The winner of the 2023 International Prize for Arabic Fiction is set to be announced May 21, 2023. Among the shortlisted titles is a novel by Libyan writer Najwa Binshatwan: Concerto Qurina Eduardo. In the runup to the award, Najwa has shared a new, charmingly strange short story.
By Najwa Binshawan
Translated by M Lynx Qualey
With one eye open in the dark, I saw them tearing up campaign posters and setting them on fire. They didn’t hide their faces. There was no more fear.
Under heavy Russian bombing, explosions roar, and Ukraine is plunged into darkness in a scene straight out of a Marvel movie.
An elderly hunchbacked Italian woman rolls out pasta dough with a long, thick rolling pin. She has the extra time in this world to do everything slowly. Blessed be her mindfulness.
Kittens meow behind a nursing woman … tabbouleh and keto kunafa … a bearded man confirms that women naturally have a gland that prevents them from driving!
Kafka, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche are turned into quotations and fragments.
A teen who’s full of holes adds a tenth hole in her nostril and slips in an earring.
The charming countryside of Austria. Grilled fish … A young man presents his programming skills as if he had invented or developed ChatGPT. The thigh of a calf lying on a kitchen table. The president of the United States giving a speech. How to solve the problem of an overflowing toilet. The last drops of coffee dripping slowly from an espresso machine. Dreamy music. A treatment for tinnitus. Amal Al-Sahlawi’s thoughts on loneliness, isolation, and alienation. A handsome young man shows off a Bentley in Dubai. A Gulf investor whose daughter is in pajamas hypes e-commerce and simplifies the world’s economic problems. Shoes and leather bags from Ali Express that are easy on the eyes. Men around shawarma and kebabs. A group of environmentalists lying down in the roads to shut them down. A dead Arab president. Kiwi-flavored chicken in the oven. A living Arab president. An unknown singer singing at an unknown concert. A bank robbery that looks like previous bank robberies, where the police did not arrest the thieves, even though they were caught on film!
A guide to awareness, healing, and opening your chakras practices her idiotic rituals, her face long. Magda wearing a swimsuit and dancing in the sea, alone, the phone snapping pictures of her. Maybe she and Ahmed are fighting again. Grape leaves, Om Ali, and couscous. A late message from my son: I didn’t answer your message because I’m sick, I have diarrhea.
Cups of coffee and cappuccino beside books and girls’ soft hands. Skewers of shawarma … tabbouleh … Iranian bread with black seeds. Rubber pants that won’t tear. International Mother Language Day. Iman is afraid that she’s going to lose her job to AI. I pray to God that it will be like the rest of the inventions, which came to the Arab world only after they’d grown old in their own worlds.
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My husband rolls over on his side of the bed and stops snoring for a while. Then he asks if I’m asleep.
What time is it?
I answer in a whisper: Five in the morning.
As if an answer was required, he says: It’s still early.
I turn off the phone and set it aside. I close my eyes, too. It’s still early. Anyhow, my second eye was closed, still clutching at last night’s dream.
It wasn’t an exciting dream. It was just the usual, as if it was the 70s, when we were still kids.
We had no strange things, except for a landline and a television.
My mother was beating something in the copper mortar, and my grandmother was flying, and my brothers and I, throughout the dream, entered through the telephone and exited via the television, and the neighbors brought us a plate of food.
I sighed. I wished that time would come back.
But what came back was my husband’s snoring.
Today is Friday.
In some places it will be a day off, and in some it won’t.
My husband doesn’t forgo his habit of Friday lunch, “rice and sausage.” Even in Europe, he keeps it, transferring Friday rituals to Sunday.
I will talk him into visiting his mother and having lunch with her. Basically, he only sees her once a week. It’s not ok that he and his brothers don’t visit her, it’s a sin, this old woman who might die at any moment. Plus, maybe they’ll say that I’m stopping him from visiting her. The openings through which the devil might enter need to be closed.
The boys will spend a wonderful family day with their grandmother and their cousins. We’ll take pictures of lunch and our beautiful family gathering, and we’ll take a selfie so we can all be in the picture.
Please click like when you see us together.
And have a blessed Friday!
Najwa Binshatwan is a Libyan academic and novelist, born in Ajdabiya, Libya, in 1970. She was the first Libyan author to be shortlisted, in 2017, for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, for her novel The Slave Yards (2016). She has written three other novels: The Horses’ Hair (2007), Orange Content (2008) and Concerto Qurina Eduardo (2022). She was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project (2009-2010) organized by the Hay Festival, and her story ‘The Pool and the Piano’ was included in the Beirut39 anthology. In 2018, Binshatwan won a Banipal fellowship for creative writing. In 2019, her short story collection Serendipity (2019) was longlisted for the Al-Multaqa Short Story Prize, and her collection Catalogue of a Private Life (2018) won the English Pen Translates Award.
M Lynx Qualey is the founding editor of ArabLit.
A charming story, indeed! Excellent translation, Marcia! So nice to see you getting into translating more Arabic works.
Thank you, that’s very kind!
Loved this! Brava, Marcia! BTW, what is “mindfulness” in Arabic? Or what was the Arabic word Bintshatwan used that you chose to convey as “mindfulness”?
I’m stretching a bit, the sentence was “طوبى لها سعة البال”