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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Five Poems in English by Mina Nagy

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Elliott Erwitt, New York City, 1977. Source: magnumphotos.com

Pick-up Lines

I can only relate poems to dreams,

that’s why the last three years

I had a few of them

though I’d already denounced myself as a poet;

because escaping from consciousness

is like escaping from the self,

it doesn’t go past skin’s borders.

I’ve counted masturbation sessions as though counting sheep,

without calculating mean or median

or any statistical tricks.

I wanted to say, Love you,

but it came out, Fuck you.

Maybe we can have dinner some time?

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