I had just finished I Saw Ramallah, which was published in English in 2000 by AUC Press. I have no excuse for being 10 years late to this beautiful book, and am reading it now because of translator Ahdaf Souief’s upcoming visit to Cairo, as part of the AUC’s “in translation” series.
I will have to say more about the book, because it’s creaking and shifting inside me, but for now I just wanted to quote this passage on writing:
Writing is a displacement,a displacement from the normal social contract. A displacement from the habitual, the pattern, and the ready form. A displacement from the common roads of love and the common roads of enmity. A displacement from the believing nature of the political party. A displacement from the idea of unconditional support. The poet strives to escape from the dominant used language, to a language that speaks itself for the first time. He strives to escape from the chains of tribe, from its approvals and taboos. If he succeeds in escaping and becomes free, he becomes a stranger at the same time. It is as though the poet is a stranger in the same degree as he is free. If a person is touched by poetry or art or literature in general, his soul throngs with these displacements and cannot be cured by anything, not even the homeland.
Many thanks to Ahdaf Souief for the beautiful translation.
A strange coincidence: When I came onto the computer after having finished I Saw Ramallah, there was a facebook “so-and-so wants to be your friend” message. When I accepted, the program suggested: Well, then, wouldn’t you also be friends with Mourid Barghouti?
I have seen these messages before, suggesting I “befriend” famous writers, and I always found them embarrassing. Why would Tobias Wolf want to be friends with me? But this time, of course, I clicked.
Note: You can read an excerpt of I Saw Ramallah here, but, for goodness sakes, if you can, go buy the book.
A further note: Another memoir by Barghouti (called a “sequel,” although this seems silly to me) appeared in Arabic in 2009. The title translates as I Was Born There, I Was Born Here and Notes from a Fruit Store reports that it’s on its way into English.