Launching Today: ‘Palestine +100’

The collection isn’t available until July 25, but the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival will hold a launch event for Palestine + 100 today at 6:30 p.m.:

Stories will be read by two of the contributors: British Palestinian writer Selma Dabbagh and Palestinian-Hungarian author Anwar Hamed. The reading and discussion will be followed, organizers say, by Q&A with the anthology’s editor, Basma Ghalayini.

Those who are in London will be able to see Dabbagh, Hamed, and Ghalayini in September, at an event at the British Library.

The other contributors to the English PEN Award-winning collection are Talal Abu Shawish, Tasnim Abutabikh, Emad El-Din Aysha, Samir El-Youssef, Saleem Haddad, Majd Kayyal, Mazen Maarouf, Abdalmuti Maqboul, Ahmed Masoud, and Rawan Yaghi, with translations by Raph Cormack, Mohamed Ghalaieny, Andrew Leber, Thoraya El-Rayyes, Yasmine Seale, and Jonathan Wright.

The collection ends with a story by Almultaqa Prize-winning and Man Booker International longlisted Mazen Maarouf — “The Curse of the Mud Ball Kid” — which is translated by Jonathan Wright. This story has the queasy combination of childlike naïveté, historical surrealism, and intense violence that can be found in much of Maarouf’s work.

Like all the stories in the Palestine + 100 collection, “The Curse of the Mud Ball Kid” is set 100 years after the Nakba, or the 1948 mass expulsion of Palestinians. In this story, on the first Tuesday of every month throughout 2048, a bullet is fired into the protagonist’s eye. He is the only remaining “Falasti” — or Palestinian — although he absorbed the energy of all of those who died, and must now be kept in a glass cube as the ghosts of Palestinians he absorbed flow out of him in fits and starts.

The story — despite its surreal futurity — has many elements common with other contemporary Palestinian stories: sneaking past the Wall; the keeping of memory; performativity; the removal of Palestinian names; being cut off from one’s land and produce; and secret love.

Like Ibtisam Azem’s Book of Disappearance, recently translated by Sinan Antoon, the story asks: What happens if the Palestinians disappear? One answer, from Maarouf’s story, is that Israeli factions start fighting one another. The story has echoes of Mohamed Rabie’s hellscape Otared, which is set in a future Egypt, and — in its bacterial robots’ blood tests — of Hassan Blasim’s “blood-analysis robot.”

It’s also reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow’s The Waterworks, in that Falasta children’s imaginations are extracted, sent up into a satellite, and from there the best material is “inserted into the minds of children in Greater Israel as and when they need it.” Other material is there to help them achieve immortality.

In the story, we learn the narrator is wheeled out for a regular performance:

Every week we go to a primary school in a kibbutz or a town we haven’t visited before. Ze’ev puts me on display in front of the schoolkids in the playground for half an hour. None of them have ever seen a Palestinian before. They look at me, walk around the cube and touch it. Some of the kids ask, ‘Are you the last Palestinian?’ or ‘Are you the guy who killed Ezer Banana?’ But I don’t respond.

Even before the deaths of the Palestinians, our narrator was put on display, albeit for different reasons:

…an NGO van arrived to take me to film the advert for the toothpaste, which was called ‘Hope’. The aim wasn’t to promote the toothpaste so much as to inspire people with the knowledge that there was at least one Palestinian child out there who was still in good health.

There are a lot of subplots in “The Curse of the Mud Ball Kid” — the grandmother and her guava tree are probably my favorite. Perhaps this story, the longest in the Palestine + 100 collection, should have been developed into its own book. In any case, it’s a wild read.


Coverage of the PEN award on Arab Lit

One of the 50 Books to Watch in 2019 by the Irish Times.

One of TranslatedLit’s Most Anticipated Books for July 2019.

Read the editor’s introduction to the collection on the Comma Press blog.


“DNA,” translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Six Poems, translated by Jasim Mohamed

“The Boxes,” in Beirut Noir, translated by Michelle Hartman.

“Portion of Jam,” translated by Jonathan Wright