Maryam Keeper of stories by Alawiya Sobh

Maryam keeper of stories by Alawiya Sobh

Lebanese fiction

Original title Maryam Al-Hakaya

Translator – Nirvana Tanoukhi

Source – personal copy

Well, this is a great day for the blog it sees the 800th review and this book seems fitting all the time I have run the blog. I have run shadow juries connected to translation prizes. So for this to be the first in my new shadow EBRD prize jury is a real treat. Alawiya Sobh studied English and Arabic literature at university and has been writing since the early 1980’s and was editor of a leading woman’s magazine. This book won the sultan’s prizes in 2006 four years after it came out, her other novel was also longlisted for the Arabic Booker prize.

Before the war ended, Alawiyya did come sporadically. Somwtimes, she would be gone for days, weeks or months, but in the end she would return to knock on my door. I rarely left the flat. Often, I would only only go to the firm to collect my slary at the end of each month, since regular attendance wan not enforced. Particularly during the early years if the war when the fighting was at its worst, I spent most of my time at home in my room, unless I had arranged to meet Abbas. Ibtisam and Alawiyya, for their part, went to the fronts and disappeared for days. they wandered off like a sheep and grazed in the war meadow only to be brought back to my little stable where they regurgitated their tales.

Maryam talks of her friend and them going to,the front, I loved this image.

Maryam is a Lebanese woman, she is in Beruit.But she is just found out she is going to leave and go to live in Canada away from the war. She is worrying that the stories she has told her friend the writer Alawiya haven’t been used by her. Even thou she promised. So we see Maryam recounting the tales she had told her friend. She worries about why ALwiya hasn’t asked for more of her stories.So we see Maryam struggle as the war raged on but also times before a place that is now lost.Then we also see her parents yes her mother is a bit of a character there is some great interaction between and the father who the mother has just in the place she wants him. Like the tales of her various aunts like the slow one. Then we see the wider picture of the city and the conflict, which for me at the time was bewildering and complexed.

My sister prepared to carry out Mother’s orders and stood guard over the brad for fear of puinishment,But my older brother Ahmad slipped by her, stole some loaves and escaped down the valley to eat them there. My sister ran after him, but he was faster and soon disappeared from her sight. He devoured the loaves in the orchard while, bacj at the house, fear devoured my sister. When Mother returned and heard about my brother’s “big Belly”, she broke into a rage and ran after my sister to thrash her.

The mother was feared and made the daughters hold the line .

This book has an interesting take on Maryam narrating, but a writer called Alawiya in their lives that had promised to tell the story. There is a feeling is this Maryam or is Alawiya being Maryam? It is good to see a female voice on the Lebanon war, I have read a couple of books from the male perspective. It was great to see the bonds between mothers daughters and friends keep their spirits up in the darkest times. A family saga set during a dark time shows how the family pulls us through the darkest times and also the humour we find within families even in the dark days of the war there is still humour here. I wouldn’t have read this without it being on the EBRD literature prize shortlist so I am pleased it was on the list.

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As though she were sleeping by Elias Khoury

Source – library

Translator – Humphrey Davies

Last year I read Yalo his prize-winning novel ,Elias Khoury is the voice of Lebanon ,he is well-known for his written works ,but also edited the influential magazine Mawquif in the seventies which saw the first major break through of Arabic literature into english ,they were link greatly with the Palestine experience .so what is as thou she were sleeping about .

Unlike Yalo Khoury has moved his focus from the political world to the world of the family in this book set in the 1930′ in Beirut it focus on a couple Meelya and Mansour it also carries onto to the forties and fifties  .It is recounted in the form of dreams over the three nights tha Meelya has ,these dreams drift from the now to the past and the future   .We see her family members how she became Meelya ,How she meet Mansour and moved from her home in Nazareth to Beirut  .Khoury also brings the worlds of Beirut ,Nazareth and the places in between were we  spend time to life making the scenery and smells like orange blossom falling  fly of the page .Now these dreams are almost folk talish at times when it comes to family tales a grandmother that becomes a virgin again an unfortunate uncle that ends up getting hung by a bell ringing rope .We also see the events that make the present day of the region ,the arrival of Jewish people escaping the oppression of western europe of the time to find the promised land  ,also how western influences start creeping into the area as some values change .

Meelya is in bed ,dreaming .Pain squeezes her belly and climbs upwards .She feels as though she’s suffocating ,as though a fist has buried itself in her depths and is gripping her .Her body is paralysed and her head heavy .She opens her eyes and can’t see .then the pain recedes,seeming to spread through her belly before melting away,leaving a fading memory .

Meelya second night of dreams begins .

This book is very different to Yalo I struggle at times with it thread as it drifts at times although it is easy to spilt the dreams into past present and future over the three nights ,thou  it is a book that wraps you in it arms and give you a real trip of the mind as you try to follow the threads of the dream ,Khoury seems to have done that rare thing and caught what our dreams are like on paper the cascade of our thoughts that we all have in our sleeping hours .This books style owes more to his earlier books than to his most recent Yalo  .It is Meelya quest ,she is invisible in her normal world due to her being a women in Arab society of the time .so via her dreams she is able to see the world and her place in it also how that could change with new freedoms .The last part of the book deals very much with the formation of Israeli as we see the influx of Jews to the region and the start of the conflicts that are still here to this day .I am a daydreamer so could identify with Meelya and her world of dreams .Humphrey Davies has done a wonderful job of translating what given its non linear dream like prose would be a hard book to keep Khoury’s words alive ,but he has managed too .The book is published by Machlehose press

Yalo by Elias Khoury

Elias Khoury is one of the foremost living Arabic writers originally from Lebanon ,his has taught widely at universities in the US ,His fist novel was Published in 1975 ,His books are mainly about his homeland and its political systems and struggles .YALO was publishes in 2002 in arabic and translated by Humphrey Davies .We met Yalo a young man under arrest by the Lebanon police authorities for a suspect robbery and rape on his love Shireen ,as it opens he is under integration to unnamed integrators ,we get to hear his sad life story over and over ,it dribbles ont in dream and nightmare like snippets what lead him to committing the crime he is accused of we follow the from start to finish ,your are left to really decide what happens and are given an insight in to the brutal tactics used by the police ,also how suppressed Yalo was growing up within a worn torn city and on the back streets of this city .The only bright spot in his horrendous life is a short amount of time he had spent in Paris but even then he is on the run and had to be rescued to get back to Beirut by an arms dealer .Now a review of the book it is compared to Kafka and yes it is like a modern “the trail” complete with twist sub plots ,dead ends and constantly twisting story of Yalo seems very real thou . but with a full 18 rating ,this confessions is drawn out by blood and bruises.

Yalo didn’t understand what was happening .The young man stood before the interrogator and closed his eyes ,which is what he always did .He closed his eyes when facing danger ,he closed he closed them when he was alone ,he closed them when his mother ….on that day to the morning of 22 december ,1993,he closed his eyes involuntary .Yalo didn’t understand why everything was white .

The opening of Yalo where your straight in the heart of the story .

This book highlights the brutality of the Lebanese police and the political system .Khoury has always court controversy with his ability to lift the lid on his homelands many and complexed stories and politics ,a country that spent many years war-torn and still has to come to terms with it especially in the book which is set in the early 1990’s ,this is an engrossing but not an easy read but you reap the rewards of finishing it ,a modern Arabic classic .The book is Published By quercus and is out in paperback earlier this year .

this is the first of my summer arabic reading challenge..

Winston score –

Rattler live in hot places twists and turns and packs a hell of a bite Just like Yalo .

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