BEIRUT 39 by Samuel Shimon


New Writing from the Arab World
edited by
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A well-conceived gathering of poems, short stories and other work by 39 Arab writers under the age of 40.

By editor Shimon’s account, these writers are part of a “youthful pan-Arab literary movement” that respects few national boundaries, and that highlights individualism and a yearning for personal freedom. Moreover—and anathema to a purist—these writers “are not afraid to make grammatical errors. Some purposefully don’t finish their sentences, others are fond of slang and street talk and dialect.” In other words, it’s a Pushcart of another kind, though without all the establishment figures. Many of the authors are residents of non-Arab countries, especially France, but most set their themes pointedly in Arab concerns. Among the highlights of the collection is a story by Syrian architect-turned-novelist Rosa Yassin Hassan, who depicts a young Darfurian refugee, a victim of torture, being interviewed for political asylum in Canada, one of many such exiles whose “chances were few, their words for ever [sic] doubted.” Palestinian writer Islam Samhan delivers a poem that, as if in response to James Wright’s “A Mad Fight Song for William S. Carpenter,” recounts the victim of a bombing: “He enjoyed the phosphorus toys / that lit up brightly. / He didn’t know / that he burnt up like a butterfly / without a sound.” The Dutch-Moroccan writer Abdelkader Benali imagines a young man, presumably much like himself, who has trouble wrapping his brain around the fact that his sister is outdoing him, appreciatively listening to his father mutter, “Nobody wants to marry a woman who’s had too much education. Educated women have loud mouths and opinions of their own.” And Algerian writer Abderrazak Boukebba delivers an odd allegory that enfolds the world of the exile abroad: “The homeland is not the dust we are born on, but the memory of that dust that accompanies us.”

Despite a few duds, this is a well-made anthology, of much interest to students of world literature and of the contemporary Arab world.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60819-202-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2010


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