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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Salah Abdessabour’s “An Old Story” Translated by Robin Moger


Vincent Van Gogh, Self-portrait with bandaged ear and pipe, 1889, Arles. Source: Wikipedia

He had friends,

and they pledged him in the evening of his sorrow

not to turn him over to the soldiers

or to deny him when

he was summoned by the king.

And one turned him over

for a handful of silver

then committed suicide

and by another he was denied

three times before dawn broke

and once he had died his lips

could smile again, and then

he went on his way evangelizing,

boasting that he had known him,

and fished blessings by baptizing

in his name.


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Robin Moger Does Salah Abdessabour

The Daybook of Bishr the Barefoot

Abu Nasr, Bishr bin al-Harith, sought out debate and discussion and heard all that was said and so inclined to mysticism. And one day he was walking through the market when, taking fright at the people there, he removed his sandals and slipped them beneath his arms and set off running through the sunbaked stones and sand, and none could keep pace with him. This was in the year 227 AH.

Leopold Müller, A barefoot man in robes running while holding a stick, 1878. Source: Wikipedia

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Valentina Viene Translates Ali Jazo: This Is Your City

John Vink, Phnom Penh, 26/11/2001. Source: magnumphotos.com

Abandoned bags are tossed about by the noon breeze.

Tree leaves, narrow pavements,


children next to shoes,

teens, out of school, are smoking.

The curls on their foreheads are so shiny

they look frozen and stiff.


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Robin Moger: Ahmad Yamani’s The Scream

Michael Donovan. Source: studiodonovan.com

My sister screamed in the night

Take me to my brother’s house

And there she screamed that same night

No no! Take me back to the house of my father

They took her back

And when she made to scream again

The night had passed

And the men had gone to work.


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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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Robin Moger Does Saniya Saleh

The Storm Takes the Heart.


Ian Berry, Hong Kong, 2002. Source: magnumphotos.com


What does that glum sun search for in its useless

round and why does its purple body come apart

and endless discs come tumbling down from its

flaming core, followed by black birds

black and crossing over like the storm

whose eyes aglow with tears we barely glimpse, they come

out from the graves of the forefathers and make for Jordan.

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