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.
Book Club: Season of Migration to the North
By listener demand, we re-read Season of Migration to the North, the 1966 classic by the Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih. Its unnamed narrator returns to his village “on a bend of the Nile” after being educated abroad -- and confronts the enigmatic figure of Mustafa Sa’eed, who also once emigrated North, and whose string of sexual relationships with Western women ended in tragedy. This iconic novel was instantly acclaimed in Arabic and in the 1969 English translation by Denys Johson-Davies. But it’s the only one of Salih’s works that have achieved a wide readership in English. What is it about this novel that resists interpretation and demands re-reading? What makes it iconic? And why have his other books received so little attention?
Sofia Samatar’s ‘Dear Tayeb Salih’
Denys Johnson-Davies on ‘Season of Migration to the North’: Acclaimed for the Wrong ReasonAdil Babikir on ‘Mansi’: A Rare Book, and a Joy to Translate
Raja Shehadeh on the ‘Book Of A Lifetime: Season of Migration to the North’
Why is this book so iconic, and why does it overshadow all Salih’s other work, such that his great Bandershah seems to be out of print?
What do you think of Denys Johnson-Davies’ assertion that people are reading this novel all wrong?
What’s the function of Mustafa Saeed’s story? Is he real?
Love and Silence: Rediscovering Enayat El Zayat
We’re re-running one of our favorite episodes. In 1993, the Egyptian poet and writer Iman Mersal picked up an unknown novel by a forgotten writer from the 60s. And so began her long wanderings in search of Enayat El Zayat. El Zayat killed herself in 1963, four years before her book “Love and Silence” was finally published. Mersal’s portrait of El Zayat is a remarkable work of research, empathy and imagination.
This episode focuses on Iman Mersal’s In the Footsteps of Enayat al-Zayyat (في أثر عنايات الزيات), published by Kotob Khan Books in late 2019.
The author Enayat al-Zayyat (1936-63) finished one novel, which was published in 1967.
Love and Silence (الحب و الصمت) was recently republished and is available on Google Play.
Al-Zayyat was also working on a second novel, based around the German Egyptologist Ludwig Keimar; you can read Isolde Lehnert on Keimar.
The Pillar of Salt
We discuss the classic 1953 novel by the Jewish Tunisian Francophone writer Albert Memmi, who died this year. This sharp and beautiful book is many things: a coming of age story, an account of colonialism, and a World War II novel. Its driven, unhappy narrator breaks with his community and family in search of a new identity but is disappointed again and again. Like Lot’s wife in the Bible, he cannot help looking back on the past he rejects. He asks: “is it possible for me to survive my contemplation of myself?”
The Pillar of Salt, translated from the French by Edouard Roditi, is available as an e-book. Memmi also wrote The Colonizer and The Colonized, an account of Tunisia’s first year of independence, Tunisie, An I and numerous other books.
We compared the book to Driss Chraibi’s The Simple Past, another post-colonial novel narrated by a very angry young man, which we dedicated a whole other episode to.
In the LRB, Adam Shatz recently wrote a wonderful essay discussing Memmi’s writings, political philosophy, and contradictions.
Revolt Against the Sun
Nazik al-Mala’ika was an Iraqi woman poet of great influence and renown through the 1940s, 50s and 60s. She pioneered new poetic forms and re-invented a heritage of feminine, emotional, elegiac poetry-making. We are joined by scholar and translator Emily Drumsta to discuss a new bilingual collection of al-Mala’ika’s poetry, Revolt Against the Sun. The collection is coming out this month from Saqi Books in the UK and January 2021 in the US.
We read from:
“A Letter to Him,” from For Prayer and Revolution (1978)
“Cholera,” from Shrapnel and Ash (1949)“The Moon Tree,” from The Moon Tree (1968)
“Revolt Against the Sun,” from Night Lover (1947)
A few poems by al-Mala’ika online:
“Night Lover,” tr. Drumsta
“Revolt Against the Sun,” tr. Drumsta
From “A Song for Mankind,” tr. Drumsta
“The Train Passed By,” tr. Drumsta
“New Year,” t. Rebecca Carol Johnson, on WWB
“Love Song for Words,” tr. Johnson, on WWB
You can see more about the book at saqibooks.com/books/saqi/revolt-against-the-sun.
Trailer: Fall 2020 Season of BULAQ
Ursula Lindsey and Marcia Lynx Qualey discuss books from across the Arab region and new translations from Arabic.
The Cat Is Out of The Bag
This episode looks at the Fall 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly, which focuses on cats: in contemporary Arabic stories, in erotic poetry, in medieval scholarship, in Egyptian art, in Palestinian politics, and more.
We read from:
Ghada Samman’s “Beheading the Cat,” translated by Issa Boullata.
The poetry of Rasha Omran, in the issue in Arabic, French, and English.
Al-Jawbari’s advice on avoiding criminals with cats, translated for the issue by Dima El-Mouallem.
We also focus on:
Karim Zidan’s essay on cats in Egyptian art, “Felines, Fellahin, and Fortune Tellers.”
Hoda Marmar’s essay-interview with Muna Nasrallah, the daughter of Emily Nasrallah and previous owner of the cat from Nasrallah’s classic YA novel, What Happened to Zeeko?
The fifteenth-century encyclopedic text “Merits of the Housecat,” translated by David Larsen.
Layla Baalbaki’s classic story “The Cat,” translated by Tom Abi Samra.
You can get a copy of the magazine at www.arablit.org.
Customer ReviewsSee All
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!
Great insight & coverage
Still early in its life (three episodes so far بولاق Bulaq showcases the great experience and depth of its hosts and will undoubtedly, like their own respective writings, become an indespensible resource to people interested in Arabic-language literature.