Tam Hussein: The Knockout Outside Time

Tam Hussein reviews All the Battles, Maan Abu Taleb’s remarkable debut in Robin Moger’s translation, published by Hoopoe Fiction earlier this year

Source: mearsonlineauctions.com

There are things All the Battles by Maan Abu Taleb is not. It is not a cliched story based on a Rocky film. It is not an Arab version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club in which the protagonist discovers fighting in order to feel “alive”.  Whilst Abu Taleb’s first novel is ostensibly about boxing, it is really a meditation on masculinity in the Arab world today.

Had All The Battles been about boxing, it would have been an implausible story. No practitioner of the sweet science, however good, can turn professional in a year; but this is what the novel’s protagonist, Said does. An advertising executive by chance, this bored individual discovers boxing at the venerable age of twenty-eight. After a few fights he packs in his job – only to be mullered by a seasoned British boxer in Dubai.

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Matthew Chovanec: When the Moist Summer Breezes Blow

Matthew Chovanec reviews Darf Publishers’ new edition of Mohammed Hussein Haikals Zainab, translated by John Mohammed Grinsted

Lower Egypt in 1885. Source: egyptianstreets.com

Darf Publishers out of London are reissuing the “classic” 1913 novel Zainab by Mohammed Hussein Haikal in John Mohammed Grinsted’s English translation. This is part of their effort to bring world literature into English. They have previously released a wide range of titles from Arabic-speaking countries as well as others in Africa, with a special focus on Libyan literature. Any effort to translate and publish more work in English is admirable, and Darf should be commended.

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Seth Messinger: Laâbi, Maghreb, Anfas

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Source: diptykblog.com

Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio’s Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics, published by Stanford University Press this year, is a new way into the Middle East and North Africa

There would be little point in writing a conventional review of Souffles-Anfas. A collection such as this is about far more than the curatorial choices made by the editors, and should be celebrated simply for existing at all. To that end praise and congratulations should flow to the editors and to Stanford University Press for backing the publication. There can be no more apt reason for university presses to exist than to publish manifestoes and articles from a quintessential little magazine that endured less than seven years before being suppressed and shut down by an increasingly intolerant Moroccan government. On the other hand one of the journal editors recounts that the need to write so afflicted a contributor that he submitted a short story to an automobile club magazine simply to have an audience. Any collection of writings about the Middle East and North Africa that includes such a story demands an even larger, international audience.

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Nourhan Tewfik: The Second Life of Lewis Nawa

Health care workers, wearing protective suits, leave a high-risk area at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders) Elwa hospital on August 30, 2014 in Monrovia. Liberia has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus raging through west Africa, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET        (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Health care workers on August 30, 2014 in Liberia. AFP photo by Dominique Faget, Getty Images

Nourhan Tewfik reviews Ebola ’76 by Amir Tag Elsir, translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby

As Lewis entered, Ebola was all around. It hovered inches from him, anticipating its moment to pounce. The virus had already claimed the bodies of most of the people he encountered there. It coursed through the blood of the old, sunken-cheeked beggar woman as she silently extended her hand towards Lewis to receive his half franc. It had infiltrated the veins of the stern guard, who now leant against his battered old rifle, his gaze flitting between the visitors as they came and went through the main gates. It inhabited the many mourners who passed before Lewis’s distracted gaze. Even as he knelt in tears beside the grave of his lover, who had died just two days previously, the virus was there, lurking in her corpse beneath the soil.

In his short novel Ebola ‘76, a Darf Publishers title translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby, the Sudanese writer Amir Tag Elsir moulds a fictionalised account of the 1976 Ebola outbreak in South Sudan and Congo.

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Seth Messinger on Alessandro Spina: Bordello Continent, Missione Civilizzatrice

“Marble Arch Built by Italians to Commemorate their victory in Libya”. Photo by Joe Willis. Source: joewillis.co.uk

Seth Messigner reviews The Confines of the Shadow by Alessandro Spina, translated by Andre Naffis-Sahely, a 2015 title by Darf Publishers, London

Confines of the Shadow is the first of three volumes written by Alessandro Spina and translated by Andre Naffis-Sahely. The London-based Darf Publishers has produced nonfiction works in English about Libya, the Arab World and the Middle East. Recently it started publishing translations of world literature as well. Confines of the Shadow links these two concentrations in one multi-volume project. Spina is at once a Libyan, an Arab, and an Italian. He spent much of his career writing his family’s history, through which he explored a uniquely tangled web of relations with the Mediterranean world.

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Youssef Rakha: He Threw Himself into the Sea

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.

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