Mariam Qahtani’s ‘On Love and Isolation’

From the publisher, Dar Almutawassit

Translated by Mariam Qahtani

The first collection of short stories by Yemeni storyteller, Mariam Qahtani, currently residing in America, was issued by Almutawassit Books (Italy), under the title On Love and Isolation. Each story was chosen by the writer to be titled with the names of Yemeni women “whom the sun knew but they knew darkness,” as it says in the book’s dedication. This is a book that asks us to examine our own unresolved questions on the condition of women in wartime, on lost love, and on sprawling isolation.

There is no distance in this work, as Mariam Qahtani, while living far from her homeland, writes with a soul that has not left her Yemen, and the Yemen of many of those whose names carry the titles for the stories of the collection. Stories of a Hadyyah who lives in the memory of the message bearer informing her of her son’s death, to Nouriya, who lost her way within the compass of love and contented herself with her inevitable destiny, to Khadija, whose solitude was cast as a witness to the tragedy of a young girl, to Jamila, who nurtured a deep-seated hatred towards the oppression of men, and to Marilyn, a hurricane of naughtiness and innocence.

Qahtani writes her stories through a unique lens that uncovers those details that often hide within the folds of time and under layers of dust, in a homeland that shows both its might and the cruel hand of life. The female protagonists are often tenacious when faced with stormy events and castigations of fate, while also feeling confused, lost, and ultimately finding themselves at destined turning points.

Amidst Yemen’s turmoil and transformations, tales sprout in hot soil and the heroines and heroes of these stories find themselves in a fierce confrontation with the cruelty of days that are yet to find peace. “It is war, famine, and the children of sin who have gathered in this place,” and the lasting physical, moral and psychological consequences that follow. We find ourselves at the heart of a literature that moves away from artistic representations and flowery imagination, and rather resorts to daring to analyze reality without falling into its traps and without compromise that weakens the strength of feelings or hides the flexibility of the human spirit.

In this collection of stories, Mariam Qahtani uses a language that enables her reader to avoid surrendering to shocking facts, with a colloquial tone and short, stinging sentences and irony that transcend sadness to write of the forgotten, the shadow, death, love, solitude, and survival. A realistic literary mix that will remain throughout the pages of the book as a stark reminder of the devastating effects of war, the absence of freedom, and the conditions that allow a person to live a life that has been broken down to a daily struggle for survival.

With a cinematic narration and memory that digs its way to Sanaa and to every inch of Happy Yemen, Arabia Felix, with its pains and curses, as well as its dreams and little joys, Mariam tells us that the world has ceased to hurt, yet “you see people smiling. Smiles ripped from the depths of pain.”

On Love and Isolation is a first collection of short stories by Yemeni author Mariam Qahtani, which was issued in 80 pages of medium-length pieces as part of the “Patents” series, which the publisher issues and triumphs in for poetry, short stories, and texts, in celebration of these literary genres.


Also read:

Mariam Qahtani on the Slow Process of Building ‘On Love and Isolation’

New Short Fiction: Qahtani’s ‘Heavensent Hurriya’


Mariam Qahtani grew up in Sanaa, Yemen, and immigrated to the US in the 90s. She holds a BSc in Psychology from Capella University in Minnesota and is currently an Emerging Scholar and master’s candidate in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.  She lives near Washington, D.C., with her family.

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