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Issue 74 - December 2010

Friday 31 December 2010 by Ina Doublekova

Wishing you a Happy New Year filled with exciting new books and great authors!

New Books Published

Choukri, Mohamed, For Bread Alone, transl. into Bulgarian by Vesselina Raizhekova, Panorama Publishing House (Sofia, 2010), supported by Next Page’s Encounters Project.

(JPG) This autobiographical novel is a stark account of the Moroccan author’s hardscrabble youth as a street child surrounded by misery, prostitution, violence and drug abuse. Choukri only learned to read and write at the age of 21 and first appeared on the Tangier literary scene in the 1960s, where his work resonated with western ex-pat writers including Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs. Choukri’s friend Tennessee Williams described For Bread Alone, which appeared in 1973, as “a true document of human desperation, shattering in its impact.” Choukri’s reception in the Arab world was less enthusiastic given his explicit descriptions of sexual experiences and drug use – in fact, the novel was banned in Morocco until 2000. The Bulgarian Translators’ Union lauds the Bulgarian edition as an important contribution to the small body of contemporary Arabic literature available in Bulgarian, as it introduces readers to a “powerful, authentic and extraordinary writer and his shockingly relentless and scandalously sincere book.” The Sofia premiere in November attracted broad interest, especially among young readers, as twenty students performed a text based on excerpts from the novel.

Munif, Abdelrahman, Cities of Salt: The Wilderness, transl. into Polish by Magdalena Kubarek, Smak Slowa Publishing House (Sopot, 2010), supported by Next Page’s Encounters project.

(JPG) The epic novel, originally published in 1984 in Beirut, details the demise of a Bedouin oasis community when Americans discover oil in an unnamed Gulf emirate in the 1930s. Although the author holds a PhD in oil economics, Munif tells the story not from the point of view of an omnipotent narrator, but through the eyes of numerous Bedouin characters, who are astonished and suspicious as the foreigners and their “sinister” machinery including bulldozers, cars and telephones upend the traditional way of life. A scathing critique of both American and Arab hypocrisy, it has been banned in several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia. As Edward Said notes, Cities of Salt is “the only serious work of fiction that tries to show the effect of oil, Americans and the local oligarchy on a Gulf country." The new translation allows Polish audiences access to the native author’s voice for the first time. The book’s Warsaw promotion attracted not only the general public, but also Poland’s leading experts in Arabic studies as well as the Egyptian and Moroccan ambassadors.