Four authors from the heart of the Arab world, and pre-eminent in their generation, tour the UK in August 2006 – poets Joumana Haddad from Lebanon and Abed Ismael from Syria, with fiction writers Mansoura Ez-Eldin from Egypt and Ala Hlehel from Palestine. This elegant paperback volume of selected works celebrates the tour with Banipal Live 2006, which includes a pioneering project with selected libraries along the tour route.
Skilful and ingenious translators are indispensable to the task of bringing the writers’ original words into the orbit and the soul of the reader in another language. This volume is fortunate in having the support of experienced translators from Arabic, Issa J. Boullata, Paul Starkey and Anthony Calderbank, and from French, the award-winning American poet and translator Marilyn Hacker, and the new-comer Nada Elzeer.
All four authors differ in their approach to writing, all are active in their local literary scenes as both creative writers and as cultural journalists. Joumana Haddad’s poetry takes the reader on excursions into history, into the life of women, is at times metaphorical, at other times a puzzle for the reader to unravel, while that of Abed Ismael is existential, questioning, sometimes with sadness, sometimes in mocking or heroic mood, and includes an unusual tour of Damascus in “Mirrors of Damascus”. Mansoura Ez-Eldin’s short stories are tantalising for their dark unexpected sides. Having heard from her grandmother’s knee countless enchanting country tales of ghosts, fairies, goblins and djinn, she has no hesitation in shifting time and place, writing as a man, waking up in a dream, or just letting the reader draw his/her own conclusions. Ala Hlehel, a prize-winning author and a playwright, has a rare talent and follows in the footsteps of other powerful and individual Palestinian fiction writers such as Ghassan Kanafani and Emile Habiby in the way he takes an ordinary situation and lays bare its varying layers of pain, futility, absurdity, pomposity and injustice.
Here are four authors not to miss.