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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About this Book

Print Excerpt

These writers believe that the new era, the information age, the computer and internet age does not leave them with enough time to decipher the mysteries of grammar and rhetoric. They seek the language of life. 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.

This book contains selections from novels, short stories and poems by 39 young Arab writers, and presents the reader with a panoramic glimpse of Arab youth literature. It aims to engage the reader in a conversation, and to help illuminate this scene.

Abdo Wazen
Beirut, February 2010

Haneef from Glasgow
Mohammad Hassan Alwan

I was crossing Al Khaleej Bridge when he phoned. My eyes clouded over a little but my wife didn’t say anything.

‘Congratulations,’ he said, and in his voice was the smell of wool you’d expect from a man whose throat was woven in Kashmir. It seemed he still felt the same loyalty to me that had defined our relationship for twenty years and had today inspired him to send his best wishes via a telephone call that must have cost him quite a bit over there in Glasgow.

The call came unexpectedly, right in the middle of the bridge, and that’s why the conversation seemed hesitant, awkward, ready at any moment to tumble over the edge into the surging coldness of formality which I did not think appropriate. I slowed down and tried to be as kind to him as he was to me, in the hope that my sins would not proliferate. It was a strange situation, trying to be intimate with a friend whose Arabic is still very broken, and whose English is in its rudimentary stages, and switching between the two languages was the last thing my affection needed, for it was cautious at the best of times and not used to expressing unexpected sentiments like this. I had last embraced him two years ago when he told me that his immigration visa to Britain had been issued at last, ten years later than in his dream. His suitcase, admirably prepared for the journey north, reminded me that we had been no kinder to him than that promised land. Twenty years he’d been pacing the streets of Riyadh, until the city was as familiar to him as the mountains of Kashmir, and neither of them any longer held precedence in his memory. His life had been divided between the two places so exactly that bias towards either one of them at this turning point of forty threatened to cripple his memory, which was the last thing he needed, especially as he was on his way to a third, new city with no idea what it would have in store for him.

When he left Riyadh for the last time the visa in his passport was no different than the one he had entered with twenty years before, and although his status had not changed after he left he took with him the many experiences that were written on his days here. I remember when I was five years old happily celebrating the arrival of the new family driver. He was very tall with black hair and thick lips, and skinny, although my mother’s cooking soon put an end to that last attribute and caused him to develop a rounded paunch not entirely in keeping with his extreme height. I remembered our farewell two years before. He was still tall but his hair had whitened gradually in a methodical kind of way, and he had recently begun to look tired. His sense of humour was depleted, his carefree laughter gone altogether; I couldn’t even be sure that I had heard him laugh for years! For a long time he occupied the middle ground between family and servant, unable to cross from one to the other. He went home and came back a dozen times, and every time his humble suitcase would be bulging with small textile gifts, marble ornaments and fruit from Hind and videotapes that he’d filmed in his village. We’d all gather round in the living room, Mother wrapped in her khimar sitting at the back, and my brother and sister and I in front of the television while he sat unobtrusively next to the video player, stretching out his long arm from time to time to point to an alleyway on the screen, or a shop, or a twist in the road: ‘Walk on a little, that my mother sister house. Two street after on left my big brother house.’ He would be interrupted by all kinds of questions which varied according to the age of the person asking. I, having ignored all the family history he was trying to explain to us, asked him: ‘Is there no tarmac?’ Haneef laughed, as did my mother and my big brother while my little sister waited, like me, for the answer.

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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