BULAQ is a podcast about contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa. We talk about books written in Aleppo, Cairo, Marrakech and beyond. We look at the Arab region through the lens of literature, and we look at literature -- what it does, why it matters, how it relates to society and history and politics -- from the point of view of this part of the world. BULAQ is hosted by Ursula Lindsey and M Lynx Qualey and co-produced by Sowt.
Impostures: A Rogue’s Many Tales
The Maqamat of Al-Hariri is a story collection from 11th century Iraq that showcases the Arabic language’s dazzling, disorienting possibilities. Michael Cooperson received the 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Award for his ground-breaking translation.
This podcast is produced in collaboration with the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.
The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is one of the Arab world’s most prestigious literary prizes, showcasing the stimulating and ambitious work of writers, translators, researchers, academics and publishers advancing Arab literature and culture around the globe.
Today’s guest, Michael Cooperson was awarded the SZBA in 2021 in the category of Translation, for the book Impostures: A Rogue’s Tale Translated Fifty Ways by Al-Hariri, translated from Arabic to English and published by the Library of Arabic Literature in 2020.
The Sheikh Zayed Book Award Translation Grant is open all year round, with funding available for titles that have won or been shortlisted for an award in the Children’s Literature and Literature categories. Publishers outside the Arab world are eligible to apply - find out more on the Sheikh Zayed Book Award website: https://www.zayedaward.ae/en/translation.grant.aspx.
Driss Chraibi’s Portrait of an Angry Young Man
This episode focuses on Driss Chraibi’s The Simple Past (Le Passé Simple), a Moroccan novel about a very angry young man in revolt against his father’s tyranny and the hypocrisies of his colonial education. Back in 1954, it was compared to an explosion – and it still packs a punch today.
The Simple Past was newly re-issued from NYRB Classics in Hugh A. Harter’s 1990 translation, with a new introduction from Adam Shatz. Shatz’s introduction is available online at the NYR Daily.
Excerpts from Chraibi’s interview with Federico Arbós can be found at Fragmentos de la entrevista con Federico Arbós, El Mundo/La Esfera, 28/3/92.
This episode also references Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy and the father figure of Si Sayyed; Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club; and Tayib Saleh’s Season of Migration to the North.
A Conversation in Cairo About Making Art Under Pressure
We recorded this episode in Cairo with author, translator, and Mada Masr culture editor Yasmine Zohdi. We talked about making art in difficult and precarious times; how to acknowledge the political context; censorship and self-censorship.
“What we talk about when we talk about trees,” by Yasmine Zohdi, ran in Mada Masr in December of last year.
We also spoke about the shrinking of cultural spaces in Cairo.
Zohdi also translates, including her husband Muhammad al-Hajj’s beautiful Nobody Mourns the City’s Cats.
MLQ was in Cairo for the ARCE symposium on popular culture. Essays from and inspired by the symposium will be appearing at The Maydan.
An excerpt of the Egyptian novel Prizes for Heroes was translated as part of Mada Masr’s translation series.
The Egyptian film Yomeddine (“Judgement Day”) was part of the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
This week we talk about how MLQ’s latest passion project, the Arab Lit Quarterly, and the ups and downs of making a living (sort of) writing about books.
Karl Sharro Only Takes Soccer Seriously
We talk to humorist Karl Sharro about the origins story of his Twitter alter-ego Karl ReMarks and about finding the ideal online nemesis. Marcia takes issue with a new book listing the “hundred best novels in translation.”
Karl Sharro spoke about Karl ReMarks’ new book, And then God Created the Middle East and Said ‘Let There Be Breaking News’ (and Analysis). The book is forthcoming July 9.
Boyd Tonkin’s The 100 Best Novels in Translation was released June 21. The two Arabic novels that made the list were Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, and Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, translated by William Maynard Hutchins, Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, and Angele Botros Samaan. The translation was overseen by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, along with Martha Levin, and their notes on the manuscript can be found at the Lilly Library Manuscript Collections.
You can read the Amazon press release online about how the mega-corporation has (finally) launched some 12,000 Arabic ebooks into the Kindle system. You can find and purchase them on Amazon.com.
The Interesting Case of a Saudi Novel
In Aziz Muhammad’s The Critical Case of a Man Named K, an unnamed narrator is diagnosed with leukemia. His 40-week journal, shaped by his readings of Kafka, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, sarcastically and movingly documents his alienation from his body, his surroundings and even, eventually, from books.
An interview with translator Humphrey Davies.
We also talked about a few other works where protagonists are diagnosed with cancer:Shahla Ujayli’s A Sky So Close to Us, translated by Michelle Hartman (Interlink Books); Radwa Ashour’s Heavier than Radwa (Dar Al Shorouk), although this is a memoir; Haifa al-Bitar’s A Woman of This Modern Age (Dar Saqi); Hassan Daoud’s No Road to Paradise, translated by Marilyn Booth (Hoopoe Fiction).
We also mention some Saudi books that have won awards or attracted international attention, such as Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea and The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem.