Qunfuz

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Randa Jarrar

Beirut 39

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This was published at the Guardian.

The Arab world is undergoing seismic transformations, groping its way towards new, as yet unknown forms, throwing up works of art as well as bombs in the process. In the face of vast complexity, however, and in a time of war, our media’s first response is to dumb down.

If the news media simplifies, literature, by offering social and psychological context, broadens and diversifies our understanding of the region, and particularly literature written by Arabs. (When Martin Amis or John Updike write about Arabs, they are of course writing about themselves, their own ideas of how Arabs tick.)  The reading public seems to know this. Recent years have seen an increasing demand for Arabic writing in English translation, though Europe still translates far more.

So the publication of “Beirut 39” ­– 39 extracts by Arab writers under 40 – is a timely and worthwhile initiative. The 39 are winners of a contest organised by Banipal magazine and the Hay Festival of Literature, and the book’s name honours UNESCO’s World Book Capital for 2009. “Beirut 39” contains short stories, novel extracts and a few poems, often brimming with exuberant confidence and sparkling with innovation. The quality of translation ranges from acceptable to excellent.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 12, 2010 at 9:56 am

A Map of Home

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090831-jarrarThis review was published on the Electronic Intifada.

Randa Jarrar’s “A Map of Home” is a beautifully achieved coming of age novel which follows a clever girl through a war, a domestic battlefield, and repeated forced migrations. For our heroine, these events are aspects of the normal everyday stuff (because everything’s normal when it happens to you), like school, friends, family, and shopping. Despite the geographical and cultural particularities of the story, the themes – of awakening sexually, of learning how to love a parent yet firmly say no, and of struggling for independence and a place in the world – are universal, and the book will appeal to all but the most easily shocked readers.

At the novel’s centre is a family. The father, Waheed, is a Palestinian from Jenin exiled to a string of temporary residences. Resentful of his failure to develop a career as a poet, he projects his ambition onto his daughter, about whom Waheed is convincingly self-conflicted: he wants her to be a famous professor, but doesn’t want her to study away from home.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 31, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Posted in book review

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