Transcript 33: New Fiction from Gaza

Atef Abu Said

Transcript 33—a European Review of Books and Writing—marks the anniversary of the 2008-09 military invasion of Gaza with new writing from the strip.

Are of the work was quite short. Somaya El Sousi had two pieces that could be flash essays or fiction or prose poetry. “The Art of Living in Gaza” tells its story in second person:

You must be able to feel no guilt or remorse at all about any scene that you are exposed to. So someone might get killed right in front of you, or a car might get blown up, a violent fight might break out between two families, or school children arguing on their way home might pull out their guns and wave them in each other’s faces.

I felt the ending didn’t quite make it to someplace new, at least in English translation, but I was attentive and interested in where it was trying to take me:

You get so skilled in this art that you turn into a number, or a tree. Or perhaps you have become a being with no relationship to anything else at all, a being obliged to just fill its day in whatever conceivable way it can, so that it can go on to start yet another day, ready to lose even more of everything.

Asma Shaker’s work is more clearly “poetry” (although prose-y poetry). She had some beautiful imagery, but the voice seemed not (yet) quite sure of itself. The voice could see in a fresh way but not re-make; it looked hard but not hard enough, beyond the things into an imaginary place of poetic re-assemblage. From “War from Every Direction: A Diary”:

…it turns out they were ‘benign’ planes, planes, peaceful ones, dropping paper bombs, like pretty little twinkling fragments, glimmering in the sun-beams and the last of the fading light.

They float down slowly onto the roofs and the streets, hang on pylons and electrical poles, get caught on wires.

The clamour of little boys playing in the street nearby; one of them has gathered up the fallen pieces of paper, in curiosity, and threaded them onto a string. He runs along, stamping his feet on the ground and shouting “leaflets, leaflets for sale.”

The rest of the boys chase him, snatching them from his hand, tearing them up…and laughing.

There was also a falseness to some the translation, in that both Asma Shaker and Najlaa Ataalah sounded oddly British to me, as with this moment in Shaker’s poem: “They’re just messing about.” (I heard it, for whatever reason, in a British accent.)

Several of the pieces seemed to reflect the feeling that fiction writer Atef Abu Saif notes in his interview: “I think nothing in Gaza is regular, everything is irregular, you cannot expect anything, you cannot say I want to do this tomorrow and I want to do that the day after…”

For those intrigued by the interview, Words Without Borders has work by Atef Abu Saif here.