New Online in January 2015: Arabic Literature in Translation

Arabic literature that’s newly published (in translation, online) this month.


jabra“Ramparts,” by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, trans. Elliott Colla

From the poem:

Hide your desire—really, hide it! And hide also the desire of the other sons.
Beneath their feet, the lust of years and years
Chases their flesh as they race
Through the collapsing walls
Collecting the fullness of lips
In ceramic cups
Squeezing arteries and veins
So as to draw in thick blood the appetite of the night
On pages of stone.

A Letter in My Purse,” by Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, trans. Maged Zaher

From the poem:

Truly, she was nothing more than just a purse
But when lost, there was a problem
How to face the world without her

“Frida Kahlo’s Mustache,” by Ashraf Fayadh, trans. Mona Kareem

From the poem:

I will have to sidestep my memory

And claim that I sleep well.

I’ve got to tear out the questions

That have come looking for a rationale, to get convincing answers.

The questions that, for very personal reasons, have come after the fall of the usual punctuation.


Jerusalem, Time Embodied,” by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, trans. Thalia Berry

It begins:

The city of Jerusalem is not just a place; it is also a time. One cannot understand it only in its limited physical boundaries. It must be seen in its historical perspective, as if it were history itself. As if an observer might grasp the history of four thousand years in a single glance.

51UhtZwJmuLAn excerpt from Temple Barby Bahaa Abdelmeguid, trans. Jonathan Wright

It begins:

I was waiting for someone to help me carry my bag, but no one volunteered. Aggrieved that I asked, one young man said my bag was my business, while a woman suggested that there were bags with wheels that didn’t take so much effort to drag. Then she laughed. I would find out later that there was a scare about strangers and bags, which might contain explosives since terrorist operations were common, especially in Belfast in Northern Ireland.

An excerpt of No Knives in the Kitchens of This City, by Khaled Khalifa, trans. Elisabeth Jaquette

It begins:

Soad’s unceasing hallucinations in the weeks before she died made us think of our own fate. Our family portrait, hanging on the wall of the living room, became a psychological weight we tried to shrug off, a shameful lie we could not conceal: a father who had abandoned us for an aging relic-hunter—the woman my mother had taught to make apricot jam—and a miserable sister whose delirium we did not understand. Soad would open her mouth, struggling to breathe, and even though our mother considered her a personal disgrace that should be hidden from the world, we loved her.


Yes, the headline says “Arabic,” but these are must-read exceptions:

Cairo: September 2014 by the amazing Wiam El-Tamami

An excerpt from Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary