Online Now: 17 New Arabic Stories from Emerging Authors

In collaboration with KfW Stiftung, Adda magazine has published more than a dozen new Arabic stories in English translation, with a view to “supporting and promoting stories and literary talent from the Middle East”: 

The stories — thus far, there are seventeen from emerging writers in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine — are posted both in Arabic and in English. They were all crafted in writing workshops for young Arabophone writers, and the English translations were done by Nariman Youssef, Katharine Halls, William M. Hutchins, and Basma Ghalayini.

The stories center creation, missed opportunities, romance and memory, stuck-ness and entrapment, language and identity, patriarchies and colonialisms.

A brief glance at the 17:

Huda Armosh was born in 1998 and is from Nablus, Palestine. Her “Walking on Quicksand” was translated by Youssef, a densely packed and moving story in which, “The plan was for his boyfriend to spend as much time as he can with the kids over the summer holiday, then leave his wife.”

Mostafa Eltelwany is an Egyptian writer and storyteller born in Qalyubia in 1991, and has published two collections of poetry in vernacular Egyptian, the first titled Laughter of the Visa Student (2014) and the second Arabesque (2016). His “Dance of the Middle Fingers” was also translated by Youssef, and begins — unsurprisingly for an Egyptian short story — with a pair of joints.

Contributor Eman Sharabati was born in Jerusalem; her “A Story from the South” — her first published story — was translated by Halls. It has some sharp descriptive moments, as at the opening, in Halls’ translation: “The play is so funny it tires the audience out, and so painful you feel it in the soul. As she leaves the auditorium after the final act, she’s glad that the audience, so gripped by what they’ve just seen, are silent.”

Cairene writer Mohamed Matbouly was born in 1982 and trained as a mechanical engineer. His short-story collection Gamophobia won second place in the Cairo Short Story Competition organized by Goethe Institute in 2019. His “In the Cities of Central Cairo” was translated by Halls. The titular cities? “By midnight, cities roam around downtown Cairo like pedestrians. Since passing through that doorway I’ve met many cities, those I’ve wanted to visit but never dared to, and explored their sights up close. Paris, Johannesburg, Berlin, Rome, New York, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and many others have all come to me recently, and now time too goes walkabout, on occasion.”

Majdal Hindi was born in Jerusalem and has studied accounting and data analysis. Her “Fly” was translated by Halls; it’s a layered story about taking advantage and being taken advantage of, of the difficulty of relationships and trust. All of these questions buzz around the protagonist like a fly.

Egyptian author Farah Abey, born in 1998,  writes short stories and reviews books and films. Her “Behind the Causarina Trees” was translated by Halls. It’s a surreal, meta-folktale set around the village of Kafr al-Walga, in which: “‘The deeds of our ancestresses were passed on. The craft of fashioning a story in this way was inherited by generation after generation. The killers were given distinctive details to ensure that the story born would be exciting, that trees and tongues would pass it on.'”

Egyptian writer Hend Ja’far was born in 1985; she is a writer and academic from Ismailia who currently works in the Manuscripts Department at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Basma Ghalayini’s translation of her story “A Soul at Rest appeared in The Book of Cairo, ed. Raph Cormack, in 2019. She also talked to ArabLit last year about “Short Storycraft and Reading the Obituaries in Egypt.” Her “Running in Circles,” also translated by Ghalayini, begins with a dream that seeps into the protagonist’s waking life: “My weeping within the dream was real, but what I didn’t tell my mother was that the problem wasn’t with the fear, the crying or the sweat, but it was with the maze, and the confusion it left me in when I awoke. The running also exhausted my whole body.” But this strange, soul-draining dream doesn’t live only in the protagonist’s head.

Egyptian storyteller and scriptwriter Esraa Mokaidam published her first poetry collection in colloquial Egyptian in 2014, won first place for the short story coffee library project contest in 2016, and second place for the Goethe Institute Cairo Short Stories competition in 2018. Her “Red, Shiny, and Pleasing to the Eyes” was translated by Ghalayini; it centers around a strange wooden mannequin who stands in, brilliantly, for a wife. “He returns home to be faced with the mannequin looking at him in the same way a let-down wife would look at her husband, disappointed by his laziness.”

Camellia Hussein, born in 1986, writes short stories and is a columnist for a number of Arabic websites. She won third place in the 2018 Cairo Short Stories workshop organized by the Goethe-Institute in Cairo. Her terrifying “Spiders” was translated by Ghalayini, and opens with this striking image: “Every morning he shaves his beard so spider legs fall, fill the sink and block the plug hole. He emerges from the bathroom with a soft shiny face, and leaves the sink for me to clean after him.”

Mai Kaloti is from Jerusalem, studied journalism and sociology at Birzeit University, and earned a master’s degree in modern media in Amman. Her “The Madman” was translated by Ghalayini, and the titular madman is “Golden-toothed Issa,” “the madman of Almond Hill.”  But perhaps he was not as mad as they had thought him; “Three years after the madman’s disappearance, a research book was published with the title, ‘A study of social relationships amongst the residents of a large neighbourhood by analysis of household waste: Almond Hill case study’, by researcher Dr Issa Abu Dahab.”

Syrian writer Widyan Almasarani was born in 1982, studied veterinary medicine, and started writing children’s stories after the birth of her daughters Laila and Alma. Her “Dance” was translated by Ghalayini and moves between hate and love, hope and regret: “A wish that becomes more of a burden with each passing year like a drowned corpse being dragged to the bottom of the sea. ‘Here’s hoping that Ziad will be back by the next one’.”

Syrian writer Marwa Melhem studies civil engineering, writes short stories and poetry, and also translates. Her “He Put Me in a Bubble” was translated by Ghalayini, and is a story of multiple imprisonments: “He imprisoned me in a big bubble – not one of those soft, transparent bodies that changes colour with light and float, but a black encasement with flexible walls that smelled of exhaust fumes and rancid cooking oil.”

Mira Sidawi is a Palestinian actress, director and writer. Her “The Story of Nasr” was translated by Ghalayini, wherein the titular Nasr is a parrot: “After an in-depth exploration of identity issues, themes of belonging, forced ideas and freedom of thought, my father stood, raising his gun – which was always kept at his waist –  and shouted, ‘If you don’t call him Nasr, I’m going to eliminate you all! Fuck you and your imperialism. This parrot came to us, lived with us and became one of us, and his name is Nasr!’”

Batoul Fahs is an author and journalist from Lebanon. Her “Rameem” was translated by Ghalayini, and it is, “Dedicated to the letter hanging at the end of the clouds in the middle of the sky.”

Ayham Kazoun (@ayhamkazoun) is a Lebanese writer and blogger. His “The Capital” was translated by William M. Hutchins and, in it, we are thrown immediately into a war that feels both specific and endless. When asked how long he thinks the war will last: “Jaber shook his head. He didn’t want to think about the war. All he wanted to do was to pull off his helmet and sit on the garden bench to contemplate what was left of his city. More than anything, he wanted to remove his army boots.”

Rola el Hussein is a Lebanese writer currently living in Loubieh. Her “The Dress” was translated by Hutchins; it centers around a tense exchange between a Francophile dress-seller and a woman who wants to purchase six identical dresses: “‘Six dresses all the same size and colour?’ He was so perplexed he spoke to her in Arabic.”

Orwa Al Mokdad (@orwaalmokdad) is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker who has made several short films, including Street Music (2013), Under the Aleppo Sky (2013) and Under The Tank (2014), selected for Locarno’s section Pardi di domani – Concorso internazionale. His “Madame Suzanne” was translated by Hutchins, and it begins in a cramped room in Berlin and travels back through memory to how he arrived: “After waiting six months in Bremen in northwest Germany for a temporary residency permit, I moved to Berlin. I was struggling with my homesickness for Syria, even though I had decided to forget my past when I crossed the sea to Europe.”