Modern Arabic Short Stories: A Bilingual Reader by Daniel L. Newman, Ronak Husni

Next month – June (1st) – we shall discuss the second half of Modern Arabic Short Stories: A Bilingual Reader by Daniel L. Newman, Ronak Husni. This work features twelve stories by contemporary masters from Morocco to Iraq. The twelve stories collected here are by leading authors of the short story form in the Middle East today. We read the first half for our meeting in May.

In addition to works by writers already well-known in the West such as Idwar al-Kharrat, Fuad al-Takarli and Nobel Prize-winning Naguib Mahfouz, key authors whose fame has hitherto been restricted to the Middle East are also included. This bilingual reader is ideal for students of Arabic as well as lovers of literature who wish to broaden their appreciation of the work of Middle Eastern writers. The collection features stories in both English and Arabic, prefaced by a brief author biography plus notes on context and background. Each story is followed by a glossary and discussion of problematic language points.

Ronak Husni is a senior lecturer at Heriot-Watt University where she teaches Arabic language, literature and translation. Daniel L. Newman is Course Director of the MA in Arabic/English Translation at the University of Durham. He has also published An Imam in Paris (Saqi).

First 6 Stories:
The Tale of the Lamp by Izz al-Din al-Madini
A Lonely Woman by Zakariyya Tamir
The Sacred Tree by Ibrahim al-Faqih
The Book of the Dead by Ibrahim al-Faqih
Quismati and Nasibi by Najib Mahfuz
Yasmine’s Picture
by Hanan al-SHaykh

Second 6 Stories:
The Night and the Sea by Muhammad Shukri
At the Theatre by Idwar al-Kharrat
Ancestral Hair by Salwa Bakr
A Hidden Treasure by Fuad al-Takarli
Night of Torment by Layla al-Uthman
A Tray from Heaven by Yusuf Idris

ISBN: 0863564364 / ISBN13: 9780863564369

The gallery is not ordering copies, readers can purchase books individually – links and details below. Note each book is in Arabic and English – so readers can follow in both languages from the same book. You can purchase the book from Saqi books.  (Note takes 7-10 days for air delivery to UAE and 3-8 weeks by sea) or from Al Libris.

Discussion from the first half of the book:

The following topics for discussion are therefore reflecting on the diversity of the stories, without looking for one common thread or conclusive point about each author.

  • Many of the stories we read utilize humor or the surprise twist in the short story, commonality from the editor’s selection? Common tool useful in the short story format?
  • Difference between your approach as a reader, depending on approaching a short story vs our normal fare of novels and novellas?
  • For those who read all or part of the stories in both languages, how did your sense of the translation or the different character of the work in the different languages change the experience of the stories?
  • Did you make use of the notes at the end of the stories? Why or why not?
  • Many of the works have a reflection on power, cautioning against interpersonal power differences leading to manipulation as well as power on the state level. How are parallels drawn? How are the interpersonal (literally in the case of Quismati and Nasibi) perhaps metaphors for the political?
  • Izz al-Din al-Madani’s The Tale of the Lamp is evocative of 1001 Arabian Nights and folk tales in general, specifically the adventure format of the fairytale, yet is very modern in its tone.
    • Does it read like a moralistic tale? If so, what moral do you walk away with?
    • To what time period do you read this tale in: ie. does your experience change to try to read a contemporary allegory (as it was written somewhere between 1950/80s)?
  • A Lonely Woman by Zakariyya Tamir is a short but very graphicly moving tale of a woman seduced by a charlatan (and the jinns) who she goes to in search of an answer for her husband’s roving eye.
    • Does Aziza know in her heart what has happened?
    • This is a powerful commentary on the dangers of superstitions and letting fear direct one’s life, similar in some ways to Ibrahim al-Faqih’s story that follows.
  • The Sacred Tree by Ibrahim al-Faqih brings us into the heart of a battle between mystic, traditional beliefs surrounding a sacred tree and the brutality of the state, in a modern repressive regime.
    • What larger context is this story set in? Does it transcend the specific context to speak universally?
    • The police chief’s unwaivering smile for the camera, even as he is shot, is a clear comment on the vanity power.
  • Ibrahim al-Faqih’s The Book of the Dead explores the internal life of a rather traditional male teacher at a boy’s school, upon finding the first female student ever in his class (fear, suspicion, anger, eroticism, confusion, disgust).
    • Do you have sympathy for the schoolteacher?
    • Great example of creating one’s own destiny – how do his other relationships or lack thereof create this situation?
    • This is an excerpt, what do you imagine happens outside of this story?
    • Some readers felt this story stood as an allegory of a powerful regime threatened by an oppressed group / group it did not understand. Does it read like an allegory for clashing cultural view points?
  • Najib Mahfuz’s story, Quismati and Nasibi story of the conjoined twins is alarming and perhaps a metaphor for the human condition: being of two minds, the striving to be both the lustful/playful and the spiritual/contemplative…as well as the experience of two diverse communities are linked — diametrically opposed yet joined at the hip. With of course painful repercussions.
    • What allegory do you think Mahfuz had in mind for this story?
    • How does this relate to Mahfuz’s other work, including Cairo Trilogy, which we read for April?
  • Hanan al-Shaykh’s Yasmine’s Picture is, as much of -Shaykh’s work, a look at the very human lives of those living with post traumatic stress or the current stress of civil war.
    • The husband never makes a choice of his own (wife chooses him, sister-in-law tells him to move, etc) – is Yasmine is attempt to own a piece of himself?  Or, is the statement that he ‘never makes a choice for himself’ simply that a reflection of his lack of ability to take responsibility for his own choices?
    • This is also a love story of sorts, or an out of love story, a reflection of the way a fantasy can provide a source of escapism – and the way one can know and not know someone one ‘loves’ is married to or has an infatuation with.  Was it something you could relate to outside of the war experience?
    • Does he snap out of it because he was in love with the idea of creating someone from her things? from his realization that the actual woman was different than imagined? in your mind, does he remain infatuated after, say six months from now?

2 comments on “Modern Arabic Short Stories: A Bilingual Reader by Daniel L. Newman, Ronak Husni

  1. cindy says:

    hi there, i’m thinking of buying this book for an arabic friend who is looking to improve his english. do you think it would be appropriate? thank you. 🙂

    • readkutub says:

      Hi Cindy
      Yes we would recommend this book. It is a great way to have short stories directly next to one another in both languages. It helps to be able to look easily back and forth between the languages.

      AND, they’re entertaining!

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