They Killed for Love: Michael Lesslie in Conversation with Maan Abu Taleb

José Luis Cuevas, Macbeth, 1987. Source: 1stdibs.com

One of my favourite insults to the person of Macbeth comes towards the end of the play, when the aggrieved Macduff calls out to him: “Turn, hellhound, turn!” It is a testament to Shakespeare’s prowess that even after we’ve witnessed all the atrocities committed by Macbeth, the line jars. “He’s not a hellhound!” one feels like shouting back. The insult agitates us. By then we had already tried to alienate ourselves from Macbeth and his deeds, but we’re too intimate with the depths of his anguish to do so, an anguish not mysterious and beyond our grasp, like Hamlet’s. Macbeth is well within our understanding, his dilemma is laid bare for us to ponder and weigh.

The suggestion that in reading Macbeth there are things to be learnt about Bashar al Assad, Saddam Hussein, or al Qathafi, is often laughed to scorn whenever I dare mention it in polite company. It is generally assumed that the characters of these men do not rise to the complexity and elevation of a Shakespearean villain, as if villainy excludes finesse. I am told they are mere butchers, with no depth of feeling or capacity for insight. Yet it is exactly that, insight, that I feel the likes of Saddam have, and which allows them to reign in terror for such elongated periods. One can hate Saddam and everything he stood for, but can we in good faith dismiss him as a brute, or deny his sophisticated methods of intimidation? A viewing of the Al Khold Hall footage – where Saddam solidified his grip on power by effectively staging a play, one where murder was unseen, like Macbeth, but real – demonstrates Saddam’s credentials as a connoisseur of terror. His methods of breaking the wills of men require nothing less than a terrible talent.

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Matthew Chovanec: On Its Own Fucked-up Terrain

Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017

Rohan Daniel Eason (copyright One Peace Books), from a children’s illustrated Kafka. Source: wired.com

Arabic novels are so frequently described as Kafkaesque or Orwellian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two authors were themselves Arab. It is a small wonder that noone has yet tried to uncover their secret Arab origins by etymologizing their names (قفقاء and الروال) in the way that the Turks have for Shakespeare. It is true that both of their names have become literary shorthand for a type of writing dealing with dystopia, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. It is also true that Arab societies have continued unabated to live through dystopias, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. But the label flattens out what is particular and new about so much excellent Arabic writing, and suggests that everything you need to know about the daily experience of living in a dysfunctional and cruel system can be captured by the term  “nightmarish”.

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Robin Moger Does An-Nifarri

Adonis/Dennis Bouchard. From “A”, an exhibition retracing twenty years of visual works by the poet Adonis, Galerie Azzedine Alaïa, Paris, 2015. Source: worldliteraturetoday.org

who are you and who am I

he stayed me 

and he said to me   Who are you and who am I   and I saw the sun and the moon and the stars and all the lights ashine     and he said to me   There is no light in my sea shines on without I have seen it   and each thing came to me until no thing was left  and kissed me between my eyes and saluted me  and stood in shadow     and he said to me   You know me and  I do not know you   and I saw all of him clung to my robe  and not to me  and my robe leant  and I did not   and my robe leant and he said to me   Who am I   and the sun went down and the moon  and the stars fell and the lights were put out  and the dark covered all things but him   and my eye did not see and my ear did not hear  my senses ceased  and each thing spoke  it said   Allahu Akbar   and each thing came to me  a spear in its hand  it said to me   Flee   and I said   Where to   and it said   Fall into darkness   and into darkness I fell and I saw myself     and he said to me   See none but yourself ever   Come out from darkness never   And should I bring you out from it I would  show you myself   You would see me  and should you see me you would be  most distant of all

night

he stayed me 

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Youssef Rakha: Three Times Cairo

One: Instagram Dreams

Sleep-deprivation is like being high. I know because I was high for a long time, then I started sleeping irregularly. It’s supposed to have something to do with lack of sugar in the brain, which is also the theory of what LSD does to consciousness. Things grow fluid and dreamlike, but at the same time there is a paranoid awareness of motion and a heaviness in the heart. Colour and sound become a lot sharper, and time feels totally irrelevant. Normal speed is fast but fast can pass for normal. A moment lasts for days, days can fit in a moment. Talking and laughing are far more involving, especially laughing. The grotesque animal implicit in each person comes out, sometimes messing up the conversation. And then it’s as if you have no body. As in the best music, an uncanny lightness balances the overriding melancholy. There is joy in flying when you don’t need to move. All through this, what’s more, every passing emotion turns into an epic experience.

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Bethlehem, 2002: A Diary by Carol Sansour

Chris Steele-Perkins, Kabul, 1994. Source: magnumphotos.com

Nadim wakes up

We play for a while

Then go downstairs to feed him

We find sido Tony already there

Anxious going around waiting for someone to prepare breakfast

Shaved, dressed, ready to go nowhere


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The Fituwa: Salah Eissa’s Raya and Sakina in Robin Moger’s Translation

1928 Print. Source: periodpaper.com

The following excerpt is from Tales from the Nation’s Archive: Raya and Sakina’s Men: A social and political history, the late Salah Eissa’s vast and discursive study of the lives and the worlds of the notorious serial-killers Raya Bint Ali Al Hammam and her sister Sakina, and their husbands Hasballah Saeed Maraei and Mohammed Abdel Aal.

Raya and Sakina and their husbands were arrested in Alexandria in early 1921 on suspicion of murder and it soon became clear that they had been responsible for the disappearance of a number of women in the neighbourhood of Labban where they ran an illegal (unlicensed) brothel. They were thought to be guilty of the robbery and murder of at least seventeen women, many of whom had worked for them as prostitutes. They were hanged in 1921.

Public attention focused on the sisters: the combination of their gender and the violence, sexual promiscuity and general unashamed degradation of their lives generated a fascination which fed into the many films and plays that dealt with their murders.

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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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