Mazen Maarouf: At the Intersection Between Surrealism and Fantasy

Even before he won the first-ever Al Multaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story for Jokes for the Gunmen, Mazen Maarouf had published his second collection, in a landscape where children approach their war games as serious business, and adults approach them as a game:

By Mahmoud Hosny

Less than two years from his after the release of first short-story collection, Jokes for Gunmen (Riad El-Rayyes, 2015), the young Palestinian-Icelandic writer-translator Mazen Maarouf, who was born in Beirut, published his second collection The Rats That Lick a Karate Champion’s Ears الجرذان التي لحست أذني بطل الكاراتيه (Al-Mutawassit, 2017).

Maarouf, who launched his writing career with three poetry collections, shifted tracks to the short story while living in Iceland, where he wrote Jokes for Gunmen. Last year, Maarouf’s short-story debut won Al Multaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story in its inaugural round.

His new collection, The Rats That Lick a Karate Champion’s Ears, brings together ten stories. In it, Maarouf continues writing n a style that intersects that spaces between surrealism and fantasy. As in his first collection, we touch the world of war through a child eyes. We move with them in a sarcastic atmosphere, discovering how the war changes adults and warriors in a way that makes them feel nothing has a value, even their souls.

With a more aggressive voice than Jokes for Gunmen, you can feel the surrealistic strangeness in the scenic elements and the childlike behaviors and adventures. They deal with their games as though it’s a real war and, at the same time, the adults in a real war deal, see it as a game!

In the beginning, we may unable to specify the place Maarouf writes about. The main reason for this are the dense and exotic elements that appear in the stories: A child puts his head in a jelly jug or there’s a garden with a fence that consists of matches wherein rabbits, soldiers, bears and hamsters are playing. But after reading more of his stories, a reader will detect that these are the places of the Lebanese civil war, but as his imagination has seen them.

With a balanced narrative rhythm, cinematic description of places and events, and an Arabic language that tend to be simple, Maarouf’s stories can be received well by a wide range of readers.

In an Arabic cultural scene that’s full of novels about political and societal issues, Maarouf gives us a chance to breathe and taste something different, pushing the reader’s imagination to discover new possible ways of seeing our world, a world that often appears closed.

The second edition of “The Rats that lick Karate Champion’s Ears” will be available this winter in Beirut Book Fair (2017). Also, the English edition of his first collection “Jokes for Gunmen” will be published in 2018, translated by Jonathan Wright.