Who Will You Find in ‘Banipal 40: Libyan Fiction’?

Banipal featured “Modern Tunisian Literature” in its 39th issue and 40, scheduled for a March 1 release, will showcase “Libyan Fiction.” If there had been a 39 1/2 on young Egyptian authors, I’d have suspected that editor Samuel Shimon had a really good set of voodoo dolls over there at 1 Gough Square.

From Shimon:

We at Banipal are very proud of this special issue on Libyan fiction, and with it announce our absolute solidarity with the Libyan people in their aspiration to democratic rule and the exercising of all their rights, the first of which are to express their thoughts and the abolition of all forms of censorship on audio-visual media and literature.

This is good to see. Outside of Ibrahim al-Koni, Libyans are generally not well represented on the Arabic literary scene, and even less so in English translation.

Razan Naim Al-Maghrabi was on this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) longlist for her Women of Wind, and Ibrahim al-Koni was on the longlist in 2009 for The Tumor. Among Beirut39ers there was one Libyan author: Najwa Binshatwan.

Three Libyan-authored books are on the Arab Writers Union’s list of “top 105” of the last century: Ibrahim al-Koni’s The Animists (I believe that Elliott will finally, finally get his translation out this summer); Ahmed Fagih’s Gardens of the Night, translated by Aida Bamia and published by Quarter Books Limited (it’s also available free on his website); and Khalifa Hussein Mustapha’s Eye of the Sun, which has not been translated into English.

A few Libyans who write in English have achieved some prominence, notably the celebrated Libyan-American poet Khaled al-Mattawa and Libyan-British novelist Hisham Matar, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2006 for his In the Country of Men.

Banipal 40 will feature work by al-Koni, Matar, and Fagih. Al-Koni and Matar both have novels forthcoming in English; Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance will be out next month. Fagih’s short story “Sea Locusts” was beautifully translated for 40 by Maia Tabet.

Other Libyan authors in the issue include:

Ghazi Gheblawi: Blogger, surgeon, translator, and poet; also valuable to follow on Twitter for updates on the current uprisings in Libya. You can read his blog at http://www.imtidad-blog.com/ and follow him at @Gheblawi. Read a recent translation of Mohamed Shaltami’s “The Leaflet” on his blog.

You can also read some of his poetry over at http://www.gheblawi.com/poems.htm.

Razan Naim Moghrabi: Moghrabi has published five collections of short stories and two novels; she was longlisted for this year’s IPAF for her Women of Wind, which her publisher describes as a “moving story of female friendship and the secret lives of women.” She also blogs at http://moghrabi.maktoobblog.com/.

Mohammed al-Asfar‘s bio on Words Without Borders notes: “Mohammed Al-Asfar’s writing has been described as an expression of the grief of living under dictatorship. In this way, his work describes the unsaid and unmentionable. His characters are a terrible expression of how coded and ambiguously allegorical art often is forced to become under state censorship.”

WWB has run two stories by al-Asfar: “Wet Sleeves”  and “Mint Flavored Hiccups.”   Both were translated by Hisham Matar.

Giuma Bukleb: Listen to a podcast of Bukleb’s Letter from London (in Arabic).

Omar el-Kiddi: Previously featured in Banipal 34 with a short story the magazine describes as “simultaneously sad and up-beat due to the ever-optimistic central character Saleh, who finds himself jailed on a minor misdemeanour, and is then kept in without charge because of the inmates he befriended.”

Najwa Binshatwan: Born in 1970, Binshatwan just made the age cut-off for Team Beirut39. She’s the author of the novel Madmun Burtuqali (2007), and two collections of short stories Tifl Al-Waw (2006) and Qisas Laysat Lil-Rijal (2004). Her flawed but interesting “The Pools and the Piano” was published in the Beirut39 collection.

Redwan Abushwesha: A painter and writer, Abushwesha’s The King of the Dead and Other Libyan Tales is available in English. You can also read a very short story of his, titled “The Valley Blooms in September,”  courtesy of the Swiss-Libyan Art Project.

Other Libyan authors in Banipal 40: Mohammed al-Arishiya, Mohammed al-Anaizi, Wafa al-Bueissa, Mohammed Mesrati, Omar Abulqasim Alkikli, Azza Kamil al-Maghour, Ibrahim Ahmidan, and Saleh Snoussi.

I might have to buy an extra copy rather than wait for mine to arrive in the mail.

More Libyan lit:

In 2006, Khaled Mattawa edited a “The Magic Lanterns of Libyan Literature” issue for Words Without Borders.

Susannah Tarbush reviews Ethan Chorin’s book, Translating Libya.

You can read a great deal of Ahmed Fagih’s work on his website for free: the translation quality varies.  Also, despite my respect for his prose, Fagih seems to have an unfortunate relationship with the Ghaddafi family.

For a touch of insanity, you can read the Guardian Books Blog review of Ghaddafi’s short-story collection, rendered in English translation as Escape to Hell.