Occupation + 100: Listen to This Issue’s Literary Playlist

This issue’s #LiteraryPlaylist feature was written and curated by Egyptian cultural journalist Maha Elnabawi:

It opens:

By Maha Elnabawi

The year is 2048, in Palestine. It’s one hundred years after the violent establishment of the state of Israel in 1948—an event known in the Arab world as “the Nakba” or “catastrophe,” forcing more than 700,000 Palestinians to flee their homes. Most were never able to return. In the years since, Israel’s 70-year program of systemic, ethnic cleansing has only gotten worse. With the stage set, editor Basma Ghalayini turns to the possibilities of science fiction, commissioning a collection of 12 short stories by Palestinian authors that imagine their homeland a century into the future.

Published by Comma Press in 2019, Palestine + 100 has been called the first-ever anthology of Palestinian science fiction, and an apt follow-up to the critically acclaimed Iraq + 100, an anthology of stories set a hundred years after the 2003 American invasion. With some texts written in English and others translated from Arabic, the authors in Palestine + 100 use a varied palette of speculative and surrealist fiction treatments, with themes that travel across memory and identity, absence and isolation, apartheid, ghosts of the past, the dystopia of displacement, loss, and parallel worlds.

Through this unfolding of horror, trauma and technology, the authors imagine a future as dystopian as the present, where “even the most extraordinary future technology can do little more than mirror or reframe the current, real-world impasse,” as Ghalayini writes in her introduction.

“It is perhaps for this reason that the genre of science fiction has never been particularly popular among Palestinian authors; it is a luxury, to which Palestinians haven’t felt they can afford to escape,” writes Ghalayini, “The cruel present (and the traumatic past) have too firm a grip on Palestinian writers’ imaginations for fanciful ventures into possible futures.”

Despite this, Ghalayini and her writers succeed in delivering a haunting collection of short stories that are as musical as they are metaphorical. Timbres of dystopia reverberate through this literary playlist as loudly as the drones shredding through Palestine’s imagined future, within these texts.

The Summer 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly — our issue of summer insight & delight — is now available as PDF and EPUB. The print edition is available via Amazon (US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and elsewhere), and in a searchable online edition for Exact Editions subscribers. Also, listen: