Summary and book reviews of Beirut 39 by Samuel Shimon

Beirut 39

New Writing from the Arab World

By Samuel Shimon

Beirut 39
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  • Paperback: Jun 2010,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Beirut is the 2009 World Book Capital, as designated by UNESCO, and at the center of the festivities, in collaboration with the world-renowned Hay Festival, is a competition to identify the thirty-nine most promising young talents in Arab literature. The selection of the “Beirut 39” follows the success of a similar competition in the 2007 World Book Capital, Bogotá, celebrating achievements in Latin American literature.

This year, for the first time, the winners—nominated by publishers, literary critics, and readers across the Arab world and internationally, and selected by a panel of eminent Arab writers, academics, and journalists—will be published together in a one-of-a-kind anthology. Edited by Samuel Shimon of Banipal magazine, the collection will be published simultaneously in Arabic and English throughout the world by Bloomsbury and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.

Beirut 39 provides an important look at the Arab-speaking world today, through the eyes of thirty-nine of its brightest young literary stars.

This excerpt includes the complete text of Haneef from Glasgow by Mohammad Hassan Alwan

Preface

These thirty-nine Arab writers are all under the age of forty. They have flung open the doors on Arabic culture, inviting the reader to transcend cultural boundaries and land in a region known as the ‘Arab World’.

The reader touches, feels, hears, tastes and sees the Middle East and North Africa as it really is: cosmopolitan cities, villages, towns, desolate mountains and deserts. And soon these complex places in a foreign culture become recognisable and familiar as they are revealed in poems, short stories and extracts from novels. We experience the aches and pains of imprisoned freedom like birds in a cage; stifling societies, sexual frustration, corrupt regimes, poverty and illiteracy. And mapping the soil in which the seeds of fanaticism flourish, good women are driven to madness by injustice and oppression. The subject of war, of course, is...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The best of these works frequently underscore darker moments, running the gamut from a bombing and a book-burning to schoolyard bullying, but do so without criticizing the characters nor the conditions of the societies which shaped them. Read together, a sense of restlessness -- of migrations from village to city, from childhood to adulthood, from living with hesitation to gradually accepting fate -- emerges. These stories dig at human fallibilites with imaginative risks.

Browse brief bios of the 39 contributing authors.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

Full Review Members Only (904 words).

Media Reviews
Metro.co.uk

Ultimately, it’s the complex collection rather than the individual stories that really sets a precedent. Beirut 39 presents the ‘exotic’ as accessible and empathetic, and it suggests exciting, vital expressions to come.

The Guardian

The book contains short stories, novel extracts and poems, often brimming with exuberance and sparkling with innovation. The quality of translation ranges from acceptable to excellent...Beirut 39 is a rich and varied feast, but some of the extracts were too brief for this reader to appreciate fully – 15 longer pieces might have been wiser. The book offers a disconnected and slightly frustrating reading experience, but it motivates you to search out the writers' full-length works. Insha'allah it will motivate publishers to publish more Arab writing, and all of us to understand a little more.

The Independent - Anita Sethi

This wonderful, timely anthology, edited by Samuel Shimon and introduced by Hanan al-Shaykh, showcases the distinctive voices of 39 young Arab writers from around the world...It is a gift to the world that these brave authors have written pieces, which both educate and entertain, shedding insight into lives lived beyond the news headlines, and blazing with the idealistic spirit and passion of youth.

Publishers Weekly

Because they are so involving and diverse, readers may be frustrated by the entries' brevity, though anyone working on their to-read list will find plenty of ideas.

Kirkus Reviews

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

Library Journal

Reminiscent of encompassing collections such as Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, edited by Camille T. Dungy, this collection will appeal to literature lovers and anyone interested in understanding Arab culture.

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Beyond the Book

Beirut 39
This anthology is a joint venture between the Hay Festival and the Beirut World Capital of the Book 2009.

Beirut 39Beirut 39 derives its title from 'Beirut39', a group of thirty-nine writers of Arab heritage who were all born in or after 1970. The countries of origin represented in the anthology include Palestine, Saudia Arabia, Syria, Oman, Jordan, Sudan, Libya, Lebanon, and Egypt, among others.

These writers met for workshops, readings, and discussions as part of the Hay Festival, a week-long literary event held in early summer in Haye-on-Wye, a town in the west of England widely known for its bookshops. Once called the "Woodstock of the mind" by Former President Clinton, the festival began in 1988 and is currently sponsored ...

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