African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal

African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal

Eritrean fiction

Original title –  تيتانيكات أفريقية

Translator – Charis Bredin

Source – personnel copy

I have reviewed a few books from the small publisher Darf over the last few years. I picked up this recently as it was a book from a country I haven’t read from, but also a story that appeals as it is  the tale of many people trying to seek a new life in Europe. Abu Bakr Khaal followed the route described in the book and himself spent many years in Libya and the in a refugee camp in Tunisia.Before living in Denmark.

I do wonder how many nicknames. I’ll bear throughout my life. In Khartoum I was known as Awacs(The Airbourne warning and Control System) because I’d refuse to go to bed at night til I’d garnered evryy last useful scrap of information from the world of immigrant smuggling, by land, sea and air. From mt lodgings in Khartoum I kept track of the number of Titanics that left North Africa’s shores bound for Europe evry Summer.I was always informed of the most recent departures and whether or not the boats had reached dry land.

The Gamble they all take using these make shift crafts to reach their dreams in Africa.

This book mix the present with the past as we follow one young man’s journey from his home in Eritretooo Libyia and then Europe. Abdrar has been hearing tales of life in Europe and we get to follow his journey from his home first to Sudan Khartoum after he is arrested at home .In Khartoum, there are many smugglers there to  take people on  their journey north through the mainland of Africa.  We see how they charge people different amounts for here they come from. All the time there is a thread of folk tales and previous migrants stories underlying the tale. Till they arrive in Libya and take what they call those African Titanics, those makeshift and often overcrowd former fishing boats and other put together ships that the refugees sail on. The latter part of the book is like a collective tale of these people a fellow traveller Malouk who you may sense might even be a ghost tells tales and then is lost at sea, but then is seen again in the Med by other people on one of the African Titanics!

To all the pounding hearts

In feverish boats

I will cut

Through these paths

with my own liberated heart

And tell my soul

To shout of your silenced deaths

And fill

Palms of dust with morning dew

And song

I Choose the end lines as they are so powerful a song sung by the ghost Malouk on the Med.

This is a short but hard-hitting Novella that is the voice of many those lost and the trail to Europe that Abdar and many others through the years have followed to Libya to Tunisia and then frequently to drown in the Med. The style of this story reminded me of the early books by Ben Okri that mix so well African folktales, Magic realism and realism into a story that like the smoke of the refugee’s fires at night drifts in the air and becomes a collective voice for the many. It also highlights the horrors faced and the Exploitation of those seeking a new and better life away from their horrors of their homelands. May I also point out that Darf is running a fundraiser for the second part of The Confines of \shadow by Alessandro Spina I reviewed the first part a couple of years ago.

This is a review of a fiction novel and no person in the text is based on a real character or organisation.

 

 

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Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

 

Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

Egyptian fiction

Original title أجنحة الفراشة

Translator – Raphael Cohen

Source – Library edition

I took some short novels from the library to read on my time off , but as ever when you are away time was short sightseeing and spending time with amanda but I did manage to read this great Arabic novel by Mohamed Salmawy . Salmawy is the president of the writers union of Egypt and secretary-general of the Arab Writers and also editor of a leading daily newspaper. This book came out just before the events of 2011 , so in a way is quite insightful about what happened then .

Doha imagined that meeting Ashraf al-Zayni on the plane had been a chance encounter.It would be over when the flight ended and they went their separate ways- she to Milan for the annual fashion show and he to Palermo in Scilly for the international NGO conference. Fate , however had something in store for her that she neither expected nor imagined.

The three and a half hours of the flight from Cario to Rome left an impression that would remain with her for the rest of her life.She had never met anyone like Ashraf al-Zayni before .She saw in him something she not seen in other politicians, plus  he had brought back to life something inside her that she had not believed still existed

The chancce encounter leaves an impression on the both .

This is a story with two main characters in it Doha is a fashion designer , a sort of link between the west and arab world , she comfortably travels between here homeland and The fashion world of Italy . Her husband is a leading figure in the Murbareck regime . We see their privileged world . But after a chance encounter with Dr Ashraf a man from the opposition she meets when they are both in Rome after talking to him she sees a new insight into her world . But even with this sense the wind may be changing in her homeland she returns and like the old saying about chaos theory a butterfly wings flapping can change the world the butterfly appears time after time whether flying or in patterns on the clothes Doha is wanting to show , the two meet later in the book as the tables are turned slightly from their first meeting  . Add to that a couple of small side stories about a man waiting to meet his internet wife and a pair of brothers hunting for the real mother.

Unable to rest, Doha flicked through The butterflies of Egypt , she came to a photograph of the mural in the tomb where the ancient  Egyptian artist had painted a picture of the butterfly . The tomb belonged to a noble called Nob Amun. According to the book , there were fifty-eight indigenous species in Egypt , which was a relatively small number in comparison with other countries. This was due to Egypt’s desert environment . Neverless , Egypt’s butterflies had adapted to the harsh conditions and were able to survive and maintain their beauty despite hardships

LIke the country itself the butterflies make a good metaphor from the Egypt post Arab spring .

This is another book that captures the can of worms that was opened in Egypt when Murbarek regime was on the verge of collapsing as part of the Arab spring A figure like Ashraf , is a passionate voice of a the young people on the street we saw so much in the TV coverage  clever wanting a bright future , which as we know never really happened . There is also echos of this change in the brothers seeking their mother a new mother maybe is clever metaphor for a new country and leadership. I also love the subtle use of butterflies as a recurring Motif throughout the book. But also a larger motif of the country emerging as a butterfly from it catalyst moment of the riots being the start of something beautiful like a pure white Butterfly. This is clever look at the recent past of Egypt.

2084 the end of the world by Boualem Sansal

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2084 The end of the world by Boualem Sansal

Algerian fiction

Original title – 2084  La fin du Monde

Translator – Alison Anderson

Source -review copy

A few weeks as they say in politics is a lifetime and since I read this at the turn of the year this book has probably more meaning than it did two weeks ago .Boualem Sansal is a writer that talks about the uncertain world we live in his books are frequently banned in his homeland, I have reviewed him before with his book Harraga  , this book is set in a distant future and is a reworking in a way of Orwell’s book 1984.

The reasons for these restrictions are not known. They date from long ago. The truth is that the question had never occurred to anyone, harmony had reigned for so long that no one knew of any reason for disquiet .Even disease and death, which took their turn more often than was fair, had no effect on people’s moral. Yolah is great and Abi is his faithful delegate.

This is what happens when one man takes power to far the rest forget why the rules were put down in the first place .

 

Ati lives in a future where his country Abistan is a totaliranian regieme the coutry is named after its leader Abi a man that found and was given a new book to live by from a new god Yolah . The new religion is of course a twisted version of Islam we see beheading , stoning of the criminals as examples to the nation. As they have to pray nine times a day  . Now he happens to meet an archeologist that says he has discovered some truths in the caves about the village they have found Nas tells Ati about this but this discovery could threaten the regime that wants to control the lives of the citizens by watching the every move like in 1984 . Can ATi and his friend Koa get to the village and discover the real truth behind Yolah and Abi ? Before they are caught by the regime !

Over time Ati found some peace, which allowed him to settle into the routine he dreamt of. At last he was a believer like all the other; he was no longer in danger. He rediscovered the pleasure of living from day to day without worrying about tomorrow, and the joy of believing without asking any questions. Rebellion is impossible in a closed world where there is no way out. True faith is in surrender and submission, Yolah is omnipotent, and Abi is the flock’s infallible shepherd

Ati nearly falls for a quiet life of being blind to the truths around him that he knows are their .

Well how strange the book has so many echoes of what is happening now this is of course the other end of Trumps world a state that  has taken an extreme version of Islam that seems very similar to the language of Trumps world . Even the fact the village means the history is different to the History Abi is trying to give other since I read the book I am reminded of the Alternative Facts quote from the Trump camp. This is a timely novel as much as 1984 is seen to have much in common with Trump this take on 1984 is maybe more scary as this is partly Trump but maybe what could happen if the regimes Trump has just kicked by banning their citizens take another path could become Abistan. I can see why this book made a lot of book prize shortlist in France it is maybe better than Houellbecq book that every one was talking about last year . A powerful book against totalitarianism in all its forms whether eastern or western!

1984 no sorry its now 2084 the first book in the post of 2017

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Well the first book I got sent this year is from a writer I have reviewed before Boualem Sansal is an Algerian writer that has had his works banned and censored in his homeland. I reviewed Harraga Two years ago. This is of course an homage in a way to Orwell’s  great book 1984 and also a work  against all totalitarian regiemes here  in the future a country called Abistan after its spiritual leader a place where like in Orwell’s world every move is watch we find one man who is trying to find a new truth. What was your first book of 2017

The Final Bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

 

 

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The Final bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Moroccan fiction

Original title – al-Rihan al-akhir

Translator – Jonathan Smolin

Source – review copy

This is the second from The new AUC impress Hoopoe fiction I was sent late last year . Abdelilah Hamdouchi is a Morrocan writer of crime fiction he was one of the first writers of this genre to be translated into English. He has written 8 novels and also written for television and cinema were all his novels have been made into Dramas. He lives in Rabat in  Morocco.

As for Sofia’s body, it was lying on the bed drenched in blood. Her nightgown was open at the waist. Her right arm was extended as if she wanted to grab something. The left hung down to the ground. She was lying on the edge of the bed and looked like she was about to fall off, but death had frozen her in this position. Alwaar stared at her pale face and understood the meaning of the inspector’s ambiguous smile.He looked for Boukrisha among the other cops in thee room.

“The young guy downstairs , that’s her husband ?”

Alwaar sees the dead seventy year old woman and on way to her room meet her thirty year old husband.

Well this book The final bet claims to have been the first Arabic crime novel to be translated to English.I have actually the original edition of this book when it came out a few years ago sat on my shelves , IO see the translation may have been update in this new edition. The book follows a murder the woman whom is murdered is a french woman living in Morocco , she married a few years earlier Othman a Moroccan who was forty years his wife Sofia’s Junior. He own son is even older than her husband and he is also about when the crime is committed . Now Othman has fallen for a woman more his own age since him and Sofia married Nameea , he get very little time to sneak out and meet his mistress. Sophia is ever watching so a walk out with the dog or a trip to the shop are the short snatches of time they capture. It is one of these meetings late one night Othman returns from his meeting to find his wife stabbed in her chest.. This enter the Moroccan Police in the form of a detective Alwaar and the inspector he reports too Boukrisha. They almost from the start put the crime as one cause by the husband , and blame him. Even thou he could give an alibi , he tries to get more help from an old friend who is now an up and coming Lawyer that has been waiting for a chance to show how the police can be wrong sometimes.

For alwaar, this was the most difficult stage of any investigation. He’d look for what the evidence was telling him and read from every angle before moving to the next step. This made Alwaar move slowly, testing the patience of his assistants, who were always standing around, awaiting orders.

he finally got down to buisnees.He walked around the beside table and, with a cloth wrapped around his hand opened the top drawer, taking out a box lined with silk. He opened the lid and found it full of jewelry: Gold earings, a diamond necklace, and a ring with a sparkling jewel.He immediately ruled out theft as a motive for the murder.

The point I felt Alwaar is part Maigret but this also point Othman is the main suspect!

This is a short Book  as i would say one of those evening reads . It is an interesting insight into a new police force . We haven;t had many books looking at law and order in the Arabic world, as this was one of the first crime novels from the arabic world to break out. I wonder how many more in the coming years we will see as we see the Police in this part of the world like it is here in Morocco has changed over time  This may be owes a debt to Simenon in a way the lead detective Alwaar is maybe an homage to the French detective , even down to having a scene at home like we often see in the Maigret novels. What on the surface from the police point of view as we could see the young man killing his rich much older wife is so much more it turns out.I enjoyed this it was an enjoyable crime novel with a new setting and angles in it .

 

 

Looking forward 2017 Arab and Quebec book and a White read along

Well I am pleased to see the back off 2017. I spent last few months slowly blogging just think about the turn of the new year being a new start for the blog. I have recieved some great books this last few weeks of 2016. So the start of the year will see one real Gem a Quebec novella The brothers .A truely surreal book.

 

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Then I have started on the first few books from the new press from AUC Hoopoe press  . I have read one book already Otared by Mohammad Rabie a book shortlist for the Arabic book prize.They also have some great books coming as well as these other arabic gems on Arablits post of what is coming this next year.

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THen In March I join Messy Tony , Grant and Kimbfo in a read along of the great Novel Voss by Patrick white He is the only Aussie writer so far to win the Nobel prize . This is described by the Guardian as .  A love story set against the disappearance of an explorer in the outback, Voss paved the way for a generation of Australian writers to shrug off the colonial past when it was no 77 in there 100 best novels . So join us from March the first and talk about the book ?

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I will be doing the shadow man booker again for the sixth year and the first part of this year will see me reviewing some books from the past year as I try to catch up.

Happy new year for tomorrow from allnhere at Winstonsdad .

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

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The Meursault investigation by kamel daoud

Algerian fiction

Original title – : Meursault, contre-enquête

Translator – John Cullen

Source – personnel copy (books for Syria from waterstones )

Every year there is a few books in translation that seem to break free of being just in the circle of fans of translated fiction well last year this was one of those books, it made a lot of the end of year lists.It is also the winner of three prize in France. All this from a book that is based in an older book by the French writer Albert Camus  for what kamel Daoud has done is taken part of the story from the novel the Outsider where Meursault the anti-hero of The outsider kills an Arab(that is all we are told even thou this killing is mention as the main character in the book say 26 times the person killed is never mentioned just refered to as the Arab) .Well this is the story of The Arab as told 70 years later by his brother .

I’ll tell you this up front: The other dead man, the murder victim, was my brother. there is nothing left of him only me, Left ti speak in his place, sitting in this bar, waiting for condolences no one’s ever going to offer. Laugh if you want, but this is more or less my mission: I peddle offstage silence , trying to sell my story while theater empties out. As a matter of fact, that’s the reason why I’ve learned to speak this language, and to write it too so I can speak in place or a dead man, ao I can finish his sentences for him.The murder got famous, and his story’s to well written for me to get any ideas about imitating him.

Harum in the bar talking about his brother the dead Arab from the Novel The outsider.

This is the story of Harum , who tries to describe what happened 70 years earlier in the events that lead to the death of his Brother Musa, that killing on a sunny beach in an act of random killing by a French man on a sunny day  in Algeria seventy years ago as the country tried to break free of France. But the story follows harun life after that event as he starts to tell the wider story of post colonialism and in some ways the rise of islam in his country all this is a strange mirror to events that happened in recent years with the Arab spring seen as a freeing of the Arab world, which maybe it is could Daoud have written this book twenty years ago ? But also the heart of this is what has happen in France in the last years with a number of the people involved in the attacks having connection to north africa . A timely story of what scars remain from France’s time in North africa , well any western nation it could easily be india or pakistan the story could have come from a kipling story say .

Oh what a joke! Do you understand now? Do you understand why I laughed the first time I read your hero’s book? there i was , expecting to find my brothers last words between those covers, the description of his breathing, his features, his face , his answers to his murderer: instead I read only two lines about an Arab. the word “Arab ” appears twenty-five times, but not a single name, not once

Camus book doesn’t mention Musa name just calls him an Arab in the novel The outisder .

What Daoud has brilliantly done is taken a small character in a well-known book and given him a real life and a name. I reviewed The secret history of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez , which took a character from the great Latin american novel of Conrad Nostromo and told his story from a native point of view rather like this book flipping the story to tell it from the other angle almost like a reply to the first book . why was Musa just called the Arab was he just the same as those bit part actors in the original Star trek given a red tunic and expected to die with no real name or back story.Daoud highlights what Camus missed the real person. This is the first of a number of books from last year I will be reviewing in the coming weeks as I look forward to the first longlist in the new man booker international coming in March as I try to wrap up some books i missed from the last year.

Have you read any great books based on another novel to start with?

 

The confines of the shadow by Alessandro Spina

'The Confines of the Shadow' Cover by Luke Pajak

The confines of the shadow vol 1  by Alessandro Spina

Syrian fiction

Original title I confini dell’ombra

Translator -Andre Naffis-Sahely

Source – review copy

“Interzone”

I walked through the city limits,
Someone talked me in to do it,
Attracted by some force within it,
Had to close my eyes to get close to it,
Around a corner where a prophet lay,
Saw the place where she’d a room to stay,
A wire fence where the children played.
Saw the bed where the body lay,
And I was looking for a friend of mine.
And I had no time to waste.
Yeah, looking for some friends of mine.
I choose interzone as it was inspired by Burroughs book set in North Africa of the same title .

This is another book from the new translator Darf . This is the first in what is a three volume collection that brings together the eleven novels and short story collection that he wrote 70’s and 80’s to great acclaim from fellow writers in Italian such as Alberto Moravia and on the cover a great quote from Claudio Magris (an italian writer I really enjoy reading ) .Alessandro Spina was the non de plume of Basili Shafik Khouzam a writer of Syrian origin that was educated in Italy and settled running his fathers factories in Libya for 25 years til Gaddafi took over he factories when he retired to Italy .He died two years ago but saw the collected volume of this book win The Bagutta prize one of Italy’s biggest prizes .

He asked to be shown the merchandise , and despite knowing its inferior quality he praised it, became he knew he would be able to sell it. The was had paralysed commerce and depleted stockpiles.Hajji Semereth said he was prepared to purchase part of the cargo, but he wanted a discount .Trade as the market was slow that day and that first del might expedite the sale of the rest. Hajji Semereth paid in cash

The young maronite tries to sell his cargo on arrival in the city .

The first three section in this book follow Libya from just before the outbreak of World war one to the late 1920’s from The book opens young Syrian Maronite lie about some cargo arriving in Libya .This starting the story of immigrants in Libya from The arab world and also europe so what we see is the melting pot of North africa and Libya in particular .Then we see an Italian captain in the city Benghazi as the city slowly grows over this book but eventually into the second city of Libya . The book follows the end of 1911 war as we see people follow to the area in search of chances to make their way in the world this is the first two-parts in the book and the last follows the final ending of Libyan resistance after twenty years of fighting .

Captain Martello evoked empires and diverse influences that had dominated the country, conquests that belonged to the ancient past – Egyptians , the Greeks, the Romans, the Vandals, the Byzantines – with the intnet of forcing that young man to stay silent,in order to impress him so that, having overcome his diffidence .

The captain shows how many people over the years had been in Libya really .

This is one of those books that is a portrait of a place the place in Benghazi , which the writer lived himself for most of his life running his fathers factory , the story really starts with the story of some one like his father a Maronite from Syria arrive to start a factory in the town, just as the 1911 war end and we see this then the Italians ruling the area and the fact that the locals finally lay down their arms . I was drawn into this book I can see why it was such a huge hit when published finally as a whole it is the start of a journey through this place through the eyes of the local Spina has been called either the Italian Joseph Conrad or the 20th century Balzac, but to me this is one of those epic works that is written by a true one-off writer like Musil , Proust and yes Balzac Zola and those great realist writers of French literature but this is also a book from a writer of Arabic origin so it has a little of Arabian nights to it and can go off a small journeys of the mind .So it is hard to pigeon hole him just to say he may be one of the hidden gems of this year for me .

 

 

Weekend reading from a Mountain to the turtle in the tree

20151030_144950Well not going to finish these this weekend as I have just started both these epic books.Leg over leg is 400 pages plus another 100 of notes and a very large forward to read once I’ve read the book , the book follows the alter ego of the writer as we see him learning in his native Lebanon then further afield , this book opens with an eye-opening few passages around female and male sex organs the shapes and sizes of each, very unexpected opening bit even after thirty pages this morning before work I get a real sense of the writers playful use of language and imagery. Then well I maybe should be reading something at the lighter end of the reading rainbow of books I like to read but no I chosen Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann as we see the world on the brink of world war one as Hans Castrop heads to the swiss alps and a sanatorium, as he tries to find himself and the world around him but also the cracks that lead to world war one a ringing of a new guard in the German-speaking world that would lead them into war. I will probably be on these two for most november as I splatter a few shorter books in the mix . The Mann also crosses two boxes a German lit month novel but also for the 1924 club but rather late on as I think I won’t finish it till middle of November but I want to add a translation to this event. I am nearly all read for German lit month a bit disappoint few of the library books I had found haven’t appear so must be lost in the libraries it has happened before I have managed to read 11 books already for German lit month and hope to finish magic mountain and a couple of others before December .

How is your weekend reading shaping up ?

Winston’s books some important Arabic books

I very rarely ask , request books from publishers these days. I do get sent a lot of books without asking which keeps this blog going and for which I am grateful. But once in a while there is an important book or set of books that come out I feel I would love to read, so I send a request sometimes these fall on deaf ears and other times I get a reply and if I am very lucky the books .Earlier this year I saw on Arablit that paperback  version of the  Library of Arabic Literature  series were coming out .

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The first two books are the four volumes of Leg over Leg by  Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq THe book recounts the writers life using an Alter ego .The book is considered one of the first books of Modern Arabic literature .The book was a satrical look at the world he lived in and is one of those books that breaks the mould .

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The second set of  two books deal with early days of Islam, The epistle on Legal Theory by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafii deals with early foundations of Islamic law. I feel we hear a lot about islamic law these days , But maybe if we know more about it’s origins we would understand it in the sense of present day. The second book is The expeditions by Mamar Ibn Rashid is one of the first books about the prophet Muhammad  and the early years of Islam. Both these serve as important texts in the Arabic cannon available in English for the first time .For more books from the series look and the Library of Arabic website.

 

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