Bulaq 17: A Talk with Karl ReMarks

Episode 17 of the Bulaq podcast — co-hosted by the Arabist’s Ursula Lindsey and ArabLit founder M. Lynx Qualey, and produced by the Arabist’s Issandr Amrani — featured a talk with architect Karl Sharro, talking about the debut book of his alter-ego, the Phoenician-Assyrian-Arab satirist and cartoonist Karl ReMarks:

ReMarks’ new book, And then God Created the Middle East and Said ‘Let There Be Breaking Newsis forthcoming July 9, and Sharro/ReMarks talks about how the title of the book was truncated; how he became a twitter luminary; and his epic twitter battle with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, among other things.

After that, the discussion moved to Boyd Tonkin’s The 100 Best Novels in Translation, which was released June 21. The two Arabic novels that made the list were, predictably, Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, and Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, translated by William Maynard Hutchins, Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, and Angele Botros Samaan. Most of the criticism of the book has focused, indeed, on the predictability of the choices, and how women’s and non-European voices have been largely left out of the “Best 100.” Even the inclusion of these two books seems perfunctory, and the high praise for the translations (even the Hutchins/Kenny/Kenny/Samaan translation famously co-edited by Jacqueline Onassis) out of place.

Certainly these two works can hold their own in a “Best 100” — although MLQ expressed her preference for Humphrey Davies’ re-translation of Midaq Alley, if we were to be choosing a Mahfouz — but they tell us nothing more than we can already discover by going to google and searching for “best Arabic novels.”

The last topic of discussion was Amazon’s kindle embrace (at long last) of Arabic novels, which seem to be working quite well, and with a respectable font to boot.

Listen: Neo-Assyrian Trolls