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.
The house sat on stilts. These were the marshlands of South Carolina, where even the birds slept on tall, lanky wooden sticks to keep their plumage dry. When mama wasn’t looking, Tito and I snuck down to wade knee deep in the muck. We terrorized the egrets out of their stroll. We trapped in buckets the legged tadpoles that were not yet grown enough to jump. They drowned each other while we watched. With gummy feet they stepped on each other’s open eyes and threw their bodies against the high, plastic walls for hours. When mama finally came looking for us, we let the live ones go. But even back upstairs it was not quite an inside. The wood hummed with mites. There were spiders knitting in the cupboards. There were ants in the bathroom, lizards blinking from the walls, and once, out of a bag of rice, there bloomed a cloud of baby moths. The kitchen spun with their dizzy dust-magic until the first one fried itself on the bulb. It fell dreamily. I was six when mama found my first diary, filled with pencil drawings of all my animal friends. I gave each of them small droopy genitals like mine.
“The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.”
Chris Marker, Sans Soleil
Perhaps it is a matter of starting with black leader, if it can be done against the pecuniary concerns of printers and the aesthetic concerns of editors. Would it work? For here I face a problem of a different order. I am not trying to capture an image of happiness anyway. And yet the black might help with something else. Who knows. What I will try to do is after all pretty much the same thing that Sandor Krasna attempts in Sans Soleil. To write about things that might seem random to the reader/viewer—strange, wanton connections and trajectories that nevertheless relate to personal history. Krasna, the fictional cameraman in Marker’s film, hides behind images to reflect on memory, his memories. I am going to hide behind a jazz album.
I am not writing about Paris Concert Edition One in order to trace an arbitrary history. Why Bill Evans’ album, then? I could blame the fact that Paris is a marked city for any Argentine writer, a city embedded in an aspirational aura; something akin to joining a club (cue Cortázar, Saer, Borges at times). I could blame my previous life as a musician, my years studying jazz: years of longing for a vanishing point, a way to get out from Rosario, the provincial town were I was born. Days of longing for something global—I thought I’d make a claim to something global through music. Or I could blame the fact that I later lived briefly in Paris, I managed to tick that box before I was expelled by my own restlessness, but not before I managed to take enough notes—enough for several books, several clichés. But I am not writing about Edition One simply because I need to start somewhere, either. I could have started anywhere.
Literary Magazine Interviewer: First question. Do you see yourself as a “promising young writer”?
Promising Young Writer: That depends. Do you mean “promising” or “young”? You can easily apply both to me, or dismiss them. It’s a matter of perspective.
LMI: Let’s see, then. How old are you and what have you written that’s promising?
PYW: Well, I’m 28. So far I’ve written two books of poetry and one of short stories. I don’t like to evaluate my own work. It depresses me. And you can’t be objective about it. But it’s easy to say that I like only two poems in my first book, the rest belonging to the realm of lame beginnings. Maybe I will have a view of my two later books after some time. I guess it takes time to see your own writings as external objects so you can evaluate them as you evaluate other things. Actually, I admire and hate my own work with equal force, and that applies to everything related to myself. I also finished my first novel, the first part of a trilogy. I’m in the process of publishing it now.
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.
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.