Friday Finds: ‘A Taste of Today’s Gulf Literature’

This volume of the International Journal of Euro-Mediterranean Studies: A Taste of Today’s Gulf Literature has been around since 2016, but I only just stumbled across it:

The magazine — the product of a collaboration between the Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI), Banipal magazine, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia — features work by 29 different GCC authors. The opening piece is by Saudi novelist Raja Alem, whose Sarab was recently published in Leri Price’s translation.

Here, editors include an excerpt from Alem’s essay: “My Literary Influences,” translated by Ghenwa Hayek. It opens:

My father was a mitwaf, a spiritual guide for the pilgrims, and recently, my siblings and I inherited this appointment. He would host pilgrims in our home, and put up tents for them on Arafat and Mina, and lead them in the holy rites. The day at Arafat is the most dramatic. From noon, pilgrims of every guise gather in the barren desert, remaining until the afternoon turns to evening. One man’s ancient stand has forever coloured that day, which has now been named the waqfa – the stand. During it, thousands of bare heads are raised before a sky shimmering with chants that are more like anthems until God emerges, hidden by clouds, and with the sun kneeling as it sets, the white-clothed pilgrims set off towards the horizon, a crowd of thousands moving to gather stones to chase away the devil, whom we believe is standing between us and God. If you stone the devil, you unburden yourself of your sins. Pilgrims also perform sacrifices, cleansing themselves with blood in order to lighten their load.

All the excerpts seem to have been published in different issues of Banipal, but here they are collected and made freely available, with a collective-commons license, online.

And from Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad, translated by Khaled Mattawa:

The Friends


weave their new rags

in a morning with a missing sun.

Their bodies convulse, and their fingers are caught in a fever

of work.

They spin languages with the excitement of magicians

and the confidence of artisans.

They offer wool to summer and ice to winter.

Friends east of the water,

they work well in solitude,

I stand on the shore.

I watch their silhouettes outline the horizon.

I send them books in bottles that expunge my words,

and they are exceedingly gentle with them.

They run on a bridge

with flaming feet

and there

they climb, burdened with scrolls,

a bridge that praises geography and disparages history

and vigilantly watches against the written word.

They hold texts under their arms

and descend like goats decorating the road.

I embrace them.

They cross through terror.

Their memories are of blood,

and their fingers, fastened to glass shards,

are soiled with hacked hearts.

We crash in the midst of love and death

like waves churning salt and luring vessels.

Naked bodies of young men,

where a shirt is never woven for summer,

and no feast is prepared for winter.

The lonesome friends are there.

You can find the whole issue online.