Nippur’s Virgin

Finalist of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

Doubts over my gender nag and niggle at the back of my mind, driving me to a state verging on despair. In spite of being painfully conscious of how I choose my words and style my narrative to tell it, the story never gets to shine as bright and sound as salacious as the sequence of events it celebrates. And I am left to hark back to the poetaster mistakes I made when delivering the report, the biggest being lying by omission to my readers and thus depriving them of the pleasure of assessing the relevance to the story of the noise the night makes when locking its jaws on the sleeping townsfolk.

I may throw up later. Who knows? The entire world, perhaps? From where I stand, that seems pretty damn likely! People around here seem to be constantly monitoring everyone else’s every move. There was a time when the night kept secret the wishes people made to the stars, until someone recognized the value of being plugged into what people lost ...Read more

The Earthquake Patio

Finalist of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

The places we build our lives around get stuck inside us. They are the backdrops of our recollections, the ones in charge of projecting the image that will linger in our minds long after everything else has faded away. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, there is always something of ourselves we leave behind when we depart from them. And when we finally get to return to them, we cannot but feel betrayed when we realize that they haven’t stayed frozen in time and aren’t exactly the way we remembered them.

I shot a look at the patio and thanked God for having allowed my grandparents to leave the country before the war erupted. The whole patio lay in ruins, coated with a thick layer of dust and ashes. Everything within sight had been drained of color and rendered gray. Suddenly, I recalled the graffiti a friend of mine had sprayed on one of the walls enclosing the patio to profess his love for his neighbor, and my heart sank. It ...Read more

Chaouen, 1936

Second prize holder of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

He ran, barefoot, chased by two. His rather poor strategy to shake them off involved turning arbitrarily at every fork in the road. The walls and doors of the houses around him were painted sapphire blue. He feared he was running in circles. After all, he knew that although the city might seem blue from a street-level perspective, it looked white if contemplated from above.

The founders of the city were probably fugitives as well. That would explain why they built the city pressed between two mountains, instead of down by the river, in the valley bellow. If he were to venture a wild guess, he’d say they were in all likelihood hot on security measures. Alter all, they didn’t know whether those who made them pick up the habit of running in the first place would chase them all the way to their new homes. The horrors they must have been trying to escape from in order to choose the plight of the wandering foreigners who have to be constantly wading ...Read more

A Journey Back Home

img_4111
 
230. It can be expressed in numerous ways. Two hundred and thirty, an increase of 277 % in the amount of works the first edition of the “Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest received, a tremendous success. And this is how we feel: ecstatic.

We have already started reading the stories that have been submitted to the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest and can say hands down that the entries look promising. While discovering some of the places into which our authors’ carefully selected metaphors breathe life, we have often had a hard time trying to curb our desires to immediately begin checking flights and planning our upcoming holidays.

The jury now needs to take some time to first allow our authors’ words to beguile them and then to break free from the finely woven spells. After all, the jury cannot allow them to cloud their good judgement when considering their final verdict on the five stories that deserve to ultimately emerge as the representatives of the five finalists. This is why we are hereby asking you to exercise ...Read more

On the Constraints the Arabic Language Imposes on Arabic Literature Writers

The Exact Spot Where We Pitched Camp Yesterday

The Exact Spot Where We Pitched Camp Yesterday

 

It’s been one helluva ride. Whenever I tell people that I translate Arabic literature, I know they’re wondering, Is that even a thing?

Well, kinda. And there are probably several reasons for the world’s reluctance to translate literature written in Arabic. In this post, I will try to uncover some of those reasons.

First, I am going to explain how the way people answer the age-old chicken-or-egg question of “What came first, language or reality?” depends mainly on the language with which they’ve been raised. In other words, I am going to expound on how language determines how we accept reality. Next, I am going to focus on the structure of the Arabic language to try and prove my theory that the way the language works influences the way Arabic speakers write when creating literature. My hypothesis is that, due to its inner structure (which, in my opinion, doesn’t equip Arabic speakers for acknowledging the indispensable figure of the third party—the arbitrator), the Arabic language makes the idea ...Read more

Homecoming

Helwan, Egypt

How many days had gone by since her return? She had spent the last fifteen years abroad and had only distant memories from back when she used to call this place home. She used to be a timorous little girl who wore her hair in braids. She had not only left the country on account of the area’s political and social unrest but also because she had needed to gain insight on how to deal with the world’s contradictions.

She never had the chance to break free from her mother’s vigilant eye back then, save for when she sprinted. Her mother chose to deck her out in short Sunday dresses so that it would look like she hadn’t gotten any older; she wanted her to come to the realization that she had become a woman as late as possible. Was her mother concerned about her welfare or maybe afraid of what she would actually become? That was yet another question she didn’t really want to know the answer to. She had her sanity to thank for the fact that she could come to terms with leaving questions such as those provisionally unanswered. ...Read more

A Whiff of Farewell in the Air

Tablat, Algeria

You are headed toward the road flanked by trees. Your heart aches as you remember.

The sun slants across the mountains. You watch the roaring waterfall tumble down the cliff. A sudden breeze rustles the grass. You are not lyrical about what the bucolic setting bodes for the future. The landscape is blanketed in snow. The almond trees are in bloom.

Tablat’s spirit endears the town to everyone who has been lucky enough to traverse its streets. They come like migrating birds, which despite having had to circle around the world several times dare not cover the safe distances the different cultural worlds comprising our globe keep with one another.

On the day of your date, the air smells so sweet that it cloys your senses. We may be meant to be, you think, secretly wishing destiny will allow you to play a part in your own story. You step out the door and Tablat’s sparkling everyday nature unfolds before you. You bang the door closed behind you, careful not to slam it on your heart, which clings to the frame. You stride confidently down the lane. You are set on taking decisive steps ...Read more

Humanity, the Gist

Mosque at Al Moez Street, Cairo, Egypt

Lama was a very smart and curious nine-year-old girl, who despite her age was very cultured and knowledgeable about the world. Lately, the religious channels she watched on TV had been mentioning the word “humanity,” mostly apropos of charity work. She had also read the word on Facebook. It had been brought up in association with Daesh’s beheadings. Seeing it written and hearing people talk about it again and again made her ponder over the word’s meaning. She knew it implied something positive, but was there more to it?

She spent the rest of the day in a brown study, cudgeling her brain in an effort to crack the secret to what the word stood for, and before going to bed that night she went to her mother and asked her, “Mum, how would you define ‘humanity’ in a few words?”

Her mother smiled and replied, “That’s something that everyone has to figure out how to define for themselves. You know the meaning already. You just have to be reminded of it, like most of us nowadays. Think about what makes our country great and our ...Read more

The Kid and the Fortress

Bordj El Kiffan Algeria

Ahmed is a very bright and inquisitive six-year-old boy who lives in a city called Bordj El Kiffan—shortened as Bordj—which has amazing sand beaches and a formidable fortress.

The old fortress was built beside the sea centuries ago, during the Ottoman Empire. It was erected by soldiers and was once guarded by sentries who would squat down beside the majestic cannons that still crown the fortress today. Their snouts stick out of the bastion’s crenelated walls in order to deter outsiders from approaching.

In truth, the fortress looks snotty, standing there all high and mighty against the celestial blue backdrop that merges with the marine one. However, it probably deserves to feel smug after having gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect the burghers who hid behind its walls back in the day. At that time, the fortress deterred the enemy ships that had crossed the seas in hopes of getting a shot at desecrating the jewels ashore from approaching any further. It still stands to this day—well, “stand” is perhaps not the most appropriate word, given that its walls lean precariously against one another. Yet, ...Read more