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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.
67 Episodes
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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

2020-10-2101:01:011

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’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.”
We talk about a collection of essays by female journalists from the region. Guilt, anger, recklessness, determination. There are many different and movingly honest takes on reporting while Arab and female.  Show Notes: You can also follow the contributors to this volume online: follow @ZahraHankir and @HindHassanNews on Lebanon; @Linaattalah, the editor of @madamasr, on Egypt; @AidaAlami on Morocco; and many more.
Talking Shit

Talking Shit

2020-07-2952:45

Beirut writer Lina Mounzer reads from her essay “Waste Away: Notes on Beirut’s Broken Sewage System.” We discuss the current situation in Lebanon and literature that looks at the worlds beneath our feet.  Show Notes: Lina Mounzer’s “Waste Away” appears in The Baffler; a slightly modified version is set to be published next week in the anthology Tales of Two Planets, ed. John Freeman. Saleem Haddad’s “Song of the Birds,” in the anthology Palestine + 100, explores the problems of sewage at Palestinian shores.  Rabee Jaber’s Mehlis Report, translated to English by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, tells the tale of two cities: Beirut above and Beirut below. Mounzer’s “Translating Trash” appeared last year in The Paris Review. Also, her “The Great Ponzi Scheme” predicted a Lebanese financial disaster in the New York Times last December. Mounzer wasn’t alone. This essay from 2017 -- “Abracadabra...broke” -- also saw a looming economic crisis.  Ursula wrote about Lebanese protests last November in the NYR Daily: The Lebanese Street Asks: ‘Which Is Stronger, Sect or Hunger?’ Favorite Lebanese literary magazines Samandal and Rusted Radishes continue to publish, although RR is re-imagining their budget and fundraising possibilities. Keep an eye out for their Patreon. *Editor’s Note: Ursula incorrectly refers to a long-serving Lebanese prime minister. She meant Speaker of Parliament. Nabih Berri has held that position for nearly three decades.
Murder, They Wrote

Murder, They Wrote

2020-07-1659:551

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.
We discuss a book that tells the stories of women who rallied to ISIS; one that focuses on a Franco-Moroccan family grappling with the end of colonialism; and a picaresque, satirical novel  from 1940s Egypt that has been recently re-discovered. Show Notes: Ursula’s review of Guest House for Young Widows, a book about women who joined ISIS, appeared in the last issue of The Point magazine. It references a few other books, such as Dunya Mikhail’s  The Beekeeper of Sinjar (which gathers the testimonies of Yazidi women enslaved by ISIS) and David Thomson’s The Returned, about French jihadis. Ursula’s review of the Moroccan-French author Leila Slimani’s latest novel, Le Pays des Autres, will be out soon in the New York Review of books. Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny was an international best-seller; her new book is part of a planned historical trilogy set in Morocco. Adel Kamel's long-forgotten, now-remembered classic Malim al-Akbar recently appeared in English as The Magnificent Conman of Cairo. A special section on ArabLit marks the launch. Literary detective Mohamed Shoair is author of the acclaimed 2018 popular history Children of the Alley: The Story of the Forbidden Novel, which follows the story of Naguib Mahfouz's most controversial novel. A chapter of Shoair's book appears online in Samah Selim's translation. Mahfouz talks briefly about the Harafish, his circle of literary friends, in Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001, from conversations with Mohamed Salmawy. Albert Cossery was a French writer of Levantine origin, born in Cairo. Although he settled in Paris in 1945, he set all his wonderful novels — about criminals, layabouts and would-be revolutionaries — in Egypt or the middle east.  The crime issue of ArabLit Quarterly is available now.
Tazmamart

Tazmamart

2020-06-1856:561

We talk about Morocco’s most infamous secret prison; about fathers and sons; about survivors who tell their stories and writers who borrow (or steal?) them.  Show Notes:  Johanna Sellman “Memoirs from Tazmamart: Writing Strategies and Alternative Frameworks of Judgment” gives an overview of the survivors’ writing about Tazmamart through 2006. In 1999-2000, Mohamed Raiss published an account of his experiences serialized in Arabic. It was translated to French and published in book form in 2011 as Skhirat to Tazmamart: Return from the Bottom of Hell. Ahmed Marzouki’s Tazmamart Cellule 10 (Tazmamart Cell 10) came out in 2000. There is also a more recent interview with him, translated to English, in Jadaliyya. The account of  Ali Bourequat, In the Moroccan King's Secret Gardens (1998), is out of print. In 2000 Medhat Bourequat, another of the Bourequat brothers, published his account, Mort Vivant (Living Dead). Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Cette aveuglante absence de lumière (That Blinding Absence of Light) appeared in 2001 and was apparently based on a three-hour interview with Aziz Binebine, who wrote an open letter saying Ben Jelloun pressured him to talk and disavowed the novel. Aziz Binebine’s own testimony, Tazmamort, appeared in 2009. The English translation, by Lulu Norman, appeared this spring. Binebine’s brother, Mahi Binebine, has written a novel about their father, who was a favorite companion and court “jester” of Hassan II, and who disavowed his son when he was imprisoned, Le fou du roi.  The Moroccan novelist Youssef Fadel features both the figure of the father/court jester and the prison of Tazmamart in his novels A Beautiful White Cat Walks With Me and A Rare Blue Bird Flies With Me. We discussed the devastating Syrian prison memoir The Shell, by Mustafa Khalifa; and we talked about Morocco’s years of lead previously in this episode.
Kitchen Talk

Kitchen Talk

2020-06-0401:00:44

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
Locked-In Lit

Locked-In Lit

2020-05-2153:39

We talk about a few new books — ones that provide a welcome escape, and ones that seem particularly daunting — and about how hard it is to write, read, think and imagine the future right now.   Show Notes: Noor Naga's novel-in-verse Washes, Prays was published this spring. You can read more about it on Mada Masr and ArabLit. Aziz Binebine's Tazmamart, Cellule 10 recently appeared in English as Tazmamart, translated by Lulu Norman. His brother Mahi Binebine's The King's Fool is forthcoming in Ben Faccini's translation in August. Impostures is al-Hariri's classic Maqamat, many-Englished by Michael Cooperson and available now. Mazen Kerbaj's coronavirus diaries are online at kerbajdiaries.com. Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi is a classic of Italian literature and recounts a 17th century plague in Milan.  There has also been a fair amount of quarantine writing, such as the NYRB’s Pandemic Journal. The Point is publishing a series of articles on what we watch and read during quarantine.  Repression in Egypt continues even with covid-19. Alaa Abdel-Fattah went on a month-long hunger strike, Mada Masr editor Lina Attallah was detained and released on bail, and the latest to be targeted were a couple young (and apolitical) TikTok stars.  New Arabic Translation Challenges are published each Tuesday with roundups on Saturday. Details here or by following #ArabicTranslationChallenge on Twitter.
Cold Trail

Cold Trail

2020-05-0749:16

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.
Tight Spaces

Tight Spaces

2020-04-2256:46

للاستماع إلى بودكاست بعد أمس http://aj.audio/click  We discuss an acclaimed novel set during the first Palestinian Intifada and one inspired by a tiny, legendary bookstore in Algiers.  Show Notes: This year, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction—which went to Abdelouahab Aissaoui’s The Spartan Court—and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award—which had winners in seven categories—both had awards ceremonies on YouTube.  MLQ will also participate in the now-online Sant Jordi Literary Festival (April 23-25), having recorded discussions with Elisabeth Jaquette about her translation of The Frightened Ones (by Dima Wannous) and Sawad Hussain about her translation of Bab as-Saha, or The Passage to the Plaza (by Sahar Khalifeh).  Khalifeh’s classic 1990 novel The Passage to the Plaza is newly out in English from Seagull Books. Kaouther Adimi's Our Riches, translated by Chris Andrews, is also newly out from  New Directions; it follows the story of Edmond Charlot  and Les Vraies Richesses bookshop in Algiers.
Sentence to Hope

Sentence to Hope

2020-04-0901:00:41

للاستماع إلى بودكاست بعد أمس http://aj.audio/click  We spend most of this episode discussing the work and life of the Syrian playwright Sa’dallah Wannous, and how strongly it relates to repression, resistance and art in the Arab region today. SHOW NOTES: A new Sa’dallah Wannous reader,Sentence to Hope(ed. and trans. Robert Myers and Nada Saab) brings together four translations of plays as well as essays by and interviews with the great Syrian playwright (1941-1996). Read more about reading Wannous in Syria in Matthew McNaught’s  essay “Yarmouk Miniatures” and about Arwa Salih and the Arab left to which he belonged in Ursula’s “Lessons of Defeat: Testimonies of the Arab left.” The founder of Egypt’s Dar Tanmia Bookshop and Publishing, Khaled Lutfi, was sentenced to five years in a military trial at the beginning of February. A statement of support for Lutfi has been circulating online, in Arabic and English. The Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji currently lives in the US after serving two years in jail on indecency charges. The photographer we mention is Mohamed Abu Zeid – Shawkan – who should never have been jailed in the first place and is currently being held unlawfully beyond his release date.
A Woman Shaped by Fear

A Woman Shaped by Fear

2020-03-2650:531

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.”  We mentioned concerns over the spread of COVID-19 in Egyptian prisons. Political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah wrote an essay on health and prison before the pandemic.
The Shape of Cairo

The Shape of Cairo

2020-03-1101:07:002

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).
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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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