Fiery Curses by Noura Mohammad Faraj (tr. William M Hutchins)

a nutshell: in this title story from Qatari writer Faraj’s collection, a woman revisits an inflammatory book from childhood which transforms her perspective

a line: “the tongues of emirs, poets, and muezzins were indistinguishable from those of barflies”

an image: embedded in the narrator’s mind is an image of herself in cartoon form being chased by her father, who pelts her with hot embers as she flees

a thought: I tried to look up the book’s author, Abu al-Fadl al-Tashti, but couldn’t find anything – I’d be curious to know the significance (if any!) of this name

a fact: Faraj is an Assistant Professor at the Arabic Language Dept at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and has published two academic books and one short story collection (The Totem)

want to read Fiery Curses? visit here

The Ringing Body by Fatima Yousef al-Ali (tr. William Maynard Hutchins)

CW: suicide

a nutshell: this story follows how an unsettling call from a stranger at midnight leaves a woman in a confusing state of anticipation

a line: “Your heart must dwell in a cellar, three steps down or more”

an image: at one point, the woman looks back at the receiver which, she says, hung there like a corpse – a jarring image given the earlier mention of potential suicide

a thought: the bizarreness of their conversation arguably peaks when the woman asks if he agrees with the director of broadcasting that radio is television’s sister, yet the man says radio is on the contrary an extremely cultured gentleman and he prefers shortwave to longwave as he can embrace shortwave more fully

a fact: born in 1953, Yousef al-Ali’s thesis at Cairo University dealt with Kuwaiti women and the short story

want to read The Ringing Body? visit here

Always Coca-Cola by Alexandra Chreiteh (tr. Michelle Hartman)

a nutshell: Abeer, a 20ish-year-old woman from a conservative family in dusty Beirut, lets us into the concerns preoccupying herself and her friends (think: virginity/pregnancy, sanitary pads, appearances)

a line: “Should I wait for an Always pad to fall from the heavens like rain, or a white dove, flapping its wings that keep the moisture from leaking out onto my clothes?”

an image: a boy informs Abeer that just as lemonade has three essential ingredients – water, lemon, sugar – so does a woman have three attributes; she must be a virgin, a wife, and a mother, in that order (blergh)

a thought: even with its attempts at humour, this is a sad novel voiced by a young protagonist with a blinkered attitude to women’s rights & essential freedoms; also, the second half contains a harrowing incident that is somewhat skimmed over

a fact: according to the blurb, the book received a stormy response in Lebanon (“an electric shock … grave social anomalies”) despite Chreiteh centring the book around Abeer, rigidly conservative & dogmatic, with her friends as the far more progressive characters

want to read Always Coca-Cola? visit here

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (tr. Marilyn Booth)

a nutshell: a fragmented but occasionally fascinating insight into Omani culture, zipping back and forth between perspectives from individuals – often women – within a scattered family tree

a line“How liberated a person feels when it’s finally no longer a question of being just an extension or embodiment of someone else’s fancy” (significantly, this is said by a man referring to his father’s diminishing control; women have no such liberation in the narrative)

an image: a father’s resentment and frustration with a baby boy showing autistic traits struck painful blows for me as the sister of someone with autism – at one point the father expresses a desire for the son to fly out of the window like a bird never to return

a thought: it wasn’t until 1970 that Oman outlawed slavery, and the horrifying ramifications of this are felt throughout the novel

a fact: once again I came to understand more of Britain’s role in historical conflicts – Alharthi writes of how, following the 1920 Sib Treaty, Oman was split between the Government of Muscat (with Britain financing the Sultan) and the Imamate, which turned sour after the Sultan signed an agreement for a British firm to do exploratory oil drilling in a desert that lay well within the Imamate’s territories

 

want to read Celestial Bodies? visit here