Robin Moger Translates “The Princess Waits: A Verse Play by Salah Abdessabour”

Abdel-Hadi El-Gazzar, The Lady Rider, early 1950s. Source: christies.com

We do not see the hut when the lights first come up, and then we see it. Its inhabitants are not interested in us, perhaps because their problems do not concern us. These women spend their days waiting for a man, and they know that one day he will come. Lights shine upstage from the front of the stage, illuminating a door in the back wall. Neither fully open nor quite shut, it swings gently on its hinges, creaking intermittently, as though the fitful wind outside the hut is knocking to make its presence known within. Then the light sweeps downstage and to the right: we see a flight of stairs rising to the princess’s room, mirrored by a flight on the left leading down to their larder. Centre stage is an old-fashioned, rectangular dining table—or rather, it is simply old: it has no identifiable fashion. Around this table there are four chairs, the back of one slightly higher than the rest. The chairs are not neatly arranged but are scattered about as though hastily vacated. Between them wend the backs of two women dressed in black, cleaning the shabby furnishings and complaining.

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I Saw a Man Hugging a Fridge: Twelve Poems by Youssef Rakha in Robin Moger’s Translation

HAITI. Gonaives. 1994. U.S. invasion.

Alex Webb, Gonaives, Haiti, US invasion, 1994. Source: magnumphotos.com

First song of autumn

 

Joy of my days, come

watch me run

I’ve bought white shoes

and see-through eagle’s wings

I am the clarinet’s mouth

and you the ransomed player

Kneel and guzzle me, set

the sea’s taste in my throat

and make my breast a wave

upon whose mane the sun

sows jewels

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Robin Moger Translates Sukaina Habiballah

From the Aperture Foundation’s Paul Strand Book by Joel Meyerowitz. Source: studiobaer.com

nes t ree

in turn I bore straw

much straw and went

in search of a tree to make

my nest but a tree I did not find 

and with the straw I’d gleaned I packed

my chest I picked a field and I stood upright there 

 

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Matthew Chovanec: On Its Own Fucked-up Terrain

Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017

Rohan Daniel Eason (copyright One Peace Books), from a children’s illustrated Kafka. Source: wired.com

Arabic novels are so frequently described as Kafkaesque or Orwellian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two authors were themselves Arab. It is a small wonder that noone has yet tried to uncover their secret Arab origins by etymologizing their names (قفقاء and الروال) in the way that the Turks have for Shakespeare. It is true that both of their names have become literary shorthand for a type of writing dealing with dystopia, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. It is also true that Arab societies have continued unabated to live through dystopias, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. But the label flattens out what is particular and new about so much excellent Arabic writing, and suggests that everything you need to know about the daily experience of living in a dysfunctional and cruel system can be captured by the term  “nightmarish”.

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Yasmine Seale Translates Saadia Mufarreh

Saul Leiter, 1959. Source: robertacucchiaro.wordpress.com

You’re not there 

but details linger. Who knows how

they trickle in and scurry out, 

how they hum like a knot

of sandgrouse caught

in the snare of distance, 

laying waste 

to silence, that stranger

not to be trusted,

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Robin Moger: More Saniya Saleh

The only window, in disrepair

Francesca Woodman, “Untitled”, Rhode Island, 1975-78. Source: americansuburbx.com

Don’t come tonight, sad bat

Packing your head between my brows.  

We have denied one another at times 

In despair and in defeat. In vain

Face bumping at face,

The heart at the heart.

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Tam Hussein: The Knockout Outside Time

Tam Hussein reviews All the Battles, Maan Abu Taleb’s remarkable debut in Robin Moger’s translation, published by Hoopoe Fiction earlier this year

Source: mearsonlineauctions.com

There are things All the Battles by Maan Abu Taleb is not. It is not a cliched story based on a Rocky film. It is not an Arab version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club in which the protagonist discovers fighting in order to feel “alive”.  Whilst Abu Taleb’s first novel is ostensibly about boxing, it is really a meditation on masculinity in the Arab world today.

Had All The Battles been about boxing, it would have been an implausible story. No practitioner of the sweet science, however good, can turn professional in a year; but this is what the novel’s protagonist, Said does. An advertising executive by chance, this bored individual discovers boxing at the venerable age of twenty-eight. After a few fights he packs in his job – only to be mullered by a seasoned British boxer in Dubai.

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Salah Abdessabour’s “An Old Story Translated” by Robin Moger

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Vincent Van Gogh, Self-portrait with bandaged ear and pipe, 1889, Arles. Source: Wikipedia

He had friends,

and they pledged him in the evening of his sorrow

not to turn him over to the soldiers

or to deny him when

he was summoned by the king.

And one turned him over

for a handful of silver

then committed suicide

and by another he was denied

three times before dawn broke

and once he had died his lips

could smile again, and then

he went on his way evangelizing,

boasting that he had known him,

and fished blessings by baptizing

in his name.

.

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Robin Moger Translates Salah Abdessabour

The Daybook of Bishr the Barefoot

Abu Nasr, Bishr bin al-Harith, sought out debate and discussion and heard all that was said and so inclined to mysticism. And one day he was walking through the market when, taking fright at the people there, he removed his sandals and slipped them beneath his arms and set off running through the sunbaked stones and sand, and none could keep pace with him. This was in the year 227 AH.

Leopold Müller, A barefoot man in robes running while holding a stick, 1878. Source: Wikipedia

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Valentina Viene Translates Ali Jazo: This Is Your City

Hans-Lemmen

Hans Lemmen/Roger Ballen, Rendez-vous, from “Unleashed”, 2016. Source: damnmagazine.net

Abandoned bags are tossed about by the noon breeze.

Tree leaves, narrow pavements,

.

children next to shoes,

teens, out of school, are smoking.

The curls on their foreheads are so shiny

they look frozen and stiff.

.

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Robin Moger: Ahmad Yamani’s The Scream

Michael Donovan. Source: studiodonovan.com

My sister screamed in the night

Take me to my brother’s house

And there she screamed that same night

No no! Take me back to the house of my father

They took her back

And when she made to scream again

The night had passed

And the men had gone to work.

.

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Matthew Chovanec: When the Moist Summer Breezes Blow

Matthew Chovanec reviews Darf Publishers’ new edition of Mohammed Hussein Haikals Zainab, translated by John Mohammed Grinsted

Lower Egypt in 1885. Source: egyptianstreets.com

Darf Publishers out of London are reissuing the “classic” 1913 novel Zainab by Mohammed Hussein Haikal in John Mohammed Grinsted’s English translation. This is part of their effort to bring world literature into English. They have previously released a wide range of titles from Arabic-speaking countries as well as others in Africa, with a special focus on Libyan literature. Any effort to translate and publish more work in English is admirable, and Darf should be commended.

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Robin Moger Translates Saniya Saleh

The Storm Takes the Heart.

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Ian Berry, Hong Kong, 2002. Source: magnumphotos.com

.What does that glum sun search for in its useless

round and why does its purple body come apart

and endless discs come tumbling down from its

flaming core, followed by black birds

black and crossing over like the storm

whose eyes aglow with tears we barely glimpse, they come

out from the graves of the forefathers and make for Jordan.

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Robin Moger: Wadih Saadeh’s Dead Moments

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Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Bluewater Commercial Center, London, 1999. Source: magnumphotos.com

1

Suddenly the sunbeam disappeared. I believe a cloud is passing over the house. Sunbeams disappear for two reasons alone: clouds hide them or it is night. And being morning, most probably a cloud is passing.

Maybe soon it will rain and I will be able to watch the rain from the window. Life is so beautiful: that circumstances allowing one can watch the rain. Mine is a water sign and I imagine that now and then a planet up in space melts and flows down in front of me. Happy notion. I pick it up and approach the window. I open the pane and look out at the cars, the arid asphalt, the weary labourers. Why do these labourers get tired? I used to get tired myself sometimes and the sweat would flow, but then I turned my back on it and for years I rested. Sweat of the brow is hateful; shameful in fact. Disgusting: rising from sleep to make oneself sweat. A car goes by leaving a light cloud of dust behind it. A cat asleep on the corner opens then shuts its eyes. I close the window and slowly make my way back.

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Nourhan Tewfik: The Second Life of Lewis Nawa

Nourhan Tewfik reviews Ebola ’76 by Amir Tag Elsir, translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby

Health care workers, wearing protective suits, leave a high-risk area at the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders) Elwa hospital on August 30, 2014 in Monrovia. Liberia has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus raging through west Africa, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET        (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Health care workers on August 30, 2014 in Liberia. AFP photo by Dominique Faget, Getty Images

As Lewis entered, Ebola was all around. It hovered inches from him, anticipating its moment to pounce. The virus had already claimed the bodies of most of the people he encountered there. It coursed through the blood of the old, sunken-cheeked beggar woman as she silently extended her hand towards Lewis to receive his half franc. It had infiltrated the veins of the stern guard, who now leant against his battered old rifle, his gaze flitting between the visitors as they came and went through the main gates. It inhabited the many mourners who passed before Lewis’s distracted gaze. Even as he knelt in tears beside the grave of his lover, who had died just two days previously, the virus was there, lurking in her corpse beneath the soil.

In his short novel Ebola ‘76, a Darf Publishers title translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby, the Sudanese writer Amir Tag Elsir moulds a fictionalised account of the 1976 Ebola outbreak in South Sudan and Congo.

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Marcia Lynx Qualey: A Review of the Newest Arabic Novel (Remix)

Arab Muscle Dancers, 1898, by B. W. Kilburn

Insert Title Here, by Our Arab Author, translated by So-and-so. Such-and-such publisher. $12.99.

What do you know about how people live in Cairo or Beirut or Riyadh? What bearing does such information have upon your life? We in the West hear about the Middle East all the time, but for most of us it remains unknown and unknowable. More complicated still is that, as I learnt at the weekend, forms like the novel and short story were alien to Arabic culture before the first decade of the 20th century: the genres are, themselves, imports.

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Robin Moger Translates Mohab Nasr

Two Versions of “The People Are Asleep”

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Quamrul Abedin, from “Silent Solitude”. Source: lensculture.com

(1)

“The people are asleep,

Don’t wake the people, darling,

So she’d tell him

Whenever he cracked his knuckles on the balcony,

Whenever his eyes shone behind the door

Like a password,

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