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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Among the Almond trees by Hussein Barghouthi

Among the Almond trees by Hussein Barghouthi

Palestinian Memoir

Original title – Sa’ akin bayn al-Lawz

Source – personal copy

I wanted to add a lot more arabic literature this year but have failed so far I looked at a list from Arablit where they had some books coming out this year and this was one that was mentioned although I had to wait ages for it to arrive as the publication got pushed back of I had to wait for a reprint maybe. What had caught my eye about this book was the description which remind me of one of my fav orate books from year ago I saw Ramallah from Mourid Borghouti which was one of my favourite books and now years later sticks with me with the images of a man returning to his home of Ramallah after many years away. This has a similar premise we see Hussein come home to the countryside around Ramallah where he grew up. But this is a man that is near the end of his life coping with terminal cancer. He had Taught in Europe mainly in Hungary and was the found of the House of Poets in Palestine and also worked on a number of literary magazines. he passed away twenty years ago.

After an absence of thirty years I have returned to live in the countryside near Ramallah – “returned to the beauty that had been betrayed” I had exiled myself from my beginnings and chosen to live as an expatriate. I am one who has perfected “Beginnings” but not” endings”. My return therefore is an imperfect ending

The opening paragraph I was so touched with the ending comment to face death is so hard

As the translator says h=in his intro this is a man struggling with lymphoma and it is his thoughts of life and art but also how he is going to die and ascending into heaven. He has returned to a place that he left thirty years earlier he is near the end of his life and as we follow him as he walks out in the countryside around Ramallah the past and present and future all blend as he walks in the shadows of those almond trees in the day ion the night as he looks back and forward. The book is a poets looking and gathering the final curtain of his life the people he knew his wife and young child his parents. The mountains as memories of his youth flood in as we see a memory of place open up. as we see what was more wilderness in his day now changed but he still finds the wild parts of the area and the Monastery which look large in the story. He talks about people having country and cities of there names as he sees his city in the book.

Among my friends would be Ali Baba and Enkidu, and all those who were born and loved and lived in stories, Stories are the windows of the Spirit and the imagination. When, for example, quaddura spreads his abs on the roof of the monastery and sang and played his rabbi, looking out moonlit wadis, on orchards ploughed planted, on wide obscure distances, he opened a window for his voice in the moonlight space and his voice occupied an eternal domain. His song would then become the city of his name

Where are you from ?

I’m from the country of windows

Stories is often how people are remembered when they pass !

This is a short memoir of a man who has come home to far e the ghost of his past a poet a writer this book is a man looking at a police he once knew and reliving the past as he faces the end and trying to remember the past the translator mentions this as a work as a memory of place the ghosts of our past. I am someone that remembers most events in my life and the places they happen I am haunted and often relive them like Hussein does when he returns after all the years away from his homeland. It remind me of Sebald at time the way he used place to link to the past. This is one of two works he wrote near the end of his life they are both coming out from seagull book the other book Blue light is a flip of this book as it is set around his journey from Seattle with a homeless madman. This book is different to I saw Ramallah as  this is a lot more personal and lot more around the view of the end of your life. But it has the same feeling of loss in the past and returning to find the world you once knew gone or just there as ghosts in your memory. This is a powerful work of memoir of a man facing death. Do you have a favourite book set in Palestine ?

Winstons score – +A touching and sad memoir from a poet

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