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BULAQ | بولاق
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BULAQ | بولاق

Author: Ursula Lindsey and M Lynx Qualey

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BULAQ is a podcast about contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa. We talk about books written in Aleppo, Cairo, Marrakech and beyond. We look at the Arab region through the lens of literature, and we look at literature -- what it does, why it matters, how it relates to society and history and politics -- from the point of view of this part of the world. BULAQ is hosted by Ursula Lindsey and M Lynx Qualey and co-produced by Sowt.
79 Episodes
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In Aziz Muhammad’s The Critical Case of a Man Named K, an unnamed narrator is diagnosed with leukemia. His 40-week journal, shaped by his readings of Kafka, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, sarcastically and movingly documents his alienation from his body, his surroundings and even, eventually, from books. Show Notes:  An interview with translator Humphrey Davies. We also talked about a few other works where protagonists are diagnosed with cancer:Shahla Ujayli’s A Sky So Close to Us, translated by Michelle Hartman (Interlink Books); Radwa Ashour’s Heavier than Radwa (Dar Al Shorouk), although this is a memoir; Haifa al-Bitar’s A Woman of This Modern Age (Dar Saqi); Hassan Daoud’s No Road to Paradise, translated by Marilyn Booth (Hoopoe Fiction). We also mention some Saudi books that have won awards or attracted international attention, such as Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea and The Dove’s Necklace by Raja Alem.
Aftershocks

Aftershocks

2021-04-2255:56

An earthquake inspired Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Agadir, published in French in 1967 and translated to English by Jake Syersack and Pierre Joris. Part playtext, part novel, part political essay, part poem, this insurrection of a book takes as its starting point the devastating 1960 earthquake that struck the Moroccan city.  Show Notes:  We also talked about a few recently published and forthcoming poetry collections. Mohamed Stitou’s Two Half Faces, translated by David Colmer (Phoneme Media) Ra’ad Abdulqadir’s Except for This Unseen Thread, translated by Mona Kareem (Ugly Duckling Presse) Ibn Arabi’s The Translator of Desires, translated by Michael Sells (Princeton University Press) Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger’s Agitated Air: Poems After Ibn Arabi (Tenement Press).
Women In Love and In Lust

Women In Love and In Lust

2021-04-0801:08:19

We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers brings together fiction and poetry by more than 70 women over a span of more than 1500 years. Editor Selma Dabbagh talks about why it’s hard to write about sex, and the difficult balance of reaching readers. Show Notes:  The digital launch of We Wrote in Symbols, published by Saqi Books, is scheduled for April 29, hosted by the Arab British Centre. Hanan al-Shaykh, Yasmine Seale, Saida Rouass, lisa luxx, and collection editor Selma Dabbagh will be there. There will also be a workshop launch with Marina Warner, Wen-chin Ouyang, and Emily Selove at Birbeck in June, as part of their Arabic in Translation series. The collection drew classic works from, among other places, two anthologies: Classical Poems by Arab Women: A Bilingual Anthology, edited and translated by Abdullah al Udhari, and The Poetry of Arab Women from the Pre-Islamic Age to Andalusia, edited and translated by Wessam Elmeligi. Shereen El Feki’s Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World was published in 2013. Leila Slimani’s Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World was translated by Sophie Lewis and came out last year. Lina Mounzer’s “Going Beyond the Veil” talks about navigating the rocky territory of writing about sex as an Arab woman.
We Read Ramallah

We Read Ramallah

2021-03-2556:04

The Book of Ramallah collects stories set in and around Palestine’s administrative capital, which, Maya Abu Al-Hayat writes in her introduction, “represents this mirage, this glimmer of hope that isn’t real, to many writers.” Show Notes:  Book of Ramallah, edited by Maya Abu Al-Hayat, is available from Comma Press. You can read “Love in Ramallah” by Ibrahim Nasrallah, translated by Mohammed Ghalaieny, at Bookanista. An excerpt from the introduction is available at The Irish Times. An excerpt of Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah, in Ahdaf Soueif’s translation, is available at Penguin Random. An except of Raja Shehaheh’s Palestinian Walks is available through PBS. “A Day in the Life of Abed Salama,” by Nathan Thrall, is at the New York Review. The Present, directed by Farah Nabulsi and co-written by Nabulsi and Hind Shoufani, is streaming on Netflix.
“Writer, criminal, and ex-journalist” Ahmed Naji released two books in 2020: the speculative fiction novel (والنمور لحجرتي) AndtheTigers to My Room (2020) and the nonfiction work (حرز مكمكم) Rotten Evidence: Reading and Writing in Prison (2020). Show Notes:  Find more about Ahmed’s books, short stories, and essays in Arabic and in English translation at ahmednaji.net/ An excerpt of Rotten Evidence appeared in The Believer in Katharine Halls’ excellent translation. Another excerpt appeared in The Michigan Quarterly Review. He spoke about the book in July 2019 at an event in New York City. Read a brief history of the court case against Ahmed at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP). Ahmed’s “Re-Writing the Future: The Tanta Museum of White History” appears in Arts of the Working Class. It too was translated by Katharine Halls.
Midnight in Cairo

Midnight in Cairo

2021-02-2401:04:461

Raph Cormack is author of the soon-to-be-released Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt’s Roaring ‘20s, which chronicles the lives of many of Egypt’s biggest stars of the early twentieth century. Show Notes:  Midnight in Cairo is coming from WW Norton on March 9, and Saqi Books and AUC Press on May 6. The Amar Foundation has an archive of Mounira al-Mahdiyya songs such as the one we end the show with, "اسمع اغاني المهدية" You can take an online class with Raph about “Cairo in the Roaring ‘20s” in April 2021. Raph also wrote about “Queer Life in Cairo in the 1920s” for the Gay and Lesbian Review.
Sex & Second Chances

Sex & Second Chances

2021-02-1059:481

Emma Ramadan translated two Moroccan novels in 2020: A Country for Dying by Abdellah Taïa & Straight from the Horse’s Mouth by Meryem Alaoui. They are very different books but they both feature sex workers. Show Notes: Find more about Emma’s current and forthcoming translations at emmaramadan.com/translations-1 The Moroccan film Much Loved was released in 2015. You can read more about it from Aida Alami:Moroccan Film About Prostitution Creates Uproar. Najat Bensalem starred in the film Raja in 2003 and was the subject of Abdellah El Jouahary’s documentary Raja Bent El Mellah, which came out in 2015. Emma’s co-translation, with Chris Clarke, of Abdellah Taïa’s "The Rain" Also Taïa’s "A Garden, While Waiting," which Emma translated for the PEN World Voices Translation Slam “Crossing Boundaries: 10 Moroccan Writers” - the special section Emma put together for Words Without Borders
Poet, artist and translator Yasmine Seale is at work on a fresh translation of the Thousand and One Nights. Show Notes:  An abbreviated version of The Nights will be coming out in Fall 2021, in Seale’s translation for W. W. Norton. The fuller Nights is currently set for 2023. You can follow the Nights Bot, with which Seale shares fragments of her translation, on Twitter.  You can watch a recording of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award 2020 The Bookseller Webinar -The global influence of the Arabian Nights, with Richard van Leeuwen, Marina Warner, and Yasmine Seale, on YouTube. You can read Seale’s talk with Veronica Esposito, “Wild Irreverence”: A Conversation about Arabic Translation with Yasmine Seale,  in World Literature Today. At the beginning of the episode Seale reads an excerpt from Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi’s Ta’tir al-anam fi tafsir al-ahlam, which is featured in the DREAMS issue of ArabLit Quarterly, released December 15. Seale also reads her poem “Conventional Wisdom,” which won the poetry category of the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. The Book of Travels by Ḥannā Diyāb -- the Syrian writer who related the Aladdin tale to Antoine Galland -- will be out from the Library of Arabic Literature, in Elias Muhanna’s translation, in May 2021. Seale has written the foreword to the first volume.
Paranormal

Paranormal

2020-12-0301:02:341

The adaptation of the Egyptian writer Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s hugely popular horror/fantasy series into the Netflix show Paranormal has excited and in some cases disappointed the writer’s avid fan base.  Show Notes:  Here is the trailer for Netflix’s Paranormal series, and an article about Tawfik, a hugely prolific writer of sci-fi, horror and fantasy stories who passed away in 2018.  We discuss this review by Ahmed Dia Dardir on the site 7iber and this one by Osama Youssef on MadaMasr.  We also mention Tawfik’s novel Utopia, the only one of his books to have been translated into English so far.
By listener demand, we re-read Season of Migration to the North, the 1966 classic by the Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih. Its unnamed narrator returns to his village “on a bend of the Nile” after being educated abroad -- and confronts the enigmatic figure of Mustafa Sa’eed, who also once emigrated North, and whose string of sexual relationships with Western women ended in tragedy. This iconic novel was instantly acclaimed in Arabic and in the 1969 English translation by Denys Johson-Davies. But it’s the only one of  Salih’s works that have achieved a wide readership in English. What is it about this novel that resists interpretation and demands re-reading? What makes it iconic? And why have his other books received so little attention? Show notes: Sofia Samatar’s ‘Dear Tayeb Salih’ Denys Johnson-Davies on ‘Season of Migration to the North’: Acclaimed for the Wrong ReasonAdil Babikir on ‘Mansi’: A Rare Book, and a Joy to Translate Raja Shehadeh on the ‘Book Of A Lifetime: Season of Migration to the North’ Questions: Why is this book so iconic, and why does it overshadow all Salih’s other work, such that his great Bandershah seems to be out of print? What do you think of Denys Johnson-Davies’ assertion that people are reading this novel all wrong? What’s the function of Mustafa Saeed’s story? Is he real?
The Pillar of Salt

The Pillar of Salt

2020-10-2101:00:501

We discuss the classic 1953 novel by the Jewish Tunisian Francophone writer Albert Memmi, who died this year. This sharp and beautiful book is many things: a coming of age story, an account of colonialism, and a World War II novel. Its driven, unhappy narrator breaks with his community and family in search of a new identity but is disappointed again and again. Like Lot’s wife in the Bible, he cannot help looking back on the past he rejects. He asks: “is it possible for me to survive my contemplation of myself?” Show Notes: The Pillar of Salt, translated from the French by Edouard Roditi, is available as an e-book. Memmi also wrote The Colonizer and The Colonized, an account of Tunisia’s first year of independence, Tunisie, An I and numerous other books.  We compared the book to Driss Chraibi’s The Simple Past, another post-colonial novel narrated by a very angry young man, which we dedicated a whole other episode to.  In the LRB, Adam Shatz recently wrote a wonderful essay discussing Memmi’s writings, political philosophy, and contradictions.
Revolt Against the Sun

Revolt Against the Sun

2020-10-0801:13:47

Nazik al-Mala’ika was an Iraqi woman poet of great influence and renown through the 1940s, 50s and 60s. She pioneered new poetic forms and re-invented a heritage of feminine, emotional, elegiac poetry-making. We are joined by scholar and translator Emily Drumsta to discuss a new bilingual collection of al-Mala’ika’s poetry, Revolt Against the Sun. The collection is coming out this month from Saqi Books in the UK and January 2021 in the US. We read from: “A Letter to Him,” from For Prayer and Revolution (1978) “Cholera,” from Shrapnel and Ash (1949)“The Moon Tree,” from The Moon Tree (1968) “Revolt Against the Sun,” from Night Lover (1947) A few poems by al-Mala’ika online: “Night Lover,” tr. Drumsta “Revolt Against the Sun,” tr. Drumsta From “A Song for Mankind,” tr. Drumsta “The Train Passed By,” tr. Drumsta  “New Year,” t. Rebecca Carol Johnson, on WWB “Love Song for Words,” tr. Johnson, on WWB You can see more about the book at saqibooks.com/books/saqi/revolt-against-the-sun.
Ursula Lindsey and Marcia Lynx Qualey discuss books from across the Arab region and new translations from Arabic.
This episode looks at the Fall 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly, which focuses on cats: in contemporary Arabic stories, in erotic poetry, in medieval scholarship, in Egyptian art, in Palestinian politics, and more. We read from: Ghada Samman’s “Beheading the Cat,” translated by Issa Boullata. The poetry of Rasha Omran, in the issue in Arabic, French, and English. Al-Jawbari’s advice on avoiding criminals with cats, translated for the issue by Dima El-Mouallem. We also focus on: Karim Zidan’s essay on cats in Egyptian art, “Felines, Fellahin, and Fortune Tellers.” Hoda Marmar’s essay-interview with Muna Nasrallah, the daughter of Emily Nasrallah and previous owner of the cat from Nasrallah’s classic YA novel, What Happened to Zeeko? The fifteenth-century encyclopedic text “Merits of the Housecat,” translated by David Larsen. Layla Baalbaki’s classic story “The Cat,” translated by Tom Abi Samra. You can get a copy of the magazine at www.arablit.org.
Ten out of Ten

Ten out of Ten

2020-09-1157:26

We only took a one month break but there are so many new (and a few old) books to talk about! We put together a list of ten titles of interest to start out the Fall with.  1) Etel Adnan's Shifting the Silence (out in September) is the latest by the 95-year-old Lebanese artist and poet.  2) The Fourth Shore, Alessandro Spina, tr. André Naffis-Sahely, is the latest volume of the author’s monumental series, The Confines of The Shadow, to be translated. You can read about Spina -- who came from a Syrian family, grew up in Libya, and wrote in Italian --  here.  3) A bilingual collection of the renowned Iraq female poet Nazik al-Mala'ika, Revolt Against the Sun, tr. Emily Drumsta (out in October) 4)  The Pillar of Salt is a classic post-colonial novel by the Tunisian writer Albert Memmi, who passed aways this year. Adam Shatz wrote a lovely profile of him in the London Review of Books.  5) Two Half Faces by Moroccan Dutch author Mustafa Stitou, tr. David Colmer (October 2020). You can read some of Stitou’s poems here.  6) A Country For Dying, by the Moroccan novelist Abdallah Taia, tr. Emma Ramadan, tells the stories of several immigrants and refugees in Paris, seeking new lives and escape from violence and repression.  7) Straight from the Horse's Mouth Meryem Alaoui tr. Emma Ramadan (September) is narrated by a prostitute in Casablanca.  8) Between Beirut and the Moon, A. Naji Bakhti, is a collection of humorous essays about the author’s family and growing up in post-civil-war Beirut.  9) Haytham al-Wardani's Book of Sleep tr. Robin Moger (November) & his newest book in Arabic, Ma La Youmkin Islahu  (“That Which Cannot Be Repaired”). Kayfa Ta published Al-Wardani’s How to Disappear.  10) Sonia Nimr’s Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands tr. you very own MLQ.  We also discussed some recentmovingwritingfromLebanon. And how some ways writers have come together and you can help to support libraries and bookshops there.
We take a look at a new book about the architecture of twentieth century Cairo, and discuss the Egyptian capital’s past, present and future, and the way writers have shaped our view of it.   Show Notes: Mohamed Elshahed’s architectural survey Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide is newly released from AUC Press, with a foreward by Mercedes Volait.  Elshahed’s longtime blog, Cairobserver, is a must-read for anyone interested in the built world.  Another recent book that maps Cairo is Humphrey Davies and Lesley Lababidi’s A Field Guide to the Street Names of Central Cairo; N.A. Mansour recently wrote about both A Field Guide and Cairo Since 1900 in “Two New Books Preserving Cairo’s Urban Landscape.”  Tawfiq al-Hakim’s The Prison of Life: An Autobiographical Essay, in which he describes his father’s time as an amateur architect, was translated by Pierre Cachia. Other Egyptian literary works that feature architects include Reem Bassiouney’s novel Mortal Designs, translated by Melanie Magidow, and Naguib Mahfouz’s play The Legacy.  Also discussed in this episode are Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s novels Thieves in retirement (trans. Marilyn Booth) and A Dog With No Tale (trans. Robin Moger).
Getting Away With Murder

Getting Away With Murder

2021-01-1401:00:45

Our guest this week was once told there were no Algerian crime novels. She begs to differ. We discuss the many examples of the genre and its evolution in Algeria, Morocco and Egypt.  Show Notes: Nadia Ghanem regularly covers Algerian and Moroccan literature -- particularly crime fiction -- for ArabLit. She has a wonderful crime-lit overview, "The Story of 50 Years of Algerian Crime Fiction in 60+ Books," and also a short translation of a work by Chawki Amari, ‘Murder at Algiers’ Book Fair’. A few of Nadia's favorite Algerian crime novels: Adel s’emmele by Salim Aissa (ENAL editions, 1988), Kharidj el-Saytara (خارج السيطرة) by Abdelatif Ould Abdellah (El-Ikhtilef editions,  2016), Sakarat Nedjma (سكرات نجمة) by Amel Bouchareb (Chihab editions, 2015), 1994 by Adlene Meddi (Barzakh editions, Algeria, also released in France by Rivage editions in 2018), La prière du Maure by Adlene Meddi  (Barzakh editions, 2008), Le casse-tête turc by Adlene Meddi (Barzakh editions, 2002). Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul. He has written many books, including a series of brilliant detective novels, which have also been translated into English.  The Moroccan writer Driss Chraibi’s Inspector Ali is the hero of his acclaimed detective novels.  The 2017 Egyptian noir film The Nile Hilton Incident take place just before the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Cairo.  Nael Eltoukhy, author ofWomen of Karantina (tr. Robin Moger), wrote "Some Advice on Avoiding Censorship" for the Summer 2020 crime-themed issue of ArabLit Quarterly. Ahmed Mourad'sVertigo, also tr. Moger, follows a story of crime and corruption through a photographer-sleuth's lens. Elias Khoury'sWhite Masks is his only murder-mystery; it has been translated by Maia Tabet.  Several of Abdelilah Hamdouchi's crime novels have been translated and published by Hoopoe.
Kitchen Talk

Kitchen Talk

2020-12-3001:01:30

In this episode we explore the relationship between cooking and writing. With special guest Anny Gaul, we talk about the origins of national dishes such as couscous and koshary; medieval Arabic cook books; and representations of kitchens and cooking in Egyptian literature.  Show Notes: Anny Gaul’s writing and recipes, including the one on “bad translations” of hummus are online at cookingwithgaul.com. She wrote about Egyptian koshary as the dish we need right now for Eater. Her article on Abla Nazira’s famous cookbooks is here. Her analysis of the depictions of cooking, kitchens and happiness in Egyptian writing can be found in the anthology Insatiable Appetite: Food as Cultural Signifier in the Middle East and Beyond. The essay on couscous from which she reads at the beginning of the episode can be found in the last issue of Arab Lit Quarterly.  Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table: A Fourteenth-Century Egyptian Cookbook,  ed. and translated by Nawal Nasrallah and Scents and Flavors: A Syrian Cookbook, tr. Charles Perry, are both out in paperback this year.  Many adapted recipes are available at Nawal Nasrallah’s website, nawalcooking.blogspot.com. The Library of Arabic Literature offers free Arabic-only PDFs of their works, including Scents and Flavors.  This episode mentions the Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim’s Zaat, in which the kitchen is a site of mishaps, set-backs and middle-class aspirations.  Here are links to further recent writing in Arabic on food:  CIC Collective Workshop, Taste of Letters A historical essay in the Al Jazeera Culture Section Novelist Nael El Toukhy in Mada Masr  An essay on food in Ottoman era poetry
We’re re-running one of our favorite episodes. In 1993, the Egyptian poet and writer Iman Mersal picked up an unknown novel by a forgotten writer from the 60s. And so began her long wanderings in search of Enayat El Zayat. El Zayat killed herself in 1963, four years before her book “Love and Silence” was finally published. Mersal’s portrait of El Zayat is a remarkable work of research, empathy and imagination.  Show Notes: This episode focuses on Iman Mersal’s In the Footsteps of Enayat al-Zayyat (في أثر عنايات الزيات), published by Kotob Khan Books in late 2019. The author Enayat al-Zayyat (1936-63) finished one novel, which was published in 1967.  Love and Silence ‫(الحب و الصمت) ‬ was recently republished and is available on Google Play. Al-Zayyat was also working on a second novel, based around the German Egyptologist Ludwig Keimar; you can read Isolde Lehnert on Keimar.
We talk about the Syrian writer Dima Wannous’ haunting novel The Frightened Ones, translated by Elisabeth Jacquette. It’s a book about fear, panic and anxiety -- in one’s body and society, between generations and lovers -- that is also somehow a great pleasure to read. Show Notes: The Frightened Ones was shortlisted for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction; its English translation is now out in the UK and forthcoming in the US.  We discussed the work of Wannous’ father, the brilliant playwright Sa’adallah Wannous, in episode 28, “Sentenced to Hope.”
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Comments (1)

Tim Gregory

I have Zeina's books and I can't wait for the next one, and I just ordered Loss Sings from UC Press. I am really looking forward to it!

Nov 23rd
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