Online, Free: 5 by Ghassan Zaqtan, Including Novella ‘Describing the Past’

Seagull Books has made Samuel Wilder’s translation of Ghassan Zaqtan’s Describing the Past available free online. To celebrate, four more by the multi-award-winning author:

Zaqtan, co-winner of Canada’s 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize, with his translator Fady Joudah, has also won the Mahmoud Darwish Award (2016) and was shortlisted for the US-based Neustadt.

He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, novels, and also the play The Narrow Sea, which was honored at the 1994 Cairo Festival. Memory has a central place in Zaqtan’s work; he told PBS: “For this uncertain place, for uncertain life, which we have in this area, we have to protect our personal history.”

1. Describing the Past, tr. Samuel Wilder

First, the semi-autobiographical novella, Describing the Past, about which ArabLit’s chief editor wrote earlier, “The 84-page work echoes the dreaminess of Kazuo Ishiguro′s The Unconsoled; instead of dream-logic, however, there is memory-logic.” 

The excerpt on Seagull’s website open:

I awoke from sleep. Something woke me. A sound or a call, a strange movement, five fingers on a lithe hand.

Someone woke me.

The muezzin was at the end of the call. Then everything fell silent.

The house was empty without reason.

I looked at the bed and he was still there. I crawled on my knees to him.

The void multiplied. He was dead.

While you’re there, you can also get Zaqtan’s Where the Bird Disappearedtr. Wilder.


2. You’re Not Alone in the Wilderness, tr. Fady Joudah


3. “Khalil Zaqtan,” tr. Joudah

This poem, one of several of Zaqtan’s published by the Poetry Foundation, opens:

And I will bend down to smell his desire
his tomb’s flowers and marble
his wilting joy
his swapping temptation for content


4. “Glee,” tr. Joudah

This poem appears in Adroit. The poem begins with a few characters at a bus stop, and goes on: “To write a memory I gathered a memory / and to green the marshes I sprinkled friends/ over the salt marshes, and was at a loss/ with myself, I the conceited, at a loss/ with my palm as I collected stones,/ fruits and people from the hell of the earth/ to return them as poems/ that dreams almost leap out of”


5. “Old Reasons,” tr. Joudah

On World Literature Today, it opens:

Old friend, when we meet, we will meet
as two shelves of wings and many harsh years,
as one imagination that won’t exchange toasts:
there’s no one to stomp the grapes for the ancient feasts

1 Comment

  1. A very broad sample.

Comments are closed.