Last week, the Egyptian indie Mada Masr launched “In Other Words,” a new series of translated excerpts from contemporary Arabic literary works, by either emerging or established writers, published in English for the first time:
For a long time, the process of selecting works written in Arabic for translation, which gives them the opportunity to reach a wider audience and to potentially join the ever-expanding canon of “world literature” (as problematic as that term is), has been largely confined to a designated community of “gatekeepers” — mostly made up of Western publishers and translators — who decide which narratives they deem most “representative” of the region and therefore worthy of traversing cultural borders and crossing over to other parts of the world.
By offering translated glimpses of works that we believe are significant — in their language, format, or thematic resonance — we are attempting, at least in part, to perhaps effect that selection process by bringing more attention to stories that we think deserve to travel far and wide. We hope to create more space for diverse voices from the region to be heard elsewhere, not for what they “represent,” but for the unique, singular vision each of them provides.
“Let me start at the very beginning. And please bear with me, Father. Gaafar is my mother’s grandfather. This story begins with him, as do many other stories. But we don’t need to get into those just yet.”
Lewis previously talked about The Ways of the Lord with Tugrul Mende for ArabLit. He said, of the novel:
The main themes of Turuq al-Rab are based on an article that I published in 2015. While I was writing the novel, I could not resist the urge to “copy and paste” the very same article in one of its chapters. I had the intention to alter it a bit, but in the end there was no need to do so. I guess nobody could tell the difference.
Having said that, I will still argue that writing fiction puts the writer in less vulnerable position. Turuq al-Rab is autobiographical in a way, but it is fictional, too. As an author, you can hide and be less visible in a novel; you can easily change names, events, and fates, and you can lie as much as you like without ethical dilemmas. Writing a novel could be an ideal way to make a long public confession — without the scandal. It is probably not a coincidence that Turuq al-Rab is written as a series of confessions to a priest.