Publishers: Get New Syrian Short-story Collection ‘The Gist of It’

A proposal for publishers — to take on a collection of stories by Rasha Abbas — has recently hit PEN’s “Writers in Translation” page:  

Abbas's 2008 collection.
Abbas’s 2008 collection.

The “Writers in Translation” series gives small grants to translators for sample translations combined with a reader’s report. The grants go to bring out samples of work that has not yet come to the attention of the UK (or US, or Canadian, or Australian) publishing scene.

Recently posted is translator Alice Guthrie’s report on Syrian writer Rasha Abbas, which focuses mostly on her latest short story collection, The Gist of It. In the reader’s report, Guthrie notes that Abbas is an “important figure in the exciting new wave of Syrian literature pouring out since 2011” who had earlier received praise for her first short-story collection, Adam Hates the Television.

Winner of the Damascus Capital of Culture award and the Jean Jacques Rousseau Fellowship, Abbas’s writing was featured in English translation in the 2014 collection Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline. She currently lives in Stuttgart, Germany.

Guthrie suggests combining the nineteen stories from Abbas’s The Gist of It with four from her earlier Adam Hates Television. The twenty-three stories bring together surreal tales of false facades, memory loss, mirages, death, and magic gone wrong. As Guthrie writes in her reader’s report, “Eclectic, intense, often psychedelic, many of her stories are dreamscapes which creep up on the reader with sudden plunges into haunting hyper-realism, operating within a punk aesthetic.”

As a sample, Guthrie translates the titular story — which centers on the attempt to get a brother released from detention — “The Gist of It.” From the opening of the story:

In the beginning we were in the car, rain lashing down so heavily it almost drowned out the
streetlights’ dim glow. My brother was driving, and you pointed out to me that he was asleep. I
hadn’t noticed, but when I looked over at him I saw you were right: he was actually sleeping,
deeply, at the wheel. You stopped the car and got him out, while I just watched you. You laid him down on the edge of the road and adjusted his position, as if the ground was a bed. He didn’t wake up, he just slumbered on, right where you’d put him, his white shirt getting soaked by the rain in seconds and sticking to him, turning transparent over his bony chest. Keep reading.


On English PEN: “Syrian journalist and short story writer Rasha Abbas interrogates the role of art and literature in conflict and reflects on her personal contribution to Syria Speaks

On Words Without Borders: “Falling Down Politely, or How to Use Up All Six Bullets Instead of Playing Russian Roulette,” trans. Guthrie

On O2: “You Will Dance, Son of a Bitch,” trans. Abullah Mezar