Denys Johnson-Davies Remembers Jabra Ibrahim Jabra

I missed this in last week’s Al Ahram Weekly, but I suppose it wasn’t “timely” in any case: these are memories of a Palestinian who died in 1994 and whose Baghdad home was destroyed in April 2010. The news of his home’s destruction was reported in the NYTimes in May, giving rise to a tide of memories from pioneer translator Denys Johnson-Davies. Johnson-Davies recalled how Jabra had risen to his defense at a conference, how Jabra had helped pull him out of a depression.

Johnson-Davies also notes the accommodations Jabra had to make while living under a dictatorial regime:

More recently, I had a note from Jabra saying that he would be coming to Cairo for a few days. I met up with him at a hotel and remember asking him how things were going in Baghdad and his answering by looking up at the corners of the room — I had forgotten in what a police-state he was living. We therefore waited till we were outside before we began our conversation. I recollect his telling me that one had to be careful in Baghdad as to what you said and whom you said it to. He told me, for example, that someone had told him that it was a real pity that, among all the pictures he had, he didn’t have as a centrepiece a good portrait of Saddam Hussein.

The last thing Jabra wanted, among all his lovely reproductions of Matisse and others, was a portrait of one of the world’s most bloodthirsty dictators. But such a suggestion should not be taken lightly and soon a large portrait of Saddam Hussein occupied a place of honour on his living room wall.

Read more: A friend makes the news, by Denys Johnson-Davies.