Banipal 54: Editorial by Margaret Obank

Margaret Obank 2 ALT
Margaret Obank by Ali Ghandstchi

Banipal front cover 54The final issue of 2015, entitled ECHOES, is a grand panoply of literature that reflects the diverse literary talents of today’s Arab world.
There is a trend in contemporary Arab literature to create a form or type of work that could be termed biographical or autobiographical, which combines actual history with contemporary or imagined characters (which is nothing out of the ordinary), but in the hands of these authors this then allows them to develop a thoroughly creative and original analysis and discussion, through the scenarios and characters, of major issues that have faced their particular society in the past or face it today. History and memory and real life reverberate against each other and sing to each other new songs.

Nadine Gordimer wrote in her introduction to Naguib Mahfouz’s Echoes of an Autobiography: “These pieces are meditations which echo that which was, has been . . .”. Dare I say that the texts in Banipal 54 are also just that – profound and creative meditations that allow the reader to wander and explore vast creative plains that mingle imagination, history, memory and real life.

The authors below present a range of real echoes of life in a plethora of creative ways that Banipal is proud to publish in English translation. We hope that publishers will take note and bring the works in full to readers around the world.

Aziza, in the novel Love Stories from al-A’sha Street by Saudi author Badriya al-Bishr is fascinated by Egyptian movies watched on her black & white TV, so impossibly different to the real life struggles she contends with every day – such as having to be the silent observer of a burgeoning but secret love that is thwarted by forced marriage.

The well-known Moroccan author Mohamed Berrada has created an enthralling and original historical novel, Far from Clamour, Close to Silence, in which Raji, an unemployed graduate, uses his temporary work as an historian’s assistant gathering information for a project on Moroccan Independence to write his own novel, weaving in and out of pre- and post-Independence times.

Ibtisam Azem opens the issue with excerpts from her novel The Book of Disappearance, an imaginative discussion of the passage, to and fro, of history and memory, set in Jaffa and Tel Aviv in the 48 hours after Israelis wake up to find all the Palestinians have disappeared.

There are two wonderful poets: Emad Fouad, who conjures up memories of childhood escapades with his grandfather, of passionate love, painful death and shy honesty; and Jalil Haydar, whose poem “The Lion of Babylon” is a ballad for the devastated land of his home country Iraq, with its rich, ancient past, a ballad that seethes with rage and sorrow and satire.

Amin Zaoui’s best-selling novel, The Last Jew of Tementit, set historically in Algeria’s Middle Ages, is the imaginative story of a young Muslim-Jewish couple who alternate their tales, sharing memories, loves and hates, and burning desires. The excerpt below concerns a five-times married aunt whose nickname is “the Man-eater”.

Ismail Ghazali’ short story “The Japanese Garden” is a love story and fantastical journey through a garden of Japanese haiku (via English, Polish and Arabic translations).

Hussain al-Mozany’s essay about his mother tongue or, indeed, lack of it and moving in language as he moved countries is an enriching contribution to the question of the relationship between language and identity.

Banipal front cover 54We are always being asked why Banipal hasn’t published plays, with the genre a vital part of world literary production, and in this issue the growing enthusiasm for the 3-D art of dramatic dialogue is now answered with the first full English translation of the revised script of the successful play Baghdadi Bathhouse by Jawad al-Assadi, the distinguished Iraqi playwright and theatre director. As the translation was in progress, his autobiographical book about his “journey of passion” in the theatre, Theatre of Bitter Illumination, was published, and so we had to make space and translate some excerpts from this remarkable account.

Always keen to develop literary dialogue between cultures and authors, Banipal’s ongoing collaboration with the Berlin International Literature Festival this year brings readers a Guest Literature section featuring four of world literature’s best-selling authors writing about “The Future of Cities”. Roddy Doyle (Ireland), Rawi Hage (Lebanon/Canada), Perihan Mağden (Turkey) and Boualem Sansal (Algeria) present much food for thought in their wide-ranging and original texts on the issues facing major cities in today’s world – increasing urbanisation, density of population, climate change, religious fundamentalism, and rapid growth of internet and computer technology.

Banipal 54 Autumn/Winter 2015