Bulaq 38: ‘Insufficiently Westernized’

In Bulaq Episode 38, we discussed a picaresque, surprisingly joyful tale set in an evacuated village during the Iran-Iraq war; the TV adaption Elliott Colla’s Baghdad Noir; and the evolution — or partial evolution, anyhow — of reviews of Arabic literature in translation:

Ismail Fahd Ismail reading from the novel in a short documentary made for the IPAF in 2017.

At the very least, reviews in the New Yorker no longer start like John Updike’s infamous “Satan’s Work and Silted Cisterns.”

Both MLQ and Ursula enjoyed The Old Woman and the River by Ismail Fahd Ismail, which was translated by Sophia Vasalou. Similarly, we recommend the screen adaptation of Elliott Colla’s Baghdad Central, which was adapted into a TV mini-series by Channel 4.

We don’t recommend John Updike’s condescending 1988 review of the first installment of Saudi writer Abdelrahman Mounif’s Cities of Salt in The New Yorker, unless you are studying the trends in reviews of Arabic literature in English translation. It seems translator Peter Theroux is probably also still annoyed by the review. Bulaq’s discussion of Updike was occasioned by Patricia Lockwood’s storied assassination of the author in a recent issue of the London Review of Books.

You can find Episode 38 — recorded half in Sowt studios in Amman and half in Rabat — wherever good podcasts happen to be.