For Valentine’s Day: Give Me Great Love, Give Me Great Passion, and Give Me Great Darkness, Too

The original love story: Layla & Majnun

If you’re looking for long Arab love stories with which to woo your beloved, Ahdaf Soueif listed five for The Guardian back in 2009 (1) Latifa al-Zayyat’s The Open Door; 2) Naguib Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy; 3) Colette Khoury’s Days with Him; 4) Enayat el-Zayyat’s Love and Silence, and 5) Layla al-Juhani’s Jahiliyya). Myself, I am partial to the love story in Taha Hussein’s Call of the Curlew, although I’m not really sure of its effects on a beloved.

If you had the time, you could read your beloved Specters (Radwa Ashour, trans. Barbara Romaine), I Saw Ramallah (Mourid Barghouti, trans. Ahdaf Soueif), and I Was Born There, I Was Born Here (Mourid Bargouti, trans. Humphrey Davies), for the wonderful, tender married-love bits from the lives of novelist Radwa Ashour and poet Mourid Barghouti. The way these three books talk to each other is a lifetime’s education in love.

However, for wooing purposes, shorter bursts of love poetry might be the thing. You might well choose Adonis (in Khaled Mattawa’s recent translation) or Nizar Qabbani (as sung by Fairouz), or Maram al-Massri (also translated by Khaled Mattawa).

For passion, Al-Massri might be your best bet:

Desire enflames me
and my eyes glimmer
I stuff morals
in the nearest drawer
I turn into a devil
and blindfold my angels
for a kiss

As for love letters, those between Khalil Gibran and Mai Ziadeh have a strong and gentle sweetness with which to inspire your own.

However, if you’re looking for the great anti-Valentine’s Day story, it may well be Adania Shibli’s We Are All Equally Far from Love, trans. Paul Starkey (2011). Shibli has a wonderful, loving tenderness for her subject matter, as caressed by her pen, but this book never gives in to any sort of romantic stuff and nonsense. Maybe a moment of hope, here and again, but not so much that it lets you get all sappy:

But suddenly, and without my knowing how, there stirs within me again a tiny measure that smells faintly of love. Warily, I start to walk amongst it, like walking through pain, delicately, not wanting to wake it. Then it disappears again, before I can even realize what this awakening of love has meant: its taste has already left me, like the almond blossom petals that stay so briefly on the branches. Thus everything becomes equal again in the darkness of existence,where only pain grows, and my own distance from love.

Another romance antidote:

The very funny I Want to Get Married! by Ghada Abdel Aal.


Follow the hashtag #LoveUnderApartheid

Or, for the seriously dark-minded:

Saudi-America: A love story