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Winning voices from the Arab Revolutions

Omer Karasapan's picture
Three of the six books to receive the 2013 English PEN Award for outstanding writing in translation are by Arab authors. This award goes to works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry supporting inter-cultural understanding and freedom of expression. These are the three:
  • The Silence and the Roar by Syria's Nihad Sirees, translated from the Arabic by Max Weiss, Pushkin Press.
  • Writing Revolution: The Voices from Tunis to Damascus edited by Lebanon's Leyla Al-Zubaidi, and Matthew Cassel and Nemonie Craven Roderick, translated from the Arabic and French by Robin Moger, I B Tauris.  
  • Horses of God by Morocco's Mahi Binebine, translated from the French by Lulu Norman, Granta Books.
     

None of the translations are out on sale as yet and readers will have to wait until 2013 to get their hands on the books, but all can be ordered from actual and virtual book sellers.

So what were the winning attractions in the three books? 

Syria's Nihad Sirees, born in 1950 and an engineer by education is well known in the Arab world both for his novels (Cancer, The North Wind, A Case of Passion) as well as plays and TV serials. Forced to leave Syria in 2012, he went to Egypt and is now at Brown University in the US. The Silence and The Roar is a Kafkaesque tale in which an author in an imaginary and deliberately unnamed dictatorship turns himself over to the authorities after having his identity papers seized as he was trying help a young man being beaten by the police. What follows is a irony-laced trip through the labyrinth of the security services' bureaucracy. For more on Nihad Sirees, check out this interview in Jadaliyya.

Layla Al-Zubaidi and Matthew Cassel's  Writing Revolution: The Voices from Tunis to Damascus brings together an exciting compendium of new writing coming out of the Arab revolutions. These testimonies from participants and witnesses to these momentous events from Cairo to Damascus and Tunis to Bahrain and beyond,  provide a unique perspective to the deep changes that the region is undergoing.  There is much here in terms of both political and poetic engagement dealing with issues of identity and activism.

Mahi Binebine's Horses of God has already received the  2010 Prix du Roman Arabe and the Prix Littéraire Mamounia. It is also a movie of the same name by director Nabil Yaouch. The author was born in Marrakech in 1959. He went on to study in Paris where he taught mathematics until he became a well known painter. He moved to New York for a period in the late 1990s and the Guggenheim acquired some of his paintings. His book follows the lives of four poor boys raised in the shantytown of Sidi Moumen near Casablanca and is inspired by the 2003 terrorist attacks committed by 14 suicide bombers in Casa. The novel tries to understand the motivation behind these horrific events and the appeal of this path.

Also of note is that in October 2012, Syrian journalist and author Samar Yazbek was named the Pen Pinter International Writer of  Courage, sharing the prize with Britain's Poet Laurate Carol Ann Duffy. Yazbek was recognized for her book A Women in the Crossfire, an account of the revolution from inside Syria. Yazbek was born in 1970 and is the author of several novels and other writings - for more see the following from the New York Times. She has since left Syria the and is currently in exile in Europe.