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Banipal 45 – Writers from Palestine

Posted on 16 November 2012 by Alice

A round-up of the significant Banipal 45, published soon, by Margaret Obank, Publisher, Banipal Books and Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature.

Banipal 45 – Writers from Palestine completes 15 years of the magazine’s continuous publication. Fadhil al-Azzawi writes in the editorial of how Banipal is a “cultural necessity”, how it “reflects the real achievements in the contemporary literature of Arab authors”, and that it does more than publish literary translations – “In fact, it discovers new voices, highlights great forgotten talents, and presents those who have been marginalized for this or that reason”.

Adonis salutes the magazine’s 15 years, saying that “Banipal has been realizing a unique and twofold project within the sphere of cultural productions of the Arab world” and “is not merely a bridge between two cultures but, rather, a laboratory of sorts, where the two sides meet”.

Banipal 45 – Writers from Palestine is a doubly special issue. Introducing the feature, Anton Shammas writes of the “very special amalgam of young Palestinian voices, whose writing offers a new and refreshing literary map of that forsaken country, and whose almost unprecedented collective presence realizes a long over due literary dream” and opens up “the English gates for some new waves, some new and young and uncompromising voices from all regions of Palestine”.

Anton Shammas goes on to say that “Nothing now is above criticism, or safely positioned inside the national decorum . . . “It’s writing on the move”. The feature includes chapters from novels, short stories, and poems. The 23 authors (13 fiction writers and 10 poets) present different ways of engaging with their subjects, with the complex issues of individual aspirations and dreams, of parental, sibling and/or childhood relationships, of bringing the past into the present, of holding together extreme contradictions in changing societies, not to mention ways of expressing

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themselves freely and creatively on issues personal and particular that are at the same time universal.

“The most open, daring, democratic and attentive magazine of modern Arabic literature” – Anton Shammas

Maya Abul Hayyat immediately engages with her vivid novel of growing up with parents split up, moving countries, living with relatives, hugging her secrets.

In Ala Hlehel’s short story, a rain-drenched leaking tent is home for eight-year-old Hamada’s family, forced out of their village – getting the leak mended has surprising results for him and his father.

Ibtesam Azem’s protagonist is a young Israeli Palestinian, who is seen reliving a recent beating up by soldiers and being dumped on Haifa beach, and is then seen with fellow student Nina, a newcomer Israeli from South Africa, who castigates Arabs (i.e. Palestinians) in a racist manner.

Eyad Barghuthy’s story, A Fateful Meal (which is the subject of one of the V&A’s 30 November Friday Late Banipal Short Story Circles), set in an Acre fish restaurant, is a lively conversation between father and daughter that reveals unexpected connections.

Tamara Naser’s short story is the one of two involving taxis: her dreamy heroine, who’s looking for a way to be a real heroine, a superwoman, jumps into a taxi to go and meet her boyfriend and . . . Aliaa Saqqa’s heroine is obsessed with listening to Fairouz and just has to stay in a service taxi if the driver is playing a Fairouz tape.

Nakba Lite by Raji Bathish is an innovative tongue-in-cheek tragi-comedy of five “comrades” who find different tales with which to “commemorate the 60th anniversary of the ongoing Nakba”. For Isr’aa Kalash’s protagonist, the

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50th anniversary of the Nakba – when she was 12 years old – recalls only the arrival of puberty and “the small thing” that “had to be cut out” like a “wheat stalk that was rotten at the root”.

Haneen Naamneh writes a letter, trying to remember, describing tiny details to her sister and then asking: “Are memories like empty bottles? Do we only reach for them when we need them?” In a story about courage and submission Majed Atef questions the tradition of taking revenge and accepting a destiny of avenging death that brings more death.

Ziad Khaddash’s two short stories are quite different from one another though both revolve around unexpected but very believable coincidences. Einas Abdullah’s 27-year-old protagonist wanders through the city of Ramallah, “a terrible phoenix”, while remembering getting caught in a terrible raid of bullets and tear gas. Akram Musallam’s The Tale of the Scorpion that dripped with Sweat is a captivating and original novel, with unusual characters, in which the scorpion tattoo of the narrator’s absent girlfriend keeps reappearing, almost for real, and his father’s amputated leg always needs its missing foot scratching. It already has French and Italian editions.

Banipal 45 – Writers from Palestine presents the works of ten poets – Dalia Taha, Najwan Darwish, Basem el-Nabres, Tarek al-Karmy, Marwan Makhoul, Mahmoud Abu Hashhash, Reem Ghanayem, Yousef el-Qedra, Asma’a Azaizeh and Muheeb Barghuty. I am reminded of what Anton Shammas states in his introduction: “These are, all in all, writers and poets who no longer seem to be the passive captives of a nationalist utopia, nor of the grand Palestinian design. They are, for the most part, the more realistic and sober anti-heroes, full of doubts and questions and anxieties, fully aware of the limits and the limitations of Palestinian realities, and of their inalienable right to challenge and question and reconfigure and, above all, resist those realities in the most incisive critique that literature can offer.”

In giving voice to the realities of Palestinian life in all its separated parts, these poets do just that. I will leave readers to explore themselves, but give you a taste through some of the titles, starting with Face, A Past, Naji al-Ali, Sleeping in Gaza, Planning, Night, One-Man Gathering, Identity, Violation, Refuge for their Metamorphoses, On the Rise of the Woman Prophet, Daughter of a Fleeting Wind, I don’t Belong to this Light, Wagner and my Grandmother, and finally, The Death Squad.

Banipal 45 presents new novels from Algeria, Syria, Lebanon: pre-publication excerpts from Algerian author Rashid Boudjedra’s The Barbary Figs (Arabia Books) and Syrian author Nihad Sirees’s The Silence and the Roar (Pushkin Press), plus an excerpt from prize-winning Lebanese author Rabee Jaber’s latest novel The Birds of Holiday Inn. Also included are works by Algerian authors Samir Kacimi and Samira Negrouche.

Guest Literature from Vietnam and Romania showcases fiction – The Field of the American Arm by Vietnamese author Ho Anh Thai and a chapter from Life Plans by Romanian poet and novelist Vasile Baghiu.

PLUS Major interview with Mohammad Bakri, the Palestinian actor and director of the film “Jenin, Jenin”.


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