Excerpt from Beirut 39 by Samuel Shimon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beirut 39

New Writing from the Arab World

by Samuel Shimon

Beirut 39
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    Jun 2010, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Print Excerpt

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 never far away: between East and West, civil war and the occupation of the West Bank. This writing offers a fresh, often ingenious perspective – a world away from headlines and news stories. Finally, there is the bliss of love and passion, the wisdom of ancient culture, the piety of true believers, the sheer beauty of life on earth to experience, regardless of race and class.

Hanan al-Shaykh
London, January 2010


Editor’s Note

Beirut39’ is a unique initiative that aims to identify and highlight contemporary literary movements among Arab youth, and to gather young faces and names and provide them with an opportunity to meet, exchange expertise and ideas, and work together in literary workshops. Young Arab writers have transcended geography and local identity in their creative work, aligning themselves with – and inspired by – global literary currents and movements. It is obvious, for example, that many novelists from all over the Arab world, Mashriq and Maghreb, belong to the same literary current across regional barriers. Through their work, they communicate and bond with each other despite geographical distance, such that one can easily speak of the youthful realist novel, or neo-realist novel, or fantastic novel or post-modern novel that young writers from all the Arab countries have contributed to. The literature of young Arab writers has invaded the Arab literary market, making it difficult to speak of the young Lebanese novel, or the young Egyptian novel, or Syrian, or Saudi, etc. A youthful pan-Arab literary movement currently dominates, bringing together novelists from all the Arab countries, and aiming to break down regional boundaries. This definition also applies to poetry: there is no longer a youthful Lebanese poetry that is different from a youthful Egyptian poetry, or a Saudi, Iraqi or Palestinian one. Poets are collaborating to establish new styles and a new poetic language, in addition to their unique visions. The internet age has certainly helped them to overcome the obstacles posed by the difficulty of meeting and communicating in person.

What brings together most young Arab writers is their tone of protest, and their rebellion against traditional literary culture. They have announced their disobedience against the ideological bent that exhausted Arabic literature during the 1960s and 1970s. They have also risen above the idea of commitment so prominent a few decades ago, which was imposed by a political-party and communal way of thinking. Instead, they strive towards individualism, focusing on the individual, the human being living and struggling and dreaming and aiming for absolute freedom. Many young writers have declared their disdain for what they describe as contrived, ‘proper’ language. Often, they aim to express their personal concerns as they see fit, freely and spontaneously. And it is important that they protest and reject and announce their frustration with language itself, this language that differs between writing and speech. They want to write as they speak, absolutely spontaneously, unbounded by the censorship imposed upon them firstly by the language itself, and then by religious or moral apparatuses.

Excerpted from Beirut 39 by Samuel Shimon. Copyright © 2010 by Samuel Shimon. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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