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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.
45 Episodes
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The Not So Simple Past

The Not So Simple Past

2020-02-1100:56:061

This episode focuses on Driss Chraibi’s The Simple Past (Le Passé Simple), a Moroccan novel about a very angry young man in revolt against his father’s tyranny and the hypocrisies of his colonial education. Back in 1954, it was compared to an explosion – and it still packs a punch today.  Show Notes: The Simple Past was newly re-issued from NYRB Classics in Hugh A. Harter’s 1990 translation, with a new introduction from Adam Shatz. Shatz’s introduction is available online at the NYR Daily. Excerpts from Chraibi’s interview with Federico Arbós can be found at Fragmentos de la entrevista con Federico Arbós, El Mundo/La Esfera, 28/3/92. This episode also references Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy and the father figure of Si Sayyed; Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club; and Tayib Saleh’s Season of Migration to the North.
The Elephant Is The Room

The Elephant Is The Room

2020-01-2901:02:251

We recorded this episode in Cairo with author, translator, and Mada Masr culture editor Yasmine Zohdi. We talked about making art in difficult and precarious times; how to acknowledge the political context; censorship and self-censorship.  “What we talk about when we talk about trees,” by Yasmine Zohdi, ran in Mada Masr in December of last year. We also spoke about the shrinking of cultural spaces in Cairo. Zohdi also translates, including her husband Muhammad al-Hajj’s beautiful Nobody Mourns the City’s Cats. MLQ was in Cairo for the ARCE symposium on popular culture. Essays from and inspired by the symposium will be appearing at The Maydan. An excerpt of the Egyptian novel Prizes for Heroes was translated as part of Mada Masr’s translation series. The Egyptian film Yomeddine (“Judgement Day”) was part of the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
Writing to Remember

Writing to Remember

2020-01-1401:04:251

This episode is dedicated to the work of the Moroccan film-maker, novelist, artist, and poet Ahmed Bouanani – much of which has yet to be released, and much of which was censored or destroyed in his own life.
Work-Lit Balance

Work-Lit Balance

2020-01-0301:05:191

We talk about passion projects, the value of intellectual labor, and the ups and downs of making a living (sort of) writing about books.
Top Five

Top Five

2019-12-1800:58:321

We discuss some of our favorite books from the past year, and some titles we’re excited to get our hands on soon.  Show Notes     Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, ed. Zahra Hankir      Book of Disappearance by Ibtisam Azem, tr. Sinan Antoon     Palestine + 100, ed. Basma Ghalayini     Palestine as Metaphor, by Mahmoud Darwish, tr. Amira El-Zein and Carolyn Forché       Room 304 or How I Hid from My Dear Father for 35 Years by Amr Ezzat, tr. Nora Amin and Yasmine Zohdi     Souls of Edo, by Stella Gaitano, is available from Rafiki Printing and Publishing     Celestial Bodies, by Jokha al-Harthi, tr. Marilyn Booth; you can watch the clip from their CNN interview on Twitter.     Sentence to Hope: A Sa’dallah Wannous Reader by Sa’dallah Wannous, tr. Nada Saab and Robert Myers     Cairo Since 1900: An Architectural Guide by Mohamed Elshahed     The Magnificent Conman of Cairo by Adel Kamel, tr. Waleed Almusharaf     Impostures by al-Hariri, translated by Michael Cooperson ·      In Pursuit of Enayat al-Zayat by Iman Mersal
We talk about a newly released collection of five compelling and highly quotable interviews with the great late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, titled Palestine as Metaphor, translated by Amira El-Zein and Carolyn Forché. We also talk about recent protests in Lebanon and how they are being written about in Lebanese and international media, as well as the frightening day when the independent Egyptian news site Mada Masr’s offices were raided and editors detained. (All of Mada’s staff has now been released). This episode was partly recorded and produced in the offices of the Sowt network. SHOW NOTES The Great Lebanese Ponzi Scheme by Lina MounzerThe Lebanese Street Asks: ‘Which Is Stronger, Sect or Hunger?’ by Ursula LindseyOn Power, Machines, and Departures: Running Mada Masr in Today’s Egypt by Lina Attalah. A few things you might like to know about us, by Lina Attalah Palestine as Metaphor by Mahmoud Darwish, tr. Amira El-Zein and Carolyn Forché Palestine as Metaphor By Mahmoud Darwish In the Presence of Absence By Mahmoud Darwish Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 (Literature of the Middle East) By Mahmoud Darwish Permalink
Writers Are Not Magic

Writers Are Not Magic

2019-11-2000:59:091

In the first half of the episode, we paid tribute to Jordanian poet, activist, novelist, travel writer, and editor Amjad Nasser (1955-2019), who died at the end of October. In the second, we talked about the political space occupied by Moroccan-French writers Tahar Ben Jelloun and Leïla Slimani, particularly in the wake of the trial against—and pardon of—Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni over an alleged abortion. What is a writer’s responsibility in a society, or between societies? And what about those of us who talk about, report on, and frame literature? (This episode partly recorded and produced in the offices of the Sowt network).  SHOW NOTESA short English-language tribute to Amjad Nasser on ArabLit, and a longer one in Arabic on 7iber.Nassar’s recent poems are available on Facebookbutnot yet in translation.Other poems have been translated by Sinan Antoon and Fady Joudahand by the Poetry Translation Center. The letter in Le Monde, co-composed by Slimani, « Nous, citoyennes et citoyens marocains, déclarons que nous sommes hors la loi,» and also the pieces about Slimani in The New Yorkerand LitHub. Since we aired the episode, another fawning profile of Slimanihas been published in Le Monde.Tahar Ben Jelloun, writing in Le Point: “Vous, obscurantistes, êtes en train de prendre le Maroc de la modernité en otage.”Also the criticism of both writers by Omar Brousky in Orient XXI.Ursula’s editorial in the New York Timesabout the Hajar Raissouni case.Ben Jelloun’s On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughterwill be coming to English in February 2020. Land of No Rain By Amjad Nasser The Perfect Nanny: A Novel By Leila Slimani
"Insufficiently Westernized"

"Insufficiently Westernized"

2019-11-0600:58:451

We discuss two novels set in Iraq -- one featuring a despondent policeman, and one featuring a determined grandma and her donkey. Also, how John Updike once dismissed the great Saudi writer Abdelrahman Mounif as "insufficiently Westernized" to write a novel.
Disappearing Palestinians

Disappearing Palestinians

2019-10-2300:54:091

We talk about two festivals (one long-established, one brand new) that celebrate Palestinian literature; an author who was penalized for supporting BDS; and a book that asks the question: What would happen if Palestinians simply disappeared? (And once again we recorded this episode in the studio of the wonderful Sowt platform in Amman). Show Notes Jayne Cortez’s poem “There It Is” was performed by Sapphire at Palfest 2014.  Palfest was re-launched this year with a focus on knowledge production and an emphasis on how Palestine fits within larger struggles against imperialism, racism and economic exploitation.  The first-of-its kind literary festival Palestine Writes will be held in New York in March 2020.  Kamila Shamsie was de-awarded the Nellie Sachs literary prize over her support of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement. Hundreds of writers signed a statement of solidarity with her.  Benjamin Netanyahu promised further annexations in the West Bank during his last electoral campaign. The details of the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” have yet to emerge.  As the New York Times reported recently, Israel bans Arabic-language books from entering the country.Ibtisem Azem’s The Book of Disappearance was translated from the Arabic by Sinan Antoon.  The Book of Disappearance: A Novel (Middle East Literature In Translation) By Ibtisam Azem Permalink
Out of Egypt

Out of Egypt

2019-10-0900:50:471

Ursula & MLQ open the new season of BULAQ -- recorded in Amman, under the auspices of the Sowt network -- with a focus on Egypt. This episode's reading is from Yasmine Zohdi's translation of Muhammad al-Haj's Sawiris-winning Nobody Mourns the City's Cats, available in the Summer 2019 issue of ArabLit Quarterly.Azzurra Meringolo Scarfoglio’s book of interviews with Egyptian exiles is Fuga dall’Egitto (“Escape from Egypt”).Ursula reviewed Peter Hessler’s The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution, in the New York Review of Books.More than 2,000 Egyptians have been detained in a massive sweep of arrests following a new series of protests across the country; among the detainees is Egyptian novelist Muhammad Aladdin, whose charming revolution story, "Season of Migration to Arkadia," is available in Humphrey Davies' translation.Marcia guest-edited the last issue of Words Without Border, focused on Arabic humor. Permalink
Trash Talk

Trash Talk

2019-07-2001:04:481

In our last episode before half our team moves and we take a summer break, we discuss a brilliant essay on the downsides of being a professional translator; the Shubbak literary festival; and our plans for the future. Show NotesWe read from Lina Mounzer’s ”Trash Talk: On Translating Garbage,” which recently appeared on the Paris Review and struck a nerve among translators, editors, and various other word-jobbers. You can also another essay of Mounzer’s on life as a translator: “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria.”The literary strand of the Shubbak Festival took place at the end of last June in London; there was some discussion online of the first panel on feminism. You can also get panelist and graphic novelist Deena Mohamed’s Shubeik Lubeik online. During our summer hiatus, please take share Bulaq with a friend. Also, if you are so inclined, share your feedback with us on our Twitter handle @bulaqbooks: What was your favorite episode? What would you like to hear more of? Are there particular topics, essays, or books that you think would make for an interesting discussion on Bulaq? What else, if anything, would you like to tell us?
Invisibility

Invisibility

2019-06-2301:16:011

We have novelist Ruqaya Izziddien as our guest in this episode, to discuss her debut novel The Watermelon Boys, her blog Muslim Impossible and the need for more narratives in English that accurately represent Arab voices and history. We also talk about George Orwell’s 1939 essay “Marrakech.” Show NotesOur guest this episode was Ruqaya Izzidien, author of The Watermelon Boys, which was shortlisted for this year’s Betty Trask Prize. Ruqaya will also be appearing June 30 at the Shubbak Festival in London, on a panel with Inaam Kachachi and Rabai al-Madhoun, and possibly Hammour Ziada. Hanna Diyab is acknowledged -- in Antoine Galland's diary and is Diyab's own writings -- as the author of the "Aladdin" story commonly bundled in with the 1001 Nights. A French translation of Diyab’s travel narrative, D’Alep à Paris: Les pérégrinations d’un jeune syrien au temps de Louis XIV, appeared in 2015, edited and translated by Paule Fahmé-Thiéry, Bernard Heyberger, and Jérôme Lentin. An English translation, by Elias Muhanna and Johannes Stephan, is tentatively scheduled for Fall 2020.Dr. Debbie Reese and Dr. Jean Mendoza are the forces behind the invaluable American Indians in Children's Literature.You can read a transcript of the film Reel Bad Arabs, based on the classic book by Jack Shaheen.The Dzanc Books statement about Hesh Kestin's The Siege of Tel Aviv is available on the publisher's website.Izzidien is also the editor behind Muslim Impossible, a new website that “reviews fictional Muslim and Arab characters in film, TV and literature that are unbelievable, poorly-researched or prejudiced.”We disagreed about whether George Orwell’s “Marrakech” essay falls in that category. Here is a video and translation of part of the essay into Darija by a Moroccan YouTuber. Permalink
Our Women on the Ground

Our Women on the Ground

2019-06-1000:49:321

We spend most of today’s episode talking about a forthcoming 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 NOTESOmani novelist Jokha al-Harthi and translator Marilyn Hacker won the 2019 Man Booker International with Celestial Bodies (Sayyidat al-Qamr). We talked about the book on Episode 29 and MLQ spoke to al-Harthi and Booth the morning after their win, and an edited Q&A was published on Qantara. Also: more on the Omani writers al-Harthi recommends you read. Ursula’s piece about Sa’adallah Wannous, “Coup de Théâtre,” is in the NYRB. The great playwright’s daughter, Dima Wannous, is also an acclaimed novelist and will be appearing at this year’s Shubbak Festival. Her novel The Frightened is expected in 2020 in Elisabeth Jaquette’s English translation.Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, ed. Zahra Hankir, will be published August 6, 2019, when an audiobook version, read by Soneela Nankani, will also be available. Among the many brilliant contributors is Lina Attallah, who both MLQ and Ursula have worked with variously at Al-Masry al-Youm, the Egypt Independent, and her current iconic, fearless, and relentlessly experimental project, Mada Masr.Permalink
Work-lit Balance

Work-lit Balance

2019-05-1901:04:451

This week we talk about how MLQ’s latest passion project, the Arab Lit Quarterly, and the ups and downs of making a living (sort of) writing about books.
This Takes the Prize

This Takes the Prize

2019-05-0600:58:241

MLQ is back from Abu Dhabi, and we talk about the recently awarded International Prize for Arabic Fiction — and an unfortunate controversy this year, involving leaks, no-shows, and calls for prosecution — and the book fair. We also share excerpts from the winning book and from several of the short-listed ones. Show NotesThe International Prize for Arabic Fiction announced the prize’s 2019 winner, Hoda Barakat’s The Night Post, on April 23. The name of the winner, and a few apparent details about the judging process, was leaked by former IPAF judge Abdo Wazen in Independent Arabia a few hours before the official announcement.  The prize’s official statement about the leak can be found on their website. Also notable are Arab Writers Union head Habib al-Sayegh’s comments about the leak, Hoda Barakat’s acceptance speech, and shortlisted writer Kafa Al-Zou’bi’s social-media habits.
The case of Alaa al-Aswany

The case of Alaa al-Aswany

2019-04-0701:13:471

We talk about the career of the best-selling Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany – who like many other artists is on the outs with the country’s military regime now. Also, about Shakespeare productions and censorship in Gulf countries; and book reviews in the age of online algorithms and the culture of positivity. Show notesAt the end of February, Youm7 reported that a lawyer submitted a complaint to the Prosecutor-General (No. 2697 of 2019) against Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany, in which he accused the author of The Yacoubian Building and The So-Called Republic of spreading false news, as well as cynicism and ridicule of the state’s leaders on social media. This story spread and, in mid-March, Mesreyoun reported that a lawyer had filed a complaint with the military prosecutor. It’s still unclear what’s happening; the NGO ANHRI has asked whether political “hesba” lawsuits can now be filed in military courts; there has not yet been an official answer. Thanks to TIMEP for assistance in sorting all this out. (Back in 2013, Al Aswany, like the vast majority of Egyptian artist and intellectuals, justified violence against members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supported their overthrow.)The actors Amr Waked and Khaled Abol Naga have been prosecuted and smeared recently for speaking out against Egyptian government repression.Ursula’s “heart-breaking” interview with Sonallah Ibrahim was published in Mada Masr in 2013.Palgrave Macmillan published Katharine Hennessey’s Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula in 2018.And in the last issue Harper’s Christian Lorentzen writes about the art of criticism in the age of algorithms, in “Like This or Die.”
Not Quite On The Same Page

Not Quite On The Same Page

2019-03-1701:09:511

In this episode we rave about an Omani novel – a multi-generational saga that is “anti-romantic and anti-nationalistic.” We also discuss a dark family road trip through Syria, and works from Lebanon and Morocco. And we delve into the larger question of how much a writer’s identity and experience gives him or her the right, or the ability, to tell certain stories.   Show notes:The Man Booker International announced their 2019 longlist last Wednesday, and there were two Arabic novels: Jokha al-Harthi’s Celestial Bodies, translated by Marilyn Booth, and Mazen Maarouf’s Jokes for the Gunmen, translated by Jonathan Wright. There was also an MBI-longlisted novel set in Morocco that was originally written in Dutch: Tommy Wieringa’s The Death of Murat Idrissi, translated by Sam Garrett. The translation was reviewed in The Guardian.Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work, translated by Leri Price, was released in February.
Sentenced to Hope

Sentenced to Hope

2019-03-0100:59:361

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.
Where Do I Start?

Where Do I Start?

2019-02-1100:56:151

What should you recommend to someone who is interested in exploring Arabic literature? We tackle this big question this week; we also talk about the authors short-listed on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction and about North African literature in English translation. Show notes: There are many opinions on where you should start with Arabic literature. Back in 2010, Ursula’s five-to-read-before-you-die were: Memory for Forgetfulness, Mahmoud Darwish; Season of Migration to the North, Tayyeb Saleh; The Trilogy or Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz; Bleeding of the Stone, Ibrahim al-Koni; Youssef Idris’s stories in Arabic.The shortlist for the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, for the first time, features more women writers than men. MLQ was already profiling shortlisted writer Shahla Ujayli: outtakes from the interview are on ArabLit, where you can also read a long Q&A with the translator of Ujayli’s A Sky So Close to Us, Michelle Hartman.The long list of 100 Algerian books available in English translation, put together by Nadia Ghanem also comes with a 6-book starter kit from Dr. Ghanem and MLQ. Next up are Moroccan and Tunisian literatures in translation.
Bad Parents

Bad Parents

2019-01-2600:56:371

We’re back! And ready to talk about two poets who have moved into prose: the Egyptian Iman Mersal and the Palestinian Mazen Maarouf, who have written books that explore the bonds between children and parents, among other things. We also talk about the Cairo book fair’s recent make-over, and about the vibrant but struggling cultural scene in Casablanca.   Show notesIman Mersal’s How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts was translated by Robin Moger and published by the Kayfa Ta initiative. It’s available from Neel wa Furat and Jamalon and, we hope, from good bookstores everywhere. Mazen Maarouf’s Jokes for the Gunmen, winner of the inaugural Almultaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story, was translated by Jonathan Wright and published by Granta. You can read the story “Portion of Jam,” from the collection, on the Granta website.The Cairo International Book Fair (@cairobookfair), which has moved from the Nasr City Fairgrounds to the exhibition center in New Cairo, runs through February 5. Ursula has written about previous iterations here and here. Casablanca, nid d'artistes just came out from Malika éditions, ed. Kenza Sefri and Leïla Slimani, featuring profiles and work by 115 artists.Here is a link to the discussion that got the Moroccan cultural NGO Racines in legal trouble. 
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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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