Karen's Reviews > Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa 1: A Bilingual Reader

Emerging Arab Voices by Peter Clark
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Jun 01, 11

bookshelves: non-western-culture, first-reads, middle-east
Read from March 31 to May 25, 2011

Even though I have a minor in Near Eastern Studies, which included my spending some time in Palestine/Jerusalem and in Egypt, I realize that my understanding of Arabic culture needs to be complicated. This collection gave me the opportunity to see the world through another set of eyes. It allowed those of Arabic background to occupy the subjective position. Too often they are objects portrayed in texts (verbal and visual) by the needs of Western journalists, Western religions and Western politicians.

I won this as a first reads giveaway here on Goodreads. Peter Clark has compiled fiction by participants of a writers workshop, held in November of 2009. Clark also serves as the translator for some but not all of the texts.

Kamel Riahi (Tunisian) "The Gorilla: The Last of the Leader's Children" depicts the actions of a young man as he struggles to claim an identity for himself. The present has him swinging from a clock tower. Is he making a statement or just making a mistake? The flashbacks show him adopting multiple identities (or being forced into some identities). For this reason, the story reminds me a bit of Ellison's Invisible Man.

Lana Abdel Rahman (Lebanese) "Letters to Yann Andrea: Beirut, July 2006" explores the interior landscape of a writer as she becomes alienated from her own body due to the course of aging. The story describes her relationship to her art, her family, her friends and to a younger man.

Mansour El-Sowaim (Sudanese) "The Ghosts of Franswai" is one chapter of a novel. This image-rich selection provides an account of Franswai's death and the way two of his friends, Bashir and Muhammad Latif, respond. Bashir is in law enforcement, so there is a lot of detail about that sector of society. I have to admit that I am confused by the presence of "South Texas Police Station" when all the character names are middle eastern.

Mansoura El-Eldin (Egyptian) "Deja Vu" describes the struggles of an aging beauty who is a modern Egyptian woman who is trying to work out her relationships with lovers, past and present. This has been my favorite story so far, probably because I didn't struggle to understand any cultural specifics as I did the first three. The character's situation was pretty universal even though it was described in a way that evoked a specific time, place and culture.

Mohammed Hassan Alwan (Saudi) "The Beaver" is an excerpt from a novel. The selection describes the complex relationship between a young man and his older sister. Even though they have the same parents, their positions within the family dynamics differ greatly. They also have some half siblings. The author shares some biographical details with the narrator, which makes me wonder if the work is semi-autobiographical. He does a good job detailing the micropolitics of family relationships--in a way that is interesting and not tedious.

Mohammed Salah Al-Azab (Egyptian) "Temporary Death" is also part of a novel. This text was wildly mythical, and I loved it. The readers learn of a mysterious man-child found in a river near a village. His presence serves as a catalyst for changes physical and social. The style reminds me of a blend of modern magical realism and the fabulous (and sometimes bawdy) tales of 1001 Araian Nights.

Nadiah Alkokabany (Yemeni) "My Own Sana'a" uses two viewpoints to describe a newly formed romance between two characters. The story starts from the woman's point of view. She describes her city, her work as an artist, her admiration for her father, and her first meeting of the other character. He's a man who spends most of his narrative space giving his romantic history. I think this is a complete work, but it begs to be extended. The male character also needs to be more complicated.

Nasser Al-Dhaheri (Emirati) "The Stone of Desire" describes the life and work of an aging sculptress. Towards the end of the story, we see her forge an awkward relationship with herself and a begger, who is accompanied by his minor son.


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