to provide a different, more authentic perception of this complex region, an image not fashioned by the descriptions of invaders, but rather one that arises from the diverse literatures of its most acclaimed poets and writers. These translations from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu display the rich poetic tradition of the region and provide a new paradigm for viewing the mosaic that is the modern Middle East. We hope that the writing presented here and in the anthology may help move our consciousness of the region away from the ubiquitous images of terrorists and fanatics and toward a new, more constructive set of ideas and metaphors—wrought by the region’s own artists, poets, and writers—with which to understand the struggles and aspirations of this restless and multifaceted part of the world.

In an essay appearing here for the first time in English, the great Khalil Gibran frames the discussion with an eloquent argument for the revolutionary power of language. Shahriar Mandanipour, of Censoring an Iranian Love Story fame, snakes inside a family compound turned viper’s nest.  Famed female Persian poet Forugh Farrokhzad contributes a ravishing hymn to desire.  Fouad Laroui recalls the advent of television in Morocco and the dawning of his life's calling. In work from two Turkish masters, novelist Sait Faik Abasiyanik asks if all things come to those who wait, and poet Murathan Mungan seeks a desert assassin. Azra Abbas considers time and beauty, while her fellow Urdu poets Akhtar ul-Iman and Makhdum Moinuddin offer two views from (and of) the city. Shams Langeroody receives a cargo of sorrow, and Granaz Moussavi searches for hidden sunshine.

Elsewhere this month, Dror Burstein delivers the Dakar Courier, Gabriela Adamesteanu charts a Romanian coming of age, and Pravinsinh Chavda’s librarian checks out a patron.

Mummy and Honey
During the seventh-day observance of Grandfather’s passing, paying no heed to the comings and goings of those serving tea and sweet drinks in the five-windowed drawing room, with its gilded scales…
Translated from Farsi
from “The Future of the Arabic Language”
What is the future of the Arabic language? Language is but one manifestation of the power of invention in a nation’s totality or public self. But if this power slumbers, language will stop in its…
Translated from Arabic
By Forugh Farrokhzad
I sensed my skin crack from love’s dilating joy.
Translated from Persian by Sholeh Wolpé
Desert Lights
The wind chisels out of sand its own statues, its hours hot crystals splintered definition of light set in ambush a mirage aflame coming toward a roundabout the confidence of murders summer fades, the…
Translated from Turkish by Alla Pyatibratova
My Father’s Antenna
The rumor started to spread in the beginning of autumn, just after the first rains. Soon it became a certainty: the Belbal family had acquired a television set. To tell the truth, the villagers didn’t…
Translated from French
From “23”
The airplane has landed. White smoke-loaded smile: what a cargo of sorrow. A silent rain surrounds the airport. A tattered wet wind chases black pigeons. White smoke-loaded smile: what a cargo of sorrow.…
Translated from Persian
The Waiter
By Suzumo Sakurai
The waiter who arrives with the summer at the seaside café barely earns eight to eight and a half a week. But what’s the harm?  The café now belongs to him.  He can work…
Translated from Turkish by Chikako Kobayashi
Sunshine in the Closet
By Granaz Moussavi
They’ve come!Glasses               flee down the hatchGirls               into the tiny flowers of their scarvesThe…
Translated from Persian by Zara Houshmand
By Ilya Odegov
In this teeming city, is there none Who might recognize me, walking, Calling: Hey, you, madman! We two might embrace just there, Forgetting our place, surroundings, To swear, laugh, scuffle, Sit in the…
Translated from Urdu by Exmetjan Osman
Our City
This city of ours is strange: In the nights It whispers as we walk its streets It calls us, shows its wounds Like secrets of a heart Windows closed Alleys silent Run-down walls Doors sealed In its houses,…
Translated from Urdu
You’re Where You’ve Always Been
By Wataya Risa
Cigarette earlier touching my lips now floats in the Thames Does the river know the feel of such a touch? Touches are never forgotten. In the midst of chilly, gusting winds standing before a poster of…
Translated from Urdu by Katherine Lundy
“The Dakar Courier”
By Dror Burstein
Because of an error on the part of the graphic artist, the map of the world was printed without Switzerland. The country was swallowed up in the mauve of France, the blue of Germany, the Italian yellow…
Translated from Hebrew by Dalya Bilu
A String of Words
The first time that Kashyap went to the district library, a sense of discomfort and timidity overwhelmed him. An unease caused, perhaps, by the shut-in, musty smell, darkness and a strange fear that seemed…
Translated from Gujarati
from “The Same Way Every Day”
By Nadève Ménard
A plump face, an old suit with a too-long skirt, her hair permed.  Nana looked like that when she’d met us, at the beginning of the first year at the university.  Older than she would…
Translated from Romanian