On the Constraints the Arabic Language Imposes on Arabic Literature Writers

July 23rd, 2016

The Exact Spot Where We Pitched Camp Yesterday

The Exact Spot Where We Pitched Camp Yesterday

 

It’s been one helluva ride. Whenever I tell people that I translate Arabic literature, I know they’re wondering, Is that even a thing?

Well, kinda. And there are probably several reasons for the world’s reluctance to translate literature written in Arabic. In this post, I will try to uncover some of those reasons.

First, I am going to explain how the way people answer the age-old chicken-or-egg question of “What came first, language or reality?” depends mainly on the language with which they’ve been raised. In other words, I am going to expound on how language determines how we accept reality. Next, I am going to focus on the structure of the Arabic language to try and prove my theory that the way the language works influences the way Arabic speakers write when creating literature. My hypothesis is that, due to its inner structure (which, in my opinion, doesn’t equip Arabic speakers for acknowledging the indispensable figure of the third party—the arbitrator), the Arabic ...Read more

Out of Juice, but in Luck!

August 16th, 2017

View from the car window of a road in Cairo, Egypt

I sprinted down the stairs and towards my car, which was parked close to the company building. I had to be careful not to trip and fall, for the tears that had welled up in my eyes were blurring my vision. I got into the car and started the engine. I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, I just wanted to get away from there as fast as possible. With my mind still reeling after the shock of being fired, I asked myself, “Why me? What did I do to deserve the abuse they are subjecting me to?” I had always been a model employee to all intents and purposes. I had been commended by my superiors for my productivity and resourcefulness on numerous occasions. There was no reasonable explanation for what had just taken place. After losing my job, which constituted what my entire life had pivoted on up to that very moment, I was at sixes and sevens on what step to take next.

Suddenly, ...Read more

Black Habiliments

August 14th, 2017

Panoramic view over the city of Constantine, Algeria

Constantine, 1958

A young French officer went inside a bar in the old city, chose a stool to sit down on, ordered a drink and lapsed into a pensive mood. He had had a long day.

The city is perched on a cliff and its historic flair echoes that of goddesses like Ishtar. It is virtually impossible not to feel a little dizzy when standing on any of its seven mighty bridges and looking down the narrow gorge stretching below.

He had felt apprehensive about being in Constantine from the moment he had set foot in it. The problem he had with the city wasn’t the city in and by itself, which he found to be breathtaking, but the moment he had picked to discover it. He wasn’t proud of who he had become in his bid to move up the promotion ladder, but, the way he saw it, respect for human life and sympathy for people’s feelings becomes an unaffordable luxury in times of war.

A pretty girl wearing a nice dress ...Read more

Jasmine Garlands

August 11th, 2017

Idlib, Syria

The sun disappeared behind a haze of smoke. All I could hear was people screaming. The streets reeked of death.

The market was particularly crowded that morning, because Ramadan started the following day and all the shops would stay closed until sunset. I was idly looking at the passersby and the old olive tree that grows in the middle of the square. I was thinking about my kids and how they would grow up around that tree to become staunch advocates of altruism and staying true to one’s roots. For once, I wasn’t minding the noise and the bustle around me, because I appreciated people’s happiness and excitement over the upcoming festivities.

There was a girl selling jasmine garlands on the street. Every time she managed to sell one, her face lit up and her eyes slid over to a colorful dress on display in the window of one of the shops on the opposite side of the street.

My boy, who was standing beside me, asked me whether I would take him to the toy store later that day. I told him ...Read more

A Message from the Lady of the Sea

August 9th, 2017

Juliyana Beach, Benghazi, Libya

I was in a café admiring a glorious sunset over a calm sea. Most of the people who had come to spend the day at Juliyana Beach had already left and I could just lean back and enjoy the peacefulness of the surroundings. The smell of grilled fish wafted out from the neighboring restaurants and through the café’s old wooden-framed windows, even though there was no wind blowing that day. I was reading a book about Libyan history, while listening to the classical music drifting from the café’s speakers. Suddenly, I came across a paragraph that caught my attention:

“Legend has it that the Juliyana Beach owes its name to the older daughter of the English consul Libya had in 1850, who, apparently, was a spoiled blonde of unparalleled beauty. When she was just seventeen years old, she went out for a swim in the sea and drowned. The beach was renamed after her to keep her memory alive.”

It was already night—and a rather dark one at that—by the time I set out to return home. I ...Read more

Forever in the Seagull’s Debt

August 7th, 2017

Port El Jebeha, El Jebha, Morocco

Time stopped. My heartbeat started racing and I gasped for air. I felt like I was buried under debris.

It was as if I had just come across another layer of the human soul, which revealed itself wider than the sky and deeper than the sea standing in front of me. I never thought I would deliberately seek to face my worst nightmare!

The Seagull Shore is a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean coast which has yet to be discovered by outsiders. Only a few boats chug out to sea from the docks that can be found nearby. The women of the courageous sailors stay ashore, waiting anxiously for their safe return home. The shore is also frequented by youngsters, who go there to get high and stare at the horizon.

That beach is, in my eyes, the country’s crowning glory. It brings me hope for the future. From there, one can discern Europe’s coastline on a clear day. Europe, that promised land whose siren song has led so many to drown in sea. I have always ...Read more

The Grating Key to Eternal Bliss

July 26th, 2017

Nablus, West Bank

She was grateful.

A big mountain rose above her, and behind it, one settled by good God-fearing people. The road leading there had been a rather bumpy one; it was infested by apostates. The lights of the city stretching between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim shone, at times, like the bling on a bedazzled wedding dress and, at others, like the will-o’-the-wisp winking in graveyards at night. The clouds were the color of tears and blood, like the ones that had been shed by the people on the ground in their fight to preserve their country and cultural identity. She had been feeling lost and alone for a long time, but now, she had finally managed to return back home.

She was grateful.

The day was lit up with hope, the sort that made her eyes all watery. She was a senior at university and appreciated all academia had done to expand her horizons without keeping her from staying true to her roots, but she had missed that red city where she had taken her first steps into the big topsy-turvy world. She wondered ...Read more

A Heartbreaker of a River

July 25th, 2017

Khenifra, Morocco

For the life of me, I can’t remember when I first fell in love with the Oum Er-Rbia River, which winds its way through Khenifra, my city. Was it on one of those afternoons I spent by it with my family? Was it when I first tried out one of the delicious-tasting fish it carries? I can’t say. All I know is that I can rely on it to wash away my sorrows.

I have made a habit of standing on one of the five bridges in the city that stretch over it to just spend time reveling in the sight of it, and that’s how I met her, for she seemed to share my passion for contemplating the river. One day, I decided to approach her and struck up conversation with her. Her name was Nisreen, she was a high school student and she lived close to the river.

One tempestuous winter night, the river bursted its banks, the water level soared until reaching the houses’ ground level and the owners of the over-flooded residences were woken ...Read more

An Angel for Good

July 24th, 2017

The events depicted in this story are fictitious, although inspired by those that, according to the news I have watched an hour ago, occurred in Mabujah, a village in Syria to whose beauty I can attest firsthand, because it was one of the places in which I stayed during my visit to the country.

I had my recently turned three-year-old on my lap and was lulling her to sleep. After crying uncontrollably for hours, she had finally calmed down, unlike the people whose voices could be heard coming from the street. Another explosion made the house tremble, waking my little angel up and prompting her to start crying again. Hence, I resumed singing, while stroking her silky hair. At some point, she stopped crying, fixed her gaze on me and pressed my hand with hers. It was her way of asking me to keep her safe.

Most of the strikes took place at night. The blasts always made me jump out of bed to make sure my baby girl had come to no harm. It broke my heart to hear her cry. I am never ...Read more

Miss D.

July 20th, 2017

Markaz Tama, Sohag Governorate, Egypt

She swept the streets with the tail of her coat as she wended her way across the city. While trying to haul herself from the noxious hole she had fallen into the day she was born, she had unwittingly wound up dragging a token of her misery along.

The thought of ending her life had crossed her mind more than once. At nights, she beseeched God to guard her from all the evil surrounding her, and more specifically, from her flatmate Ruhiya. She was a weird woman who spent a third of her nights mumbling gibberish while staring at the stars. Any sensible God-fearing person would have been wary of her behavior. The townswomen, however, seemed to trust her and often turned to her for help. As payment, she demanded a jar of corn, a fist of wheat—a rare commodity around these parts—, or a few cubic feet of gas for lighting. Ruhiya had moved out of her old house because her entire family had died there from an obscure disease, which her current flatmate wouldn’t have been surprised to ...Read more

Wadi el Kuf

July 19th, 2017

Wadi el Kuf, Lybia

On a night that, despite the full moon, seemed darker than nights are per se, all the most powerful necromancers of this world gathered in a secret location at the bottom of the valley known as the Wadi el Kuf. They had been eagerly awaiting that night’s arrival, because, according to their codices, that was the night the gates of hell were supposed to be unlatched, which only happened once every thousand years. They were certain that night was the night in question because all signs pointed to it. People had lost their sense of common humanity and nobody cared to distinguish between good and evil any longer.

After blessing the ground under their feet and muttering some incantations, the necromancers sat to wait for the gates of hell to swing open. Seeing that no fireworks ensued, they fixed their gaze on the three highest-ranking necromancers—the Buddhist, the Jew and the ISIL acolyte—by way of asking for guidance.

In an attempt to talk the devil into opening the gates of hell, the Buddhist said, “We have slaughtered the Muslim population and eaten ...Read more