Engaging Books is a returning series that features books by various publishers on a given theme, along with an excerpt from each volume. This installment involves a selection from Comma Press on the theme of Short Story Collections from the Arab World. Other publishers’ books will follow on a monthly basis.]

Table of Contents

Palestine +100

Edited by Gasma Ghalayini
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media / Praise
Additional Information
Where to Purchase
Excerpt
Call for Reviews

Thirteen Months of Sunrise 

By Rania Mamoun, translated by Elizabeth Jaquette
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media / Praise
Additional Information
Where to Purchase
Excerpt
Call for Reviews

The Book of Cairo

Edited by Raph Cormack
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media / Praise
Additional Information
Where to Purchase
Excerpt
Call for Reviews

The Book of Tehran

 Edited by Fereshteh Ahmadi
About the Book
About the Author
In the Media / Praise
Additional Information
Where to Purchase
Excerpt
Call for Reviews

Palestine +100

Edited by Gasma Ghalayini

 

About the Book

Palestine + 100 poses a question to twelve Palestinian writers: what might your country look like in the year 2048 – a century after the tragedies and trauma of what has come to be called the Nakba? How might this event – which, in 1948, saw the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes – reach across a century of occupation, oppression, and political isolation, to shape the country and its people? Will a lasting peace finally have been reached, or will future technology only amplify the suffering and mistreatment of Palestinians?

Covering a range of approaches – from SF noir, to nightmarish dystopia, to high-tech farce – these stories use the blank canvas of the future to reimagine the Palestinian experience today. Along the way, we encounter drone swarms, digital uprisings, time-bending VR, peace treaties that span parallel universes, and even a Palestinian superhero, in the first anthology of science fiction from Palestine ever.

About the Editors and Contributors  

Basma Ghalayini has an academic background in Management Information Systems and has worked in various finance roles within the past seven years in the commercial and not-for-profit sectors. Basma also works as an Arabic translator and interpreter and has previously translated short fiction from the Arabic for the KFW Stifflung series, Beirut Short Stories, published on addastories.org, and Comma projects, such as Banthology and The Book of Cairo (edited by Raph Cormack). She was born in Khan Younis, and spent her early childhood in the UK until the age of five, before returning to the Gaza Strip.

Talal Abu Shawish (born 1967) is Assistant Director of the Boys Preparatory School for Refugees in Gaza. He has published three short story collections – The Rest are Not For Sale, The Assassination of a Painting (2010) and Goodbye, Dear Prophets (2011) – as well as four novels: We Deserve a Better Death (2012), Middle Eastern Nightmares (2013),Seasons of Love and Blood (2014), and Urban House (2018). His work has won three awards (the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ Short Story Competition in 1996 and 1997, and the Italian Sea That Connects Award, 1998). Shawish was President of the Association of New Prospects for Community Development, 2007- 2011, and is a member of the Palestinian Writers Union. He was born in Nuseirat Refugee Camp. Until they had to flee in 1948, his father lived in the town of Beer el Sabea, and his mother in the village of Barqa.

Tasnim Abutabikh (born 1996) grew up in Gaza and graduated from Al-Azhar University, before moving to the United States in 2018, where she now works as a dentist. In 2015, she was a winner in the Novell Gaza Short Story Award, and was published in Novell Gaza 2. Her grandfather was living in Kofakha at the time of the Nakba, although her great-grandfather was originally from Gaza City.

Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer of fiction who lives in London. Her writing is mainly set in the contemporary Middle East, with recurring themes to date are idealism (however futile), placelessness, political engagement (or lack thereof) and the impact of social conformity on individuals. Selma’s first novel, Out of It, was published by Bloomsbury in 2011 and 2012 (pb). It was nominated as a Guardian Book of the Year in 2011 and 2012 by Ahdaf Soueif and Dame Marina Warner respectively. Selma has also written and published numerous short stories with Granta, Wasafiri, Saqi, Telegram, International PEN and others.  Several of her short stories have been nominated for awards and been viewed favourably by international panels of judges. She is a PEN and Pushcart Nominee.

Emad El-Din Aysha (born 1974) is an academic, journalist, and translator and an author, currently stationed in Cairo. Having received a BA in economics and philosophy and an MA and PhD in international studies from the University of Sheffield, he currently teaches across a range of subjects, from international politics to Arab society, at various universities in Egypt. He’s a regular commentator on Middle Eastern politics, an avid fan of history and science fiction, and a film reviewer and columnist for publications like The Levant, The Egyptian Gazette, Daily News Egypt and Mada Masr. He was born in the UK to a Palestinian father, from the Akka region.

Samir El-Youssef is a Palestinian-British writer and critic, who was born in Rashidieh, a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon, where he lived until he was ten, before moving to Sidon. His essays and reviews have appeared in Guardian, New Statesman, Washington Post, Jewish Quarterly as well as the Arabic Al-Hayat. He has been living in North London since 1990. In 2005 he won the Tucholsky Award for promoting the cause of peace and freedom of speech in the Middle East. The Illusion of Return is his first novel in English.

Saleem Haddad (born 1983)is a writer and aid worker, who has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières and other organisations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Turkey. His debut novel, Guapa was published in 2016, won the 2017 Polari Prize and was awarded a Stonewall Honour. His essays have appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, LitHub, and the LARB, among others. He was born in Kuwait City to an Iraqi-German mother and a Palestinian-Lebanese father, and currently based in Lisbon.

Anwar Hamed (born 1957) is a Palestinian novelist, poet, and literary critic born. With a master’s degree in literature theory, he lives in London and works for the BBC World Service. He speaks Arabic, English and Hungarian, in addition to French and a little Turkish, Persian and Hebrew. He has published eight novels in Arabic, and a number of other works in Hungarian, and has contributed to a number of non-fiction titles, most recently: Being Palestinian: Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora, edited by Yasir Suleiman. His novel Jaffa Makes the Morning Coffee was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). His most recent novel is Shijan (published in Arabic in March 2019). He was born in Anabta in the West Bank near Tulkarm, where his family comes from.

Majd Kayyal is a Palestinian born in Haifa, in 1990, to a family displaced from al-Barwa. He studied philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was active in various political campaigns and projects. His first novel, The Tragedy of Mr Matar (2016), won the Qattan Foundation Young Writer Award. In 2017 he published the political study, How Does the Zionist Regime Transform? He writes for several media outlets, besides the blog he launched in 2010, Message to the Tricontinental.

Mazen Maarouf (1978) is a writer, poet, translator and journalist. Born in Beirut to a family of Palestinian refugees who had to flee Tal El-Zaatar in the beginning of Lebanese civil war, Maarouf holds a bachelor degree in General Chemistry from the Lebanese University (Faculty of Sciences). He worked for several years as a Chemistry and Physics teacher before drifting into the literary field in 2008. After a successful debut with his short story collection Jokes for the Gunmen he published a second (also successful) collection called Rats that Licked the Karate Champion’s Ear.

Abdalmuti Maqboul (born 1987) studied graphic design at Al-Najah National University in Nablus and has a master’s degree in management and international relations from the University of Ankara, in Turkey. He is a lecturer at the Ummah College in Jerusalem. An extract from his forthcoming novel Al-Mukhtalson (The Embezzlers) has been serialised in Specimen magazine, and translated into Spanish and Italian. He was born and lives in Nablus.

Ahmed Masoud(born 1981) is a writer and director who grew up in Palestine and moved to the UK in 2002. His debut novel Vanished: The Mysterious Disappearance of Mustafa Ouda won the Muslim Writers Awards. His theatre credits include The Shroud Maker, Camouflage, Walaa, Loyalty, Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea and Escape from Gaza. He is the founder of Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre, for whom he has written wrote and directed several productions for the London stage, and subsequent European tours. Following his PhD research, he has published numerous academic articles, including a chapter in Britain and the Muslim World: A Historical Perspective (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011). His family is originally from Dayr Sunayd.

Rawan Yaghi (born 1994) is a Gaza-based writer. She was a member at the Qattan Centre for the Child, where she used online resources to start her own blog. In 2011, her love of writing and languages led her to start a degree in English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She was awarded the Junior Members’ Scholarship by Jesus College, University of Oxford, to pursue an undergraduate degree in Italian and Linguistics. She contributed to the 2014 anthology Gaza Writes Back, and has just been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study journalism in New York. Her family originates from Al Masmiyya Al Kabira.

In the Media

Read The Guardian’s ‘What will Palestine be like in 2048? Writers turn to sci-fi for the answer’ report on Palestine +100.

Read an interview with editor Basma Ghalayini at Chicago Review of Books.

Winner of a PEN Translates Award 2018

One of the 50 Books to Watch in 2019 by the Irish Times.
Praise for Palestine +100

‘This book is not a happy read, but it’s one that complicates our worldview, undermines our certainty and unravels our righteousness. We need more literature like this.’ – Tor.com 

‘The best science fiction, as Ursula Le Guin once noted, is not predictive but descriptive – less a rationalist mapping of the future than a slanted mirror which defamiliarises the present. This is exactly what these stories – populated by drone swarms, digital uprisings and the ghosts of the not-yet-dead – accomplish. Palestine +100 adopts sci-fi not as escapism, but as a new set of metaphors with which to engage the present political realities of occupied Palestine, and it’s people’s urgent desire for freedom and justice.’ – TANK Magazine

‘Just as we do when Handmaids Tale or Black Mirror plots unfold on the screen, you are most likely to read Palestine +100 and say, this is now.’ – Lithub

‘Palestine +100 will not bring justice for the Palestinian people. At least, not by itself, but it’s part of something vitally important: it serves as a reminder that they are still there, still fighting, still angry, lost, and full of burning… it’s a call, a roar, a celebration of the artistic and literary power of Palestine.’ – Books and Bao

 

Additional Information

July 2019

240 Pages

£9.95 (list price)

ISBN: 9781910974445
 

Where to Purchase

Comma Press

Excerpt

 

From “Song of the Birds” by Saleem Haddad:

That night Aya dreamt she was walking through an enormous field of olive trees. The sky appeared much closer to the earth, the moon so large and bright the entire field twinkled like a sea of diamonds. Sounds had an intense clarity: she could hear the rustling of each olive branch in the wind, the crickets chirping at a deafening volume.

There was shuffling behind her. Turning around, she recognised the familiar figure – tall and lanky – and the unmistakable tangled mess of brown hair.

‘Ziad?’ The name caught in her throat.

‘It’s me,’ he said, in that voice that was so deep for an eighteen-year-old.

He was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. He looked tall and strong, not like the last time she saw him. She ran up to him and threw herself against him, half-expecting him to disappear, and for her to simply fall through him and onto the ground. Instead her body crashed into his solid frame. His arms wrapped themselves around her and she sunk into his chest.

‘Ziad, it’s really you!’ She looked up into his face. He smiled down at her, that familiar half-smile, the bottom two front teeth slightly crooked.

She hesitated. ‘But you died?’

He shrugged. ‘In your world, death isn’t really dying. In a way, I guess it’s more like waking up.’

‘But I saw you! If you didn’t die, then where have you been?’

‘I’ve…’ he paused, considering his words carefully. He had always taken his time to find the most precise way to describe his thoughts and feelings. ‘I’ve been… outside of things. There are… responsibilities…’

A sudden fury exploded from inside of her, a rage that had been building for the last twelve months.

‘Why did you do it? Didn’t you love us? Didn’t you think about Mama and Baba? Didn’t you think about me?’

Her anger amused him. He began to giggle, his eyes forming tiny slits.

‘You’re laughing! You’re laughing too, you donkey!’ she smashed her fists against his chest.

‘Stop, stop!’ he protested. He grabbed her fists and held them in front of him. ‘It’s okay,’ he whispered in her ear as she began to cry.

They walked through the olive grove for a long time. She was happy to be near him, to feel the warmth of his body and succumb to his gentle teasing. She told him everything that had happened, things she had been doing. She updated him on the neighbours, on friends and on the other kids in school. She did her impersonations of all the people they knew. She had forgotten how much he laughed at her impersonations, and it occurred to her that she hadn’t done any since he died. After a while, when she had run out of sentences, they simply walked side-by-side in silence. Finally, she asked the question she had been avoiding.

‘Does this mean you’re back now? Or is this just a dream?’

He was quiet for a moment. He stopped walking and turned to face her. A hardness had settled in his features.

‘Have you heard of the allegory of Plato’s Cave?’

She shook her head.

‘Never mind.’

‘Why?’ she insisted.

He looked up at the sky. ‘Do you think a fish knows it’s swimming in water?’

She shrugged.

‘We live in the world like a fish in water. Just swimming, oblivious to our surroundings.’ Ziad sighed, then poked her arm. ‘Aya, are you not planning to ever wake up?’

She woke up. Outside her window, the birds were singing: kereet-kereet… kereet. Daylight streamed through the shutters. The olive grove returned to her. If the whole thing was just a dream, it felt more real than life.

Getting up, she snuck down the hall to Ziad’s room and opened the door. The room was as it was on the day he died. His shelves still held his basketball trophies, a few stuffed toys from his childhood. In the wardrobe, his clothes were still on hangers, bearing faint traces of his smell, which seemed to weaken with each passing day. Next to his bed was a novel by Franz Kafka, with a receipt from the arcades operating as a makeshift bookmark. On his desk there was a photograph of the family taken five years ago. All four of them were having a picnic on Mount Carmel, the port of Haifa in the distance. Aya remembered that day: they had a large barbecue to celebrate the beginning of spring. That was before Mama started sleeping a lot, before the weight of things began to bear down on them.

Next to the photograph was Ziad’s journal, a simple black notebook. Ziad had liked to write by hand, even though it took so much longer than just dictating thoughts to a tablet. He had said he enjoyed the material aspect of writing, the physicality of ink and the slow movement of pen on paper. He never did like technology, was always so mistrustful of it.

Her father had insisted no one was allowed to touch any of Ziad’s things, as if Ziad had just gone to buy some vegetables and would soon be back. Against her better judgement, she picked up the diary and opened it to the final page. In his neat handwriting, she read the last entry, dated one day before he died:

There is an oral tradition of grandparents passing on their stories of Palestine, which helps keep Palestine alive. But is it not too much of a stretch for them to have figured out how to use these stories to imprison us? The truth of collective memories is that you can’t just choose to harness the good ones. Sooner or later, the ugly ones begin to seep in too…

The heaviness returned, the choking sensations. She closed the diary and stumbled out of the room.

Closing the door behind her, she made her way to the bathroom. She examined her tired face in the mirror, marvelled once again at the disappearance of the large gash on her forehead. She turned on the faucet and began to brush her teeth. It took a moment to register the gritty sensation of dirt and the taste of soil on her tongue. She spat the toothpaste out. She noticed the water coming out of the tap: sandy brown, bursting out of the faucet in exhausted sputters, leaving light brown splotches on the white porcelain sink.

‘Baba!’ She ran out of the bathroom and into the hallway. Her father emerged from his bedroom, half-asleep. ‘The water coming out of the tap is brown!’

Her father followed her into the bathroom. She had left the tap running, but now only crystal-clear water ran through.

‘I swear it was brown.’ She caught her father’s eye. ‘I swear I wasn’t imagining this.’

Her father sighed and rubbed his forehead. ‘Aya, what’s going on?’

She took a deep breath. ‘I dreamt of Ziad last night,’ she confessed.

The look on her father’s face unleashed a flood of tears from somewhere deep inside her.

‘I miss him,’ Aya said.

Her father pulled her into him. ‘I know, habibti,’ he whispered in her ear.

Ziad appeared in her dreams again that night. They were sitting in a clearing on top of a mountain. She recognised the view: they were in the spot where that photograph was taken, of the four of them on Mount Carmel. Ziad spoke in a slow and assured way as he picked at the blades of grass by his bare feet.

‘Everything seems so still. You would never think that we are hurtling through the universe at a crazy speed.’

‘What’s with all these riddles?’ she asked.

‘All I’m saying is that things aren’t always what they seem. You know what they taught us in history books. That stuff, about how we liberated Palestine, how the occupation is over now?’ Aya nodded for him to go on. ‘It is so advanced, the occupation. They have all these technologies… technologies of control and subjugation. And Gaza – our home – is like a laboratory for all that experimentation.’

‘But that’s all in the past…’ She picked up a dark blue flower, cradling it in her palm. ‘We’re liberated now. Look around. We are free.’

Ziad snorted. ‘You know how us Arabs are. We are trapped in the rose-tinted memories of our ancestors. These cached memories wrap themselves around us like a second skin.’

Ziad uprooted a blade of grass and began to break it apart into smaller pieces until the blade was nothing but a tiny stub, which he then squashed between his fingers. Aya watched him without saying a word. He appeared furious – it was a rage that far surpassed regular teenage emotions. The anger was darker, deeper than anything she had seen before. She saw it etched into his features, felt it radiate from his body.

He tossed the squashed remnants of the blade of grass behind him. Finally, he looked up at her.

‘We’re just another generation imprisoned by our parents’ nostalgia.’

She looked at the flower in her palm. She had picked this flower off the ground only moments earlier. Now, examining it more closely in her palm, something appeared strange to her. The dark blue petals reflected the sunlight in a peculiar way. She brought her palm towards her face to get a better look.

The petals were made of hard steel, the edges jagged and sharp.

‘Fragmentation bullets,’ Ziad said, noticing her shocked expression. ‘They blast from a gun and explode inside your body, blooming like flowers inside the flesh.’

The bullet rolled out of her palm and fell to the ground with a soft clink. The sound felt so far away. The world was spinning.

Ziad chuckled bitterly. ‘Tools for murder now masquerading as life.’

She looked at him. ‘What does all this mean?’

Ziad didn’t hesitate. ‘It means you have a decision. You can stay here, cocooned in these memories of a long-lost paradise, or you break free of this prison.’

‘Is that what you did?’

‘Yeah,’ he nodded, looking her straight in the eye. ‘That’s what I did.’

Call for Reviews

If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email info@jadaliyya.com

Thirteen Months of Sunrise 

By Rania Mamoun, translated by Elizabeth Jaquette

 

About the Book

A young woman sits by her father’s deathbed, lamenting her failure to keep a promise to him…

A struggling writer walks every inch of the city in search of inspiration, only to find it is much closer than she imagined…

A girl collapses from hunger at the side of the road and is rescued by the most unlikely of saviours…

In this powerful, debut collection of stories, Rania Mamoun expertly blends the real and imagined to create a rich, complex and moving portrait of contemporary Sudan. From painful encounters with loved ones to unexpected new friendships, Mamoun illuminates the breadth of human experience and explores, with humour and compassion, the alienation, isolation and estrangement that is urban life.
 

About the Author 

Born in 1979, Rania Mamoun is a Sudanese author, journalist, and activist. She has published two novels in Arabic – Green Flash (2006) and Son of the Sun(2013) – as well as a short story collection Thirteen Months of Sunrise, which will be published in English by Comma Press in 2018. Her short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Book of Khartoum (Comma Press, 2016), the first ever anthology of Sudanese short fiction in translation. She has also worked as culture page editor of Al-Thaqafi magazine, a columnist for Ad-Adwaa newspaper and presenter of the ‘Silicon Valley’ cultural programme on Sudanese TV.
 

In the Media

Read an interview with Rania Mamoun and Elisabeth Jaquette on Qantara

One of The Guardian’s ‘Top 10 books about Sudan’

One of Bustle’s ’25 New Short Story Collections To Read This Summer’ 

One of Bookshy Book’s ‘Ten-Plus Short Story Collections from Writers of African Origin’ 

One of African Argument’s ‘The best books by African writers in 2019 so far…’

Winner of a PEN Translates Award

Praise for Thirteen Months of Sunrise

‘Mamoun’s writing is very careful… Perhaps hers is a care that becomes second nature when living under the threat of government censorship, intimidation and the limits on press freedom that exist in Sudan.’ – The Johannesburg Review of Books

‘The beauty of Mamoun’s storytelling is that while the pieces are short and relatively quick reads, they pull you into the narrative…’ – The New Arab

‘It is a phenomenal, exacting collection. It’s intense and intimate, and always bordering, with absolute control, on the subversive and erotic. It’s also very funny – Rania Mamoun is an extraordinary talent.’- Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young

‘A stunning collection, remarkable for its sweet clarity of voice and startling depictions of the marginalised and the destitute. With mastery, Rania Mamoun reaches straight into the heartbeat of her subject matter, laying bare humanity in all its tenderness and tenacity.’ – Leila Aboulela, author of Elsewhere Home

Additional Information

April 2019

80 Pages

£9.99 (list price)

ISBN: 9781910974391
Where to Purchase

Comma Press

 

Excerpt

Doors

He woke up early,unusual for him,and got out of bed with cheerful enthusiasm.

He headed to the tap to wash his face and freshen his breathwith minty toothpaste, but discovered the water had beenshut off. God! When had they come? Did they never sleep!

Then he remembered that he hadn’t paid the utilitybill this month. But how could he, if paying for water meantnot payingfor something else?

He could do without electricity for a month, without water for a month, without a phone for a month. He could standthe shopkeeper’s frustrations and the landlord’s provocations, and he swore, if the government allowed people to sleep on the streets, he could do without a house for a month, too. With that, he put ‘house’ on his ‘marginal list’, the list of things he could do without.

He tried not to givethis trivial, inconsequentialthing the pleasureof spoiling hisgood mood; he overcame it. He and his familyalways kept extra water just in case, and when that ran out,probably about two days into the shutoff, he could run ahose from his neighbour’s house.

‘Fill up abucket and fast,’ he shouted to his son.‘I need to shower and get out of here.’

He shut the bathroom doorbehind him, even though it was ridden with holes.

Cold water cascaded over his body and he felt invigorated. He wished the day would skip over thenext two hours, cast them aside orreturn to them later. Either would be fine; what he wanted was to shut his eyes, open them, and find that it was nine o’clock, time to starthis new job.

From that day forward he wouldn’thave to wait for his brothers to send money sporadically from abroad; he wouldn’t change his route to avoid the shopkeeper, or the butcher, or the neighbour who lent them part of his pension.

Their mealswouldn’t follow the rule of ‘here one day, gone the next, the third day only crumbs’; his children wouldn’t go to bed without dinner, without even a little glass of milk.

‘No no no… get out of here, boy… Mohammed, c’mere c’mere, your brother shoved the door. Ali grab that boy there, the door’ll fall on his foot…’

The bathroom door was nothing more than a sheet of zinc with partially patched holes, but it mostly concealed whoever was behind it.

He got dressed without rinsing all the soap off his body, and swore that he would replace this corroded piece of zinc they generously called a door.

He madesome tea, adding justa small pinch of sugaras usual. He put his faith in God, praised His name, and went to leave, but…

The front door! What was with the door? He tried to open it, pushed harder and harder, but it wouldn’t budge. It was a double door, and one side was shorter than the other.

‘Damn this warped door!’ he said scornfully. ‘Mohammed, I’ve told you a hundred times not to shut this blasted door so hard… when you slam it, it sticks like this.’

After a torrentof angry words he finally managed to open the door,with a screech heard by half of the neighbourhood.He looked down, and saw that theright sleeve of his freshly pressed shirt wasnow completely wrinkled.

But… no matter. He didn’t want anything to spoil his mood. He tried to smooth the fabric with his other hand and kept walking. A bus was waiting and he quickly stepped aboard; he didn’t want to be late for his first day.

‘Get everyone in the doorway to move back into the bus, boy,’ shouted the driver. ‘Good lord, getting fined is the last thing we need this morning.’

As soon as the driver stopped speaking, the man felt himself being pushed by many hands and a struggle began.

‘Brothers, please, move all the way in, God bless…’

One man punched his neighbour, the person next to him stamped on anotherone’sfoot, and atall man was hunkered down so much it looked as if he werepraying.

‘Guys, open the window… it’s hot, and meningitis is going around!’ someone yelled.

Finally the bus arrived at the station. He pried himself from the crowd and sped off towards the office. Only when he arrived did he realise that the bus door had snagged his shirt. He tore off the flap of fabric and kept walking in his ripped shirt.

He went over it in his mind. No one will notice the tear, he convinced himself. He would try to stand so that no one could seeit,and would buy a new shirt in a few days. He was a different man than he’d been yesterday when he was unemployed.

He entered the office owned by a certain businessman. (Hewas one of those men who appeared on the scenequite suddenly: rich, with an unknown past.All anyone knew was that he was a businessman. Since when, how? No one knew).

But… why should he care? It was none of his business, what mattered to him was this job, everything else was unimportant. He would work hard,prove his skills, and move up in life. Maybe this job would even open up other doors among the business elite.

The water would be turned back on, he wouldn’t need to do without the things on his ‘marginallist’– he’d have everything on the list every single month. He would buy a new bathroom door, install it himself, and repair the floor.He would fix thewarped front door soon, too. They wouldn’t need to skimp on sugar in their tea any more, even if it washealthier, and he would… he would… he would… He let himself sink into daydreams.

He reached the businessman’s office on the second floor, and gazed at the beautiful door,solid and well-made. It must be from a factory that makes doors and windows and other things, or maybe it’s imported, he thought to himself. At any rate, it definitely hadn’t come from a workshop in thenearby industrial zone.

A sleek, elegant plaque was affixed up high, engraved with the word: DIRECTOR.

He felt the door, how cold it was, and took a deep breath. He grasped the handle, and said to himself: I’ve done it; at last I’ve made it into the world.

But… What was wrong with it?! Why wouldn’t it open? Was it warped like his front door? Or off its hinges like his bathroom door? Did it snatch clothing like the bus door?

He turned the handlea few times, knocked, knocked again, and then again, with no response.

An office boy passed by.

‘Is the director in?’ he asked the boy.

‘You want the boss?’

‘Of course I do, why else d’you think I asked?’ he snapped.

‘Are you Amr Ahmed?’

‘Yes that’s me, in flesh and blood.’

‘Sorry, the boss said that when you arrived, to tell you that the position was offered to someone else, and he’d taken it.’

‘What! What are you talking about?’

‘Honest, that’s what happened.’

Injustice… anger… rebellion. He banged on the door and tried to force it open… and the hole in his shirt ripped further. What would happen to his children? He’d put all his hopes on this job, he deserved it, he was qualified, why had it been given to someone else? Why?!

He wouldn’t leave without getting an answer to his questions, without knowing the reason. He thought about his situation, his house, his ‘marginallist’, his brothers who trickled support to him, his warped front door, the propped up bathroom door.

Exhausted by everything he had been through, and desperately tired of thinking about tomorrow, he threw himself to the ground before the director’s door and cried.

He cried feverishly, in defeat, out of a sense of injustice, and he lay there, intermittently lifting his gaze, wishing for it to open or for someone to look out. His wait stretched on, and the door stayed impassively shut.

Call for Reviews

If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email info@jadaliyya.com

 

The Book of Cairo

Edited by Raph Cormack

 

About the Book

Founded over a thousand years ago under the sign of Mars “the victorious”, Cairo has long been a welcoming destination for explorers and tourists, drawn by traces of the ancient cities of Memphis and Heliopolis. More recently, the Egyptian capital has become a city determined to forget. Since 2013, the events of the “Arab Spring” have been gradually erased from its official history.

The present is now contested as writers are imprisoned, publishing houses raided, and independent news sites shut down. With a new Administrative Capital being built in the desert east of Cairo, the city’s future is also unclear.

Here ten new voices offer tentative glimpses into Cairene life, at a time when writing directly about Egypt’s greatest challenges is often too dangerous. With intimate views of life, tinged with satire, surrealism, and humour, these stories guide us through the slums and suburbs, bars and backstreets of a city haunted by an unspoken past.
About the Author and Contributors

Raph Cormack is a translator, editor and author with a PhD in modern Arabic literature. He has worked as a translator for Egyptian playwright Ali Salem as well as running his own Arabic translation blog which has featured work by Mohammed Taymur, Ahmed al-Kashif, and Mohammed Ahmed Mahjoub, among others.

Hassan Abdel Mawgoud (b. 1976) is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction.  He has published two novels and two short story collections . His novel Cat’s Eye won a Sawiris Cultural Prize in 2005 and has been translated into German. His work of non-fiction, Stories of the Monks of Wadi Natrun, won an Egyptian cultural journalism prize in 2003.

Eman Abdelrahim  (b. 1983) began writing on literary blogs. In 2012 she wrote the script for the Egyptian animated series People from the Dragon’s Eye. This story comes from her first collection, published in 2013. In 2015 she won a Sawiris Cultural Prize for the book.

Nael Eltoukhy (b. 1978) is a writer, journalist and translator. He has published one collection of short stories and four novels. His novel, Women of Karentina, was translated into English and published by the American University in Cairo Press in 2014. His Arabic translation of the Hebrew book Rachel and Ezezkiel by Almog Behar was published in 2016. He also works as a journalist at the independent news site Mada Masr.

Areej Gamal is a young writer and film critic. She published her first collection of short stories, One Table for Love, in 2014. The story feature comes from her second collection, Churches Don’t Fall in War, published in 2017.

Hatem Hafez: (b. 1974) is a writer, academic, translator and journalist. He has written 8 plays and one novel, Because Things Happen (2009). The story featured here is from his first collection of short stories, Biscuit and Molasses. His second collection of short stories was published in 2017. Hafez has won several dramatic prizes, including the Best Play at the Festival of Arabic Theatre in 1996 for the play The Final Act and the Fawzi Fahmy Prize for Drama from Cairo University in 2009.

Hend Jaʿfar (b. 1985) is a writer and academic from Ismailiyya. She currently works in the Manuscripts department at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. This story is from her first collection published in 2015 by Merit, which shared the second place in the Sawiris Prize (Short Stories by Young Writers section).

Nahla Karam’s (b. 1989) first story story collection, To Hang in the Air, was published in 2013. Her story, “Tale from the Back Lines” was one of the winning stories in a Goethe Centre workshop and she won a trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair. Her novel, On Freud’s Couch was shortlisted for the Sawiris Prize in 2015. The story featured here comes from her latest collection, published in 2017.

Mohamed Kheir (b.1978) is a poet and prose writer. He has published two collections of poems in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic and one in Classical Arabic. He also published his first short story collection in 2008 and his first novel in 2013. The featured story comes from his second collection of short stories, Blink of an Eye, first published in 2014.

Ahmed Naji (b. 1985) is a writer and journalist who was given PEN/ Barbey Freedom to Write Award in 2016. His first novel, Rogers, was published in 2007 and his second novel, Use of Life, was published in 2014. Naji was arrested after an excerpt from his novel was published in Akhbar al-Adab. He was sentenced to two years in jail for violating public morality. The novel, Use of Life, has been translated into Italian and English. The story in this collection is the lends its title to his first collection of short stories, published in 2016 by Merit.

Mohamed Salah al-Azab  (b. 1981) was chosen as part of the prestigious Beirut 39 group of young Arab writers in 2009. He has written four novels and two short story collections. He has also written scripts for two Egyptian films.  In 2002 he won the Kuwaiti Suad al-Sabah Prize for the novel in 2002 and Egyptian state cultural prizes in 1999 and 2004. The featured story comes from his latest collection, published in 2016.

In the Media

Read an interview with editor Raph Cormack on ArabLit.

Praise for The Book of Cairo

‘[The Book of Cairo] has no need for camels or pyramids or an exaggeration of whatever the Western eye is looking for. Reading it feels like sitting in a cafe in Cairo with young literary men and women, listening to their stories that dig deep into what Cairo is and is not.’ – Asymptote Journal

‘In the introduction, the editor says that this book “tells the story of a city that is struggling to forget”, and indeed, the old memories of its history still live deeply in its heart.’ – Egyptian Streets

The Book of Cairo sheds light on life and laughter in the Egyptian city through short stories’ – Interview with editor Raph Cormack and author Eman Abdelrahim in The National

‘The slim volume of only 85 pages makes a perfect addition for any collector of modern Arabic fiction in translation, but also a great choice to slip into your bag to dip into during your daily commute or place on your nightstand…’ – Mel Plant, The New Arab

 

Additional Information

April 2019

112 pages

£9.99 (list price)

ISBN: 9781910974254

Where to Purchase

Comma Press

 

Excerpt

From “Talk” by Mohammed Kheir:

I was beset on all sides by the rumours. It wasn’t long after seeing my name in that newspaper article – ‘Doctor Forgets Surgical Scissors in Patient’s Stomach’ – that I was clearing out my clinic. I kept telling people I wasn’t even a surgeon, that I never performed any operations, and that the newspaper article was a big mistake. None of it did any good. Even after I published a lengthy rebuttal in the same paper, allegations on the internet continued to surface, claiming I had been ‘referred for investigation’ and had been ‘barred from working.’ ‘Murderous Surgeon Still Receiving Patients: Where’s the Doctors’ Union?’ ran another angry headline, contradicting the online rumours. Between one newspaper article and another, I read several extremely arrogant and ignorant replies – somehow written under my own name – to the newspaper’s questions. No one had ever asked me those questions, but my supposed replies further incensed the reading public, and people began asking themselves: ‘Who will protect us?’

Before long, this nightmare relocated entirely into the realm of reality; I found myself sitting on the floor of my clinic and staring at the gathering dust, which was now empty even of footprints.

Then Hasna suddenly cut ties with me. At first, I thought she was simply walking out on me because times had become hard, but one day she fell apart in our bedroom. She confronted me with ‘the truth’ and passed judgement on me, claiming there must be a woman who was ‘taking revenge on me by spreading the rumours.’ She made me listen as she read out the emails and letters she had ‘patiently endured’ over the past few weeks, which had come to her from everywhere, warning her about me and revealing how I was ‘deceiving’ her. She felt she was in danger, and I was too shocked in that moment to find an appropriate response. In any man’s pleading, innocence and guilt are one and the same, since both the innocent and the guilty issue the same denials.

This is how my home, following my clinic’s lead, came to be empty too. I made desperate attempts to restore my reputation. I now knew how it felt to be scorned by everyone, even the doorman to my own building. Those suicidal thoughts I had said goodbye to after my teenage years awoke in me once more, and, at night, as I paced between the living room and the balcony, I began to ask myself: if I jump, should I do it wearing my pyjamas, or should I dress for the occasion? Should I do it with eyes open or closed?

Some time after this, I woke up one afternoon beside an almost empty bottle. I was about to polish it off, but I saw that evening was coming back around quickly, and that things were about to repeat themselves. So I resolved to break the cycle. I started leaving the house again and walked to far-off neighbourhoods where no one knew who I was. To tell the truth, I usually made my way to the bars in those neighbourhoods, to sit in a corner and look at the other lonely faces. I never tried to imagine the stories behind those faces. I just stared at them with nothing but hatred in my heart.

One of those nights, an old friend of mine called Hussein came and sat down near me. At first, I didn’t recognise him, nor he me, but we gradually became aware of one another and started talking. It was a pretty incoherent conversation, but as the night and the wine wore on, he suddenly began to cry. He said his conscience couldn’t bear it anymore. He borrowed a pen from the waiter and wrote a name on one of the napkins on our table, which he proceeded to hand to me: ‘This man’s behind everything that’s happened to you.’

I stared at the name in surprise. I wasn’t familiar with it. ‘Is he a doctor too?’ I asked Hussein.

‘No, an architect,’ Hussein replied, before leaving me in a state of shock.

I gave them a fake name when I called. And when my appointment came round, I headed over to his office, hoping to enter the building one man and leave another. I hesitated at the door to the ornate architecture consultancy office and read the name of its owner – the same name Hussein had written down on the napkin. I ran over the various scenarios I had prepared in my mind that would help broach the matter at hand, but the prospect of the whole story amounting to no more than the ravings of a drunkard cast a long shadow. In the end I told myself to simply go in, let the cards fall where they may. The only thing I had to lose was my despair.

A young woman led me inside. As I followed her down the corridor, I noticed how gracefully she walked – it reminded me of Hasna. I shook my head, took a deep breath, and entered the large office she had brought me to. I was received at the door by a man of medium height with a huge stomach. He was wearing a full suit and a welcoming smile that faded as soon my face came into the light. He looked at me for a moment before taking a seat behind his desk. The secretary closed the door, and I sat down in turn, my heartbeat quickening.

He studied a piece of paper in front of him and read the fake name I had given the secretary, then looked up at me and smiled: ‘Welcome, Doctor. Why this deception?’

I did not reply; all the scenarios I had imagined evaporated. The architect continued, ‘I suppose, then, we could say that this appointment is also fake. Doesn’t that seem like a fair conclusion?’

I maintained my silence, so he went on: ‘Who sent you? Never mind, it’s not important. I hope you’re not taking the whole thing personally. You don’t know me, and I didn’t know you either. I was just doing my job, nothing more.’

I stared at the elegant desk: ‘Your job?’

He stared at the desk in turn, as if he were as surprised as I was: ‘This? No, Doctor, I’m talking about what brought you here. It’s very regrettable, it’s a real shame, Doctor, I swear. As for this office – and the secretary, the sketches, the designs – it’s all a show, a cover, you could even call it a ‘rumour.’ You’ve had some experience with rumours lately, haven’t you? Sorry, I’m very sorry, that’s flippant of me. Please accept my apology.’

‘You’re not an architect then?’ I asked, utterly lost.

He responded with displeasure: ‘Of course I’m an architect. What kind of person do you take me for, Doctor? An idiot? A freeloader? A fake? I have a talent. Don’t you have a talent? Or some hobbies? Of course you do – all doctors have a talent. Do you write literature – poetry, perhaps? Do you paint?’

‘I’ve got some talent. Or rather, I used to have some. And you? What’s your talent? Destroying reputations?’

He shook his head so forcefully that the whole of his massive stomach quivered along with it: ‘No, Doctor, please, that’s a shameful misrepresentation. But you haven’t had anything to drink. That’s not right, it’s just not right – what are you drinking?’

I had imagined that, within the first few minutes of entering the place, I would have my hands around the man’s neck, but the dizziness that crept over me led me to respond in the same simple way: ‘Coffee with sugar.’

He laughed as he got up: ‘Coffee? Coffee?’

He pulled aside a curtain in the corner of the room, revealing a full bar – not a wine closet, mind you, but a real bar, albeit a small one, with a table and chairs and a sofa. He turned on the light and stood there, welcoming me like a dear friend: ‘Please, Doctor, come on in.’

I followed him, and he pulled aside another curtain – this one in front of a window – so we could look out on Cairo at night. We sat down at the table and he poured two glasses of something he said he could ‘personally vouch for.’ He handed me my glass while I observed the delicate grace of his movements, which belied his size. He pointed out the window: ‘What do you think of the view? Wonderful, isn’t it? What were we saying? Oh yes, we were saying that that’s a shameful misrepresentation, quite offensive. Destroying reputations, Doctor? That’s an insult. An insult I’m willing to overlook, since you’re my guest.’

I held my rage in check, which didn’t require much effort, since my bewilderment and my despair – together with the glass in my hand – were having a pacifying effect on me: ‘Excuse me, but I believe my reputation was destroyed. I think’s that’s precisely what happened to me. There’s no other name for it. It’s not a misrepresentation at all.’

He leaned forward and replied in a strange tone, as if it to reproach me: ‘But doctor, haven’t you ever made any mistakes? What’s the difference between (and here he made quotation marks with his fingers) ‘Scissors Forgotten in Patient’s Stomach’ and… Before I continue, I should say I know you’re not a surgeon. Still, haven’t you ever made a mistake? Haven’t you ever diagnosed something as a simple stomach ache, for example, when it turned out to be much more serious?’

A distant memory arose in my mind, but I quickly stifled it and said: ‘Everyone makes mistakes.’

Call for Reviews

If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email info@jadaliyya.com

 

The Book of Tehran

Edited by Fereshteh Ahmadi

 

About the Book

A city of stories – short, fragmented, amorphous, and at times contradictory – Tehran is an impossible tale to tell. For the capital city of one of the most powerful nations in the Middle East, its literary output is rarely acknowledged in the West. This unique celebration of its writing brings together ten stories exploring the tensions and pressures that make the city what it is: tensions between the public and the private, pressures from without – judgemental neighbours, the expectations of religion and society – and from within – family feuds, thwarted ambitions, destructive relationships. The psychological impact of these pressures manifests in different ways: a man wakes up to find a stranger relaxing in his living room and starts to wonder if this is his house at all; a struggling writer decides only when his girlfriend breaks his heart will his work have depth… In all cases, coping with these pressures leads us, the readers, into an unexpected trove of cultural treasures – like the burglar, in one story, descending into the basement of a mysterious antique collector’s house – treasures of which we, in the West, are almost wholly ignorant.

About the Author and Contributors

Atoosa Afshin-Navid (b.1975) is a short story writer and creative writing instructor. Afshin-Navid has three published collections: Chicken Colonel, Chalk and Lukewarm Tea and One, Two, Three, Writing.

Fereshteh Ahmadi is an Iranian novelist, short story writer, literary critic and editor. She studied architecture at The University of Tehran before pursuing a career in writing in the late 1990s as a journalist, writing reports, reviews and weekly columns for dailies and literary magazines. She has been a member of the jury of Golshiri and Rouzi-Rouzegari awards and has won several literary prizes for both her novels and short fiction. Her novels include The Fairy of Forgetfulness and Cheese Forest.

Kourosh Asadi (1964-2017) is one of the most important pupils of influential Iranian writer Houshang Golshiri. Asadi has published four short story collections, The Shell-PlayerThe National Garden (winner of the 2004 Golshiri Award), The Aquamarine Dome, and Where the Sight Ends as well as a novel titled The Alley of Lost Clouds.

Azardokht Bahrami (b. 1966) is a screenwriter and novelist known for her sense of humor. Her first short story collection, Wednesday Nights, received the 2007 Rouzi-Rouzegari Award as well as the Press Writers and Critics Award. The title story also won the 2004 Sadeq Hedayat Short Story Award. Blunders Blog and Water, Sky are two of her novels.

Hamed Habibi (b. 1979) is a poet and writer of books for children and adults. Habibi’s debut collection of stories, Moon and Copper, received the 2004 Isfahan Literary Award, and his second short story collection Where Fixing Punctures is Final won the 2007 Golshiri Award. His third collection The Buddha of Gerbard Restaurant also won him the 2011 Haft-Eqlim Award. He has recently published two more books: a novel titled At the 11th Kilometer On Old Urmia to Salmas Highway and a short story collection, Fish Eyelid.

Mohammad Hosseini (b. 1972) is a journalist, editor and writer. In 2006, Hosseini received the Golshiri and Mehregan Awards for his debut novel Bluer than Sin. His other publications include the short story collections One of These Days, Maria and Don’t Compromise, Mina as well as a novel titled Those Who Are Not Us, for which he received the 2017 Book of the Year Award of Qazvin Province.

Amir-Hossein Khorshidfar (b. 1981) is a short story writer, translator and literary journalist. Khorshidfar’s debut book for adults (notwithstanding a number of children’s books he had previously published) is a short story collection titled Life Goes on According to Your Will. Widely praised by critics, the book received the Golshiri, Mehregan and Rouzi-Rouzegari awards. He has recently published two more books: a short story collection titled Betting on a Race Horse, and a novel titled The Tehranis.

Payam Nasser (b. 1969) is an Iranian writer praised by critics for the creativity and effectiveness of his stories and lauded for both of his books, his debut short story collection Consternation (2012) and his novel The Trifles Thief.

Goli Taraghi (b, 1931) is an acclaimed Iranian novelist and short story writer. Some of her best-known works include the novel, Winter Sleep, and short story collections Scattered Memories, Another Place, The Second Chance, and An Occurrence.  Taraghi was the recipient of the 2009 Bita Prize for Literature and Freedom, and has also been honoured as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France

Mohammad Tolouei (b. 1979) is a poet, storywriter, screenwriter, and playwright as well as a published translator. He has published two short story collections; I’m not Janette (for which he received the Golshiri Award in 2012) and Lessons by Father, and two novels Fair Wind’s Prey and Anatomy of Depression (which won multiple awards)In 2016 he was a finalist of the Chehel Literary Award for Under-Forty Talents.

In the Media

Read an interview with editor Raph Cormack on ArabLit.

Praise for The Book of Tehran

‘Perhaps this is how the stories of all cities should be told — so intimately that there is no need to announce where you are… By bringing truly local writers to international audiences, Comma Press is bringing forth voices that do not pander to western expectations. Publishing like this is crucial if we are to level our world and make its stories more democratic.’ The News on Sunday

‘Fiction exploring the interior life of contemporary Iranians is not well represented in translations readily available in the West. The Book of Tehran aims to begin to redress the shortage…’ – Asian Review of Books

‘Tehran is nowhere and yet everywhere – a spectre, a place from where people run, and those that don’t end up invisible… these stories are desolate, a kind of electric handshake with Iranian literature. And that tingle lingers long.’ – Open Pen London

‘The stories translated from the original Persian haven’t lost the idiomatic rhythm and nuances, and explore the lives of ordinary citizens of an extraordinary city with a rich cultural heritage and a dynamic, youthful population, torn between tradition and modernity.’ – Word of Colour

 

Additional Information

March 2019

152 pages

£9.99 (list price)

ISBN: 9781910974247

Where to Purchase

Comma Press

 

Excerpt

From “Wake it Up” by Payam Nasser:

When I opened the sack, I realised that almost everything in it belonged in the rubbish. There were a lot of outdated documents, empty boxes, old t-shirts and vests. I didn’t know why I had lugged all that junk to the new apartment. The only thing that attracted my attention was a white leather bag with a few pockets that could hold documents. With that in mind, I could get rid of the detestable Samsonite briefcase. At first the bag seemed empty, but digging into its pockets I found a black padlock. I needed a lock for the storage room door, but I quickly concluded that this one was too small for that purpose and tossed it towards the bin. The flung item twirled in the air a few times and fell straight into the target. I was pleased with my shot. The bin was more than three metres away and a successful shot required a good degree of luck. I again dug into the bag and an empty box of tooth floss came into my grasp. Once more, I aimed at the bin. This time I was a bit worried. I guess second shots are always more anxiety-provoking, especially if the first one was a success. The second one, too, landed in the target.

Again, I reached into one of the pockets and this time I took out an adhesive bandage. One of those old Tensoplus tapes with a cartoon image of a boy holding out a finger as though making a crude gesture.

Then, in order, I extracted a pink eraser, a Gillette razor, and a caramel candy wrapped in clear foil, all of which headed for the bin. I squeezed the leather bag to make sure nothing else remained hidden in its pockets. It seemed empty. I turned it upside down and shook it hard for the remaining scraps to fall out. A small piece of paper fluttered out like a little pet bird whose cage door had been flung open. The paper had been folded multiple times so that its dimensions barely exceeded three centimeters.

One by one, I unfolded the folds and came upon a letter that had been written to me on my birthday three years earlier.

My darling,

I really wanted to give you your birthday gift tomorrow, but I won’t be able to buy it before I see you. So, I give you a gift that has plenty of things in it, my things  an eraser, a lock, a razor, a candy, a box of tooth floss, and an adhesive bandage.

I love you,

Kimia

It was strange that I had forgotten all about the letter. I read it several times. Then I folded it again as it had been folded before, and I had just put it back in the bag when the sound of the doorbell caught me off-guard. I looked at my watch. It was fifteen minutes to seven. It couldn’t have been the little boy; he had never shown up at that hour of the evening. I put the bag on the bed and went and looked through the peephole. To my surprise it was him, holding that day’s loot. The landing had grown dark and I couldn’t clearly see what he had brought with him. Something like a crumpled shawl was draped over his arm. I thought, whatever it is, this time I will accept his gift. But when I opened the door, I froze. The boy was standing there like a lifeless statue, tightly embracing the corpse of the kitten with its head crushed. I squatted down in front of him and carefully examined the cat as he held it out to me. Its mangled scull was a frightening and grisly sight, yet the boy didn’t seem to dread holding that deformed animal in his arms. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the ill-fated cat had been caught under the wheel of a car in the garage.

What happened next stunned me a second time. In a voice that rose from deep in his throat, the boy said, ‘Wake it up.’

Until that moment, I had not heard him speak a single word, and now he was asking me to bring the corpse of a kitten back to life for him. Then, countering my dumbstruck expression, he repeated his request.

‘Wake it up.’

All I managed to do in response was to warily clear my throat. Honestly, what could I have said? Just then, I remembered the decision I had made earlier to accept his gift. For an instant, the thought crossed my mind that this was a sign. I wondered: How could it be that the gift I had waited to accept turned out to be a dead cat? Was this really a message meant for me? I took the cat from the boy and carefully looked at its head and face. I considered the possibility that it may have simply fainted. I contemplated whether animals, too, could lose consciousness as the result of a heavy blow to the head, or would they simply die and that’s that? One of the animal’s eyes remained half-open and spiritless. Its other eye – in fact, its right eye – was shut, and there was a ring of brown coagulated blood around it. When I looked up, I saw tears welling in the boy’s eyes. Large, warm teardrops. He was looking with repugnance at the dried blood on his hands. The child was crying with his mouth closed the way adults do. I thought it best not to allow the sight of blood to cause him even greater distress. I put the cat on my knee in such a way so that he wouldn’t see its face, and I rubbed the stains off the boy’s palms with my fingers. I looked at those two small hands, at their lines and childlike form. His fingers, unlike those of most children his age, were slim and elongated. His thumb nails were far too short, so much so that they seemed deformed and underdeveloped. I stared at them, hoping they would convey something to me.

If I had brought the boy’s dead cat to life at that very moment, he would not have been the least bit surprised. He would have taken the resuscitated animal to the garage and moments later his rasping laughter would start again, and the secret would have remained safely between us for eternity. Before me stood a young boy with steely resolve, who staunchly believed I was capable of granting his lost friend a second life. Or perhaps he imagined that it was the least he deserved for all the gifts he had brought to my door.

Years later, as the boy grew into a man, now and then a faded image of that shocking incident would pass through his mind. He would search among the hidden folds of his memory for that winter dusk of his childhood years, when a man had brought a kitten back to life for him. Then he would chuckle at that sweet, hazy memory, and would try to forget the childish fantasy his imagination had concocted.

That which I did not have the power to do was like a void growing inside me. Perhaps facing reality did not satiate a person, it drained them. Created a void that was neither dark nor bright. Neither wide nor deep. A corridor to nowhere. Perhaps the truth was what, years later, the boy would contrive of me in his probing mind, in that place where I will waken dead cats.

Against my will, I parted with my deceptive daydreams. I put on something warm and, together with the boy and his cat, we went to the building’s courtyard. I dug a deep hole in a small flower patch at the far end of the garden and buried the cat. During the ceremony, as he followed my every move with wonder, I painstakingly explained why dead creatures must be buried. I spoke of how it would make it easier for us to forget them. I told him that, sooner or later, they would melt into life’s intricate puzzle and return to us again in other ways. I said that the majesty of the puzzle is perhaps in it remaining a puzzle.

All along, the boy did not speak a word. Together we spent some time next to the flower patch. Then we climbed up the stairs. I walked him to his apartment and returned to mine. I emptied the contents of the bin and picked out a small lock, a Gillette razor, a pink eraser, a candy wrapped in clear foil, an empty box of tooth floss and an adhesive bandage, and put them on the bed. I read the letter one more time and then put everything back in the bag. The sky had turned completely dark. I looked out the window. One of the security guards had locked the market’s door and, one by one, was turning off the outside lights. Tomorrow, life and commotion would start again at the market.

Call for Reviews

If you would like to review the book for the Arab Studies Journal and Jadaliyya, please email info@jadaliyya.com