By M Lynx Qualey
I have often been accused of modesty — or, by those who like me less, of false modesty. But if I am at times unassuming (self-effacing, reticent, anxiously reserved), it is probably less because of any positive humility and more because of a deep-seated terror of The Eye.
We didn’t have a way of protecting against The Eye in White-Scandinavian-Protestant Minnesota, when I was sprouting into an adolescent immaturity on Dakota land. We had no amulets, no whispered masha’Allah, no prophylactic to turn away the evil that might grow up in the wake of accomplishment or ill-gotten luck. One had simply to keep one’s head down and try not to be noticed. I didn’t even know about touching wood.
Fortunately, I moved to Egypt before I was yet finished with my adolescent immaturity. Although Egypt couldn’t cure me of my various terrors, it did at least provide a way of understanding them, and enough noise and love to occasionally drown them out.
This is by way of saying:
In our first few issues, ArabLit Quarterly has been both privileged and lucky. To have had Hassân Al Mohtasib join us after the first issue was a fantastic stroke of luck. We also had the good fortune of winning a “Best Zine” award from Broken Pencil in recognition of our second issue. We’ve had the unfailing hawk-eyed work, compassion, and companionship of poet-editor-proofreader Nashwa Gowanlock. And to be gifted work by so many brilliant authors and their estates, ranging from world-renowned authors such as Naguib Mahfouz (many thanks to his daughter Hoda and translator Karim Zidan) to emerging writers such as Ameer Hamad, who our scout Olivia Snaije ran across at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Most of all, of course, we are lucky (masha’Allah, touch wood, 🧿) in all the subscribers and supporters who make this effort possible, particularly those who plug in their coins regularly via Patreon or Exact Editions.
Hence, in part, why we have an amulet on this issue’s cover.
In this issue, we are grateful to have Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger re-seeing poetry by Ibn Arabi in an ongoing translational conversation. Just so, Moger and Maha ElNabawy have two different ways of translating Haytham El Wardany’s The Book of Sleep, forthcoming in 2020 in Moger’s translation. While Moger reads and rebuilds an eye-oriented section of the book in English text, ElNabawy translates it into a musical playlist.
Even if you’re not going to buy the issue, you shouldn’t miss the playlist.
The short fictions included in this issue focus on both the strange physicality of the human eye, the effect its color has on others (as in Ameer Hamad’s “Suad’s Eyes”), and the eye’s magic, as in Tareq Emam’s “One-Eyed Woman,” translated here by Katherine Van de Vate.
Other stories are trained on the gaze: in Rami Tawil’s “Eyes Shut,” translated by Nashwa Gowanlock, our protagonist works hard to move around the world with closed eyes, and in Bushra Fadil’s startling metaphysical “Phosphorous at the Bottom of a Well,” we see the world as it exists after death. In these stories, people also fail to see one another: Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Man in the Picture” is something of a “Picture of Dorian Gray” set sideways and inside-out; it’s been translated by Karim Zidan and appears in English here for the first time.
This issue’s “Judge a Book by Its Cover” column is generously and beautifully written by Hadeel Eltayeb, about a 1980 children’s book called The Evil Eye, apparently translated from an Irish folktale, illustrated by a Syrian artist, and published in Beirut, which then made it to Qatar, where it was discovered by Eltayeb. Layla Azmi Goushey writes our “Letter to a Late Author” to the late Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, and May Hawas takes the cliché that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and turns it around. She asks: “Do societies with high debt or high unemployment or high illiteracy or other high causes for alarm, for example, really need beauty?” and answers with a definite “Yes. Without the dream of an aesthetic, there is no end to ugliness.”
We also have a special section of the fictions shortlisted for the 2019 ArabLit Story Prize. It’s headlined by the winning story, Najwa Binshatwan’s satiric “Sharp Bend at al-Bakur,” translated by Sawad Hussain, and includes stories by shortlisted author-translator teams Mohamed al-Ashry and Roger Allen, Samar Nour and Enas El-Torky, and Mahmoud Hosny and himself. We close off the issue with a twist on our regularly featured literary recipe. Here, Nawal Nasrallah writes a short food-history memoir about eating sheep’s eyeballs as a child, writing both about how they appear in classical texts as well as in current culinary practice.
It might not make you want to cook eyeballs, but it’s certainly an entertaining read.
From the table of contents: