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.
The Book of Travels
We talk to scholar Elias Muhanna about translating a magical, delightful eighteenth-century travelogue. In 1707 Hanna Diyab journeyed from his native Aleppo as translator to a rapacious and sometimes ridiculous Frenchman. He survived a shipwreck and a pirate attack, met King Louis XIV, and gave TheThousand and One Nights translator Antoine Galland a dozen new stories. Cheated out of a promised job in Paris, he eventually returned to Syria, where he wrote it all up in his old age.
You can download a free Arabic PDF of the Book of Travelson the Library of Arabic Literature website.
You can read more about Diyab (and speculation about whether he was the “real Aladdin”) in Paolo Lemos Horta’s Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights.
You can read Yasmine Seale’s stand-alone translation of Aladdin, introduced by Lemos Horta, or get her new Annotated Arabian Nights, edited and introduced by Lemos Horta, out this month from WW Norton.
So Kill Them Back!
We look at new writing from Syria and about the experiences of Syrian refugees, including Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, a book he categorizes not as poetry or prose but as “pieces of my body, haphazardly brought together in a paper bag.”
Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die was translated by Isis Nusair and edited by Levi Thompson.
Samar Yazbek’s Planet of Clay was translated by Leri Price and is on the shortlist for this year’s National Book Award, in the Translation category.
Rabih Alameddine’s The Wrong End of the Telescopefollows a Lebanese-American trans woman’s journey to the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece.
Haya Saleh’s Wild Poppieswon the 2020 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in the YA category and follows two young Syrian boys, Omar and Sufyan, as they struggle to come-of-age during wartime.
We finished on a reading of an untitled poem by Ramy Al-Asheq, published in Transference, translated by Levi Thompson.
Poems from Palestine
We read from the work of Palestinian poets Maya Abu Al Hayyat, Fady Joudah, Asmaa Azaizeh and Najwan Darwish, who writes: “Death has liberated me/ from the shackles of our small jailers,/ just as poetry has liberated us/ from the greatest jailer–time.”
In Palestine these days, the olive harvest is under assault from Israeli settlers. Six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil socierty NGOs have just been designated terrorist organizations.
Maya Abu Al-Hayyat’s You Can Be The Last Leaf, Trans. Fady Joudah, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions
Najwan Darwish’s Collection Exhausted On the Cross, Trans. Kareem James Abu-Zeid, is out from New York Review Books.
Fady Joudah curated The Baffler’s series of lyric dispatches from Palestine, from which Marcia read Asmaa Azaizeh’s Reflection.
We read Fady Joudah’s poem Dehiscence, from his new collection Tethered to Stars.
And if you are interested in hearing much more Arabic poetry, check out the podcast Maqsouda, another Sowt production.
Walking Through Fire: A Look Back at Nawal El Saadawi
The Egyptian feminist writer and doctor Nawal El Saadawi always spoke her mind. Her early books were explosive testimonials, based on her medical practice and personal experience, about sexual double standards and the abuses women faced because of them. She went on to write many more books, including novels, plays and several memoirs. Over the course of her life she was jailed, censored, fired, admired, and attacked by Islamists as an unbeliever. She is still one of the best-known and most translated Arab women writers.
Some of the books discussed in this episode include: The Hidden Face of Eve, The Fall of the Imam, Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, Woman at Point Zero, Daughter of Isis and Walking Through Fire.
The Radical Books Collective and the Adabiyat Book Club are holding an online master class on El Saadawy’s famous novel Woman At Point Zero on November 20, with academic and translator Samah Selim.
Ursula wrote about El Saadawy recently for The New York Review of Books.
Warda: Diary of a Revolutionary
Sonallah Ibrahim’s Warda is the story of a female fighter in the 1960s and 70s Dhofar rebellion in Oman, and of the Egyptian intellectual who, decades later, tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her. We discuss the vibrant and mysterious female character at the heart of one of Ibrahim’s most ambitious literary projects with scholar, editor and translator Hosam Aboul-ela. As Aboul-ela writes in his introduction to his new translation, Warda is someone who “somehow manages to embody both the historical and the unimaginable.”
Warda is available, in Hosam Abou-ela’s translation, from Yale University Press.
Hosam also writes about Warda in his Domestications: American Empire, Literary Culture, and the Postcolonial Lens.
Hosam’s translation of Sonallah Ibrahim’s Stealthis available from New Directions.
Sonallah Ibrahim’s Zaat, in Tony Calderbank’s translation,is, unfortunately, out of print.
Hosam Aboul-ela is also the editor of the Arabic list at Seagull Books, an award-winning Kolkata-based publisher. One of the first books it published was The Stillborn by Arwa Salih. Forthcoming titles include Salim Barakat’s Come, Take a Gentle Stab, co-translated by Huda Fakhreddine and Jayson Iwen; Akram Musallam’s The Dance of the Deep-blue Scorpion, translated by Sawad Hussain, and Hussein Barghouthi’s Among the Almond Blossoms, translated by Ibrahim Muwahi.
Football Writing: The Passion and the Provocation
Football and Arabic literature haven’t always had an easy relationship. Football has inspired famous authors like Mahmoud Darwish, and anonymous fans who have composed powerful stadium chants. But the sport is sometimes looked down on by writers. We celebrate the sport and its chroniclers, featured in the FOOTBALL-themed fall 2021 issue of ArabLit Quarterly.
Today, we talk our way through the Fall 2021 issue of ArabLit Quarterly, which is all about literature and football. We open with a chant from the Casablanca team RAJA, “Fi bladi delmouni,” or “I Was Wronged in My Own Country,” in the original and then translated by Hicham Rafik.
For more background, read Aida Alami’s “The Soccer Politics of Morocco,” in The New York Review of Books.
We go out on the Ultras Ahlawy chant “Hekayetna,” or “Our Story,” translated by Mina Ibrahim.
We also talk about Mina Ibrahim’s moving essay “Egyptian Football’s Missing Archives.”
Mid-way, we read from Syrian author Luqman Derky’s “Knocking on Blue Freedom’s Door,” translated by Daniel Behar.
You can find the issue at arablit.org/store
Great Literature Podcast!
This show really is for anyone interested in literature. The 'Book Club' series is off to a great start!
Indispensable for anyone interested in the modern Arab world or in world literature. The hosts are up to the task of contextualising the works and authors. I’m always so happy to find a new episode. Small note on the May 7, 2020 episode: the person referred to as having written the script for the film Uridu Hallan , Hosn Shah, is a woman. Not Hasan.
What a gem
I'm always pleased with myself when I come across little unknown gems like this podcast. What a delight to listen to two smart women talk about books on a subject for which I've always had an interest yet know so little. Thank you, Bulaq, for bringing something new to the english-speaking book podcast world!