The series, according to ArteEast, is “designed to provide a platform for experimentation and promotion of short form writing on the web. These stories, vignettes, reflections and chronicles, written by young or underexposed writers from the Middle East and North Africa, are published here in translation and the original.”
The series seems to yet be finding its feet: Past entries on the “stories” page include announcements of theater stagings and gallery installations. A previous story (translated from English into Arabic) was by the not-particularly-unknown Egyptian-Palestinian-American author Randa Jarrar.
But this month, there are two stories by London-based Jordanian author Ma’n Abu Taleb, who has recently been published in Arabic in Qadita and Jadaliyya, as well as other venues.
Abu Taleb’s two stories, “Where I was Standing” and “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” have a refreshing and energetic terseness in the Arabic that is in large part well-rendered in the English by translators Alex Ortiz and Barrak Alzaid. Kudos to them both.
The stories present a number of challenges to the translator, and Alex and Barrak do a fine job of making them terse and energetic in English (qua English). Indeed, both stories come off as if they’re natural to English.
This is particularly important here, as the quality of these stories depends not on the action (what happens? some guy lifts his hand, another smiles at a girl as he’s running) but on the description, the pinning down of minute and specific detail. What’s significant here is the author’s ability to re-see situations that have become stale in the popular imagination. The reader grows suddenly alert, awoken from the stupor of our expectations.
Both stories present over-familiarized situations—childhood revenge, terrorism—but through fresh and specific details, the over-familiar comes alive, prickly, and even sometimes funny. These are situations that could easily push an author to “explain,” but Abu Taleb’s stories hold themselves back, never sliding down the slope of easy answers.
Ma’n Abu Taleb, who tweets at @ManAbuTaleb, is currently at work on a collection of short stories. I look forward to seeing it in Cairo.