ArabLit Quarterly Spring 2020: THE ROAD (PDF)
The works in this issue extend from Rabat to Aleppo to Baghdad to al-Qunfudhah, suggesting an interconnected map both real and metaphorical.
There is a strong spiritual road in this issue. Wafik Khansa’s “The Hadith is Written” reclaims the hadith as a literary genre, although it probably should not be read without a Frostian sense of irony. Maqbul al-Alawi’s short fiction “A Group to Honor the Deceased,” translated by Andrew Leber, follows what happens on a WhatsApp group made to honor the spirit of a dead friend. And in Mohammed Khudayyir’s “The Ancient Storyteller,” translated by Zeena Faulk, the spiritual path is Hindu, in a mid-twentieth-century Basra where a young Iraqi follows his guru down paths that are both hypnotic and terrifying. Some roads are more frightening than others; I felt the need for therapy after being sucked down the path of Khudayyir’s story.
The issue is also interested in other metaphorical roads, both culinary and exilic. While not as famous as the Silk Road, couscous was also carried on a journey from Western North Africa to al-Andalus, Sicily, Libya, Alexandria, and Marseille, before it retreated back again. Chef and scholar Anny Gaul attempts to follow it in “Couscous: Light Enough to Travel.”
Mohammad al-Amin, whose poems are here translated by Ghareeb Iskander and David Allen Sullivan, remembers the streets of Baghdad long after they have been taken from him: “Fires ravage the body of Baghdad, rooted in me, but flames can’t drive me away from the familiar folds of her mazes.”
Ordinary asphalt roads are here, too. Iraqi poet Ammar Bin Hatim is interested in the literal, day-to-day path through Baghdad. Here, in Hind Saeed’s translation, we see: “The checkpoint that broke the street’s back/ Two lovers in a conversation, unaware of their surroundings/ Water-sellers/ The artist Mohammed Gani’s final statue/ Traffic congestion/ An elderly shoe-shiner” and more. And in an excerpt from Jan Dost’s The Green Bus Leaving Aleppo, translated by Madeline Edwards, a man struggles to travel the fraught road to his daughter’s house, where he finds her wild and unwilling to budge from the home she is desperate to protect from Daesh.
We hope you enjoy this issue! We did not take the easy road to get here.