Lit & Found: Bushra al-Maqtari’s ‘What Have You Left Behind?’ tr. Sawad Hussain

Bushra al-Maqtari’s What Have You Left Behind?: Voices from a Forgotten War, originally appeared in Arabic by Riad El-Rayyes Publishers in 2018. A researcher, journalist, and novelist, al-Maqtari has been — in the words of al-Madaniya’s editors — “a resounding voice for the people during the 2011 revolution in Yemen as an activist and writer.”

A German translation of her book What You Have Left Behind: Voices from the Land of the Forgotten War was published in 2020, and al-Maqtari was awarded the Johann Philipp Palm Award for Freedom of Speech and Press in 2020.

The translation to English, by Sawad Hussain, is set to appear from Fitzcarraldo in October.

Ahead of that, n + 1 and The Guardian have both run excerpts from the book.

The 2018 book, al-Maqtari said in an interview with al-Madaniya, was an attempt to “resist death through writing”; she added: “It was a simple attempt to document the narrative of the war and its dark memory based on those affected by it. It contains the memories of victims, whose suffering the warring parties insist on deepening and exploiting, and shows how all of the parties in the conflict, in the end, are murderers.”

The excerpt in both n + 1 and the Guardian opens starkly:

I reached Aden, the temporary capital of Yemen, in the second week of March 2015. Missiles shook the city from all sides. Houthi militias bombed the presidential palace, where President Hadi was holed up. Army tanks trundled down the main streets. On 23 March, the decision to go to war was made; diplomats and international employees left Sana’a, Yemen’s largest city, while foreign embassies closed their doors and evacuated their personnel. Leaders of political parties departed the country with their families. I said farewell to some of them in good faith. I didn’t think that – having sensed the war was coming – they had decided to flee and leave us to our fate.

Continue reading at The Guardian or n + 1.