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.

 

 

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 .

 

 

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.

Chewing gum by Mansour Bushnaf

ChewingGum

Chewing gum by Mansour Bushnaf

Libyan fiction

Source review copy

“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore via goodreads

 

Mansour Bushnaf is a well-known figure in Libya ,this is his first book in English ,he has been writing since the 1970’s ,his writing end up with him spending ten years in jail during the Gaddafi regime , apart from novels he is also a well-known playwright .Here he is on the bbc talking about the lack of reading and books in Libya due to the recent regime .It is also the first of a new venture in publishing from Darf publishing , a name connected with publishing Arabic literature since the 50’s .

At this point in the story , Mukhtar finds himself face to face with the statue which become central to his life and our story

Just after Fatima left him .

Chewing Gum is actually a very unique book one that  I’m pleased to have been sent it has an unusual narrative style as it is told in little vignettes .At the heart is the story of a man Mukhtar  , he has seen the love of his life walk away from he was Fatima walk away  and we see how their lives twist and turns in the ten years after this as they are from different places ..The other thread of the story is a crazy craze for chewing gum that arrived in Libya in the 80’s as they started to import it from first turkey ,but as the book moves on you see it come from other places as the connections of Libya with the world changes  over time .Then there is a statue from the time Italy ran the country  that also is symbolic of past events and also the present day .All of this takes place in one part of town ,so what you see is a cross-section of the country in one small place .

The gum , in brief , became , everyone’s obsession.But the actual enjoyable act of mastication remained a privilege of the few one of which ,without doubt ,was our heroine .

Fatima caught up in the gum craze that swept Libya

This is one of those books that long after you’ve put it down you think did that represent this .Now it is a story of lost love ,a man pining at one point Mukhtar is compared to the statue having stood or appeared to have stood in the same place looking down the street at the way Fatima left .Now you could see that as the lifetime of Libya and the years stood like a statue being the years under Gaddafi ? Now the chewing gum is a motif for the outside world and how it connected  to Libya over the time ,but also like the Statue, the act of  chewing gum is also a way of passing time ,also like Gum it  loses its taste maybe Libyans lost the taste of the regime long before they overthrew it or in the gums case throw it a way .What Bushnaf has tried to do is use the gum craze and get people involved academics ,the regime ,shopkeepers and use all these to explain the times .As I said this is a book that you have to read to get it is one that just doesn’t fit easily into a box ,it isn’t like another book from Arabic I’ve read (I am under the belief it is written in English will be translated back to arabic by the writer at a later date ) .Also I do love the simple retro styling of the cover .

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