The Sultan’s Seal reviews one of Darf Publishers’ recent titles: the Eritrean writer Abu Bakr Khaal’s African Titanics, translated from the original Arabic by Charis Bredin
Photo by Alex Majoli, source: magnum photos.com
I immediately began to suss out the reputations of all the local smugglers, remaining in a state of anxious indecision as to which of them I should do business with. There was ‘Fatty’, known for his reliability and the care he took of those who travelled aboard his Titanics. His reputation extended all over Africa and travellers from Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Ghana and Liberia would hunt him down as soon as they arrived in [Tripoli]. Other smugglers were known for how swiftly they could arrange crossings. Every week, one of their Titanics would leave for the far shore, completely devoid of safety precautions, and likely to sink a few miles out to sea.
Like Samuel Shimon (An Iraqi in Paris, 2005), and Hamdi Abu Golayyel (A Dog with No Tail, 2009), Abu Bakr Khaal writes reportage with fictional license. Though a Tigré-speaking Eritrean with no apparent connection to the Arab literary scene, he belongs in a recent Arabic tradition of confessional narrative that benefits as much from its authors’ down-and-out credentials as their distinct vernaculars. Whether Khaal’s language is interesting because of influence from his mother tongue, I don’t know.
In Charis Bredin’s decidedly British English, African Titanics is a breezy read, worthwhile for its first-hand take on an essential topic and its pseudo-mythology of pan-African wanderlust.
From the series “House Secrets” by Youssef Rakha
يشبه عازف بيانو
يلوح ذراعيه مستعرضاً
قبل أن تضرب أنامله العاج بقسوة خبيرة
حتى احمرار العينين
بينما شفتاك ترسمان ابتسامة حانية
وكأن لا شئ يدعو للألم
استمر في القراءة
By Ornella Mignella. From the series “Damned Springtime”
شق الأنفس، أن تسمع صدى أفكارك واضحاً، يخرج صوت من رأسك يُشبه صوتك، ليتكرر على حوائط الغُرفة. حين ترتد نظرة عينيك إلى عينيك، وكلماتك إلى كلماتك، وحركات أصابعك المتوترة إلى أصابعك الباردة. حين تميل برأسك إلى الحائط، أو تعود برأسك إلى الوراء، وتمر بأصابعك على مكان تحبه، على صورة تُميتك أكثر مما تحييك، حلم سعادة اخترته لنفسك ثم خذلك أو خذلته…
أي جحيم صنعتِه بنفسِك يا عزيزتي وتقتاتين على جلود ضحاياه؟ وأي بلاد تنشدين راحتها وسريرك لا يبرح المكان؟
هذه اللحظات المثقلة هي بطاقة الخروج من السجن، هي اللحظات التي نعرف بعدها أن شيئاً ما سيتغيّر. وإن الطاقة التي حصرت الحلم في كسر المرايا ستفتح للأصابع المضرجة بالدماء باباً في السحاب.
In the mid-Seventies, Niall Griffiths — aged 11 — left Toxteth, Liverpool with his family to Australia. His mother was too homesick to become a “Ten Pound Pom“, however, and the family went back to Liverpool only three years later. As a teenager who wanted to write, the future author of Sheepshagger (2001) felt constricted and insulted by the “posh” monopoly on education and literature. He left school for Snowdonia in Wales, where he had ancestral connections and developed a feeling for the landscape. Stump (2003) having won both the Welsh Books Council and the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year awards, it is often as a Welsh writer that Griffiths is celebrated, although he equally qualifies as Scouse and, as a writer of “progressive fiction” peopled with the dispossessed and the disaffected, he also belongs in a vernacuar Transatlantic tradition. Griffiths eventually graduated from the University of Aberystwyth, where he now lives, having spent many years working with his hands and hopping from the North of England to Wales, traveling across Britain, or beyond.
Niall Griffiths. Source: natgeotraveller.co.uk
You seem to make a distinction between Celtic and Anglo-Saxon, not so much in your work but in the way you describe the English (it’s one of the few things that bind people from the former colonies back here with the Celts: hatred of the English). This might sound like a silly question but in the grander scheme of things, from the global perspective, do you think there remains a true cultural difference over and above class?
In some ways, yes, in others, no. . . I mean, this is a united kingdom supposedly but divide and rule has always been in operation, due largely to the entrenched class system. So in opposition to that, I believe that a docker from Swansea should recognise that he has more in common with a docker from say, Hull, than he does with a middle-class professional from Swansea. That said, England still remains the biggest and by far the most powerful country in the UK, and he fact that Wales and Scotland are ruled by London will always be a source of anger for as long as it lasts. It’s the richest country too, and a certain strata of it tends to see Wales and Scotland as its playground. No attention is paid to the different cultures; they’re simply countries where the rich English can holiday in their second homes. This situation is even worse in Cornwall.