What have you left behind ? by Bushra AL-Maqtari

 

What Have You Left behind ? by Bushra AL-Maqtari

Yemeni Non-fiction

Original title –

Translator Sawad Hussain

Source – Review copy

I got sent this from the folks at Fitzcarraldo a press I have loved since they started there is rarely a press that you have never read a book you didn’t like in fact more than that their books have been among my favourite reads of each year for the last few years . So when I got this and on the back cover I saw the words that it was inspired by her reading of Svetlana Alexievich. Bushra Al Maqtari is a novelist and writer she first came to the fore in 2012 with her novel behind the sun and then her writing has become more nonfiction. This book lifted the lid on the personal effect of the long-running and under-report civil war in Yemen.

My brother is still tormented, he can’t sleep, he can’t forget. He’s preoccupied with finding treatment for his injured son. I carry my brother’s sorrows on my back, I enter the house and the memories come rushing back.

I remember my brother’s children and his wife, their laughter, the noise they would make, our beautiful life together. Damn the Coalition and whoever came with them to our country, damn every side that has murdered Yemeni people. They’re all just that – murderers. Who will bring back Malak, Malakat, Mohammed and Asma to my brother? Who? Tell me who? Who?

No one. No one cares about what happened to us.

Ahmad Abdel Hameed Sayf

At 5.40 p.m. on Thursday, 26 January 2017, the Arab Coalition aeroplanes targeted Ahmad’s brother’s house, Fahmi Abdel Hameed Sayf in al-Qutay in the governorate of al-Hu-daydab. His brother’s wife Asma Abdel Qader Yassin Sharaf (30 years old) was killed, and her children: Mohammed Fahmi

The last paragraph and what happened to Ahmad and his family in the opening narrative.

In her Nobel-winning speech, Svetlana Alexievich described how Flaubert called himself a Human Pen from his writing but Alexievich described herself as a human ear. That is what we have here with Busrha’s narratives they are a polyphonic collection of voices of the outfacing of the v=civin=il war a collection of people killed by the war. The book opens with Ahmed’s account of a bomb landing on his brother’s house meaning the loss of his sister-in-law his niece and his nephews. This is how the book is formed each chapter an account and each account ends with when the attack or killing happened where and who died. under the mango tree AL Ahamad says how he dreams of those he has lost all the time. Mothers lose their children as they are targeted and killed by Militia How the loss of children changes mothers, This is a chorus of loss and the ripple effect of this the immediate damage and loss but also the long-term trauma and loss to the society.

I lived in a country where dying was taught to us from childhood. We were taught death. We were told that human beings exist in order to give everything they have, to burn out, to sacrifice themselves. We were taught to love people with weapons. Had I grown up in a different country, I couldn’t have traveled this path. Evil is cruel, you have to be inoculated against it. We grew up among executioners and victims. Even if our parents lived in fear and didn’t tell us everything – and more often than not they told us nothing – the very air of our life was poisoned. Evil kept a watchful eye on us. Svetlana Alexievich

I feel this maybe capture so well what Bushra Al-Maqtari is trying to capture in this book the horror of war is known but the personal effect isn’t the families or those we loved we have lost adds to a  more powerful narrative voice a chorus of loss. You can see the nod to a book like Chernobyl the way you grab the attention of the reader is a polyphonic collection of experiences a patchwork of the war the gaps are those doing the killing these are this effect but the killer of the forgotten war. What we see is how it we deal with the human cost of war and the loss of the fabric of society. I was reminded of how the late great Dasa Drndric had described to me that the Italian version of her book had a rip out section of the book list of list Jews oink the war in Italy she’d pass it round and have people rip out names of the knew as the did the book fell apart like society itself with the loss of all these lives and voices.  This is their civil war is tearing their world apart the how=rror and cost of the war in Yemen haven’t been reported enough it has taken a strong voice like Bushra to be an activist and voice for this war and its effect. Have you a favourite book about war that uses first hand accounts?

Winstons score – +A another home run for Fitzcarraldo

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Hurma by Ali Al-Muqri

 

 

Hurma – Behind the Veil of a Jihadi Bride

Hurma by Ali Al-Muqri

Yemeni fiction

Original title – Hurma

Translator – T M Aplin

Source – review copy

Don’t create
Don’t rebel
Have intuition
Can’t decide

Typical girls get upset too quickly
Typical girls can’t control themselves
Typical girls are so confusing
Typical girls – you can always tell
Typical girls don’t think too clearly
Typical girls are unpredictable (predictable)

Typical girls try to be
Typical girls very well

I choose a powerful female voice , the slits and typical girls as there are no typical girls really !!

It’s rarer and rarer these days I get to add a new country to the list of countries I have read books from,so when the chance to read this book by the respected Yemeni writer Ali Al-Muqri came along I wasn’t going to say no.He has twice been on the lists for the Arab Booker prize with his novels Black Odour and the Handsome Jew .This is his first book to be published in English .

Two cultural videos

I’m going to play the films on Lula’s Mobile phone,She used it to record the films as we watched them that day – she was very keen on making her own copies .

Two naked bodies.A man and woman .Licking and sucking .Groans and Moans .Opening and entering .Zeet-meet.The bodies entwined,face to face in a sitting position,the he lies on his back and she climbs on top of him and rides him like a horse rider mounting her steed,she rides him and rides him all the way .

The porn they watch is eye-opening and very secret in Yemen .

Hurma is the story of one young girls journey from being a girl into a women.It is a journey behind the Burka ,to the everyday life of being a woman in Modern Yemen.This is a family tale of a daughter trying to escape her world in a way.Her brother is socialist and has given up on religion,her sister is a extravagant girl who is maybe to sexual for the world see lives in . What we see here is behind the scenes as Hurma discovers her self and through the words of the Egyptian pop star OM Kalthoum (she is one of the biggest Arabic stars ),through her tape finds a way outside the world she lives in.Hurma decides to choose another path to that of her brother and sister and live behind the veil,but even this leads to men that aren’t suited and turn out top be the wrong men.

Cpuld the song have another meaning ?Didn’t the Arabic teacher at the academy tell us the meaning of a line of poetry is in the belly of the poet ?

Nothing is beyond the reach of a people 

When their feet are firmly in the stirrups .

Such beautiful words .. how slow am I ? why haven’t I appreciated the beauty of these words before ? There’s nothing a people can’t do if they set their sights on it and really go for it .Nothing is impossible .

I do wonder given the first quote could this be read another way still to the way the writer wanted ?

This is a crushing look at the inside world of being in Yemen,we often here it mentioned in Middle east affairs , but maybe know little of the country itself.So we see here what it is like growing up in a country with strict Islamic rules and how people live behind the veil (I hate that term,but can’t see any other way to describe it may step into the skin of being a female in the Arab world ).Hurma isn’t her name but a name she takes meaning in arabic Sancity a pointer of the direction she has taken .Arablit pointed out  the three long taboo subjects of Arabic literature are Politics ,religion and sex .Well in this book we see a fair bit of sex underground porn,sexual awakenings .Politic the brother is political shows the views in the modern Arabic world  and Hurma is the view into religion or the lack of it at times .the violent double standards for women are shown here we know they are there things like this happen but it hasn’t alway been written or discussed in fiction.A powerful book topical,also one of the most eye-catching cover this year I think .Another great Arabic title from Darf publishing.

December 2022
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