Mansour El Souwaim on Literature in Sudan

Mansour El Souwaim was born in south Darfur in 1970, and thus must be one of the elders of the Beirut39 (39 “up and coming” Arabic authors under 40).

El Souwaim has published two novels (the second of which won the Tayeb Salih Award for Creative Writing) and a collection of short stories. The stories have appeared in French, but none of his writing—as far as I’ve been able to dig up—has yet appeared in English.

He talks with an unnamed interviewer at Beirut39 about the state of the novel in the Sudan:

The Sudanese novel is considered young compared to the world novels and even Arabic novels. The Sudanese novel is half a century old or younger.

Other literary-artistic traditions have older roots in the Sudan; poetry, for instance. But El Souwaim says Sudanese writers are, in recent years, suddenly taking to the novel’s form:

…with the start of the 21st century, Sudan has faced an unprecedented leap in the number of novels published and produced. In one year, the number of novels published exceeded those of the 40 years that preceded it.

And El Souwaim says that many are pretty good—“amazing and carefully written.” He reels off a number of names and titles, only one of which I’ve read (Cities without Palms, by Tarek el-Tayeb, not flawless but worth your time). A few more of them: Abkur Adam Ismail, The Route to Impossible Cities, Baraka Saken The Windmills, Al Hassan Al Bakri The Case of The Veteran , Mohammad Khair Abdullah The Curse of Hamnyab, Rania Mamum Green Flash.

He also says the novel is an authentic outgrowth of many Sudanese traditions of the word:

The Sudanese novel, as it stands today, is the natural offspring of that rich legacy, which included stories, tales and riddles.

More from El Souwaim on the Beirut39 blog and from The National.