‘Melting Sun’ by Laila Neihoum (tr. D Mohamed Hassan and Neihoum)

a nutshell: over five short verses Libyan writer Neihoum probes the notion of familial expectations against a setting of unnaturalness, from an unturning tide to an eclipsed noon

a line: “What if I had not been my parents’ sculpture”

an image: halfway through the poem, the narrator faces an abandoned cave where a tear is the only water spilled into emptiness

a thought: I couldn’t help but pick up on how the poem’s first three words, things fall apart, echo the title of Chinua Achebe’s debut novel published in 1958 (over forty years before this poem was written), suggesting a broader significance to its themes – namely the influence of colonialism on African families

a fact: Neihoum was the first writer from her country to be accepted to join the International Writers Programme at the University of Iowa – she wrote a poetic manifesto for Libya which can be read on Words Without Borders

want to read ‘Melting Sun’? visit here

‘From where the voice is born’ by Carmen Naranjo

a nutshell: this fifty-line poem by Costa Rican poet & novelist Carmen Naranjo is a beautiful reflection on voice, silence, presence and absence

a line: “I have goodbyes in my hair | and forgetfulness in the eyes”

an image: towards the end, the poet describes being in front of the stars opposing a challenge to be brilliant

a thought: Naranjo’s line about a voice naked of ‘yes’s and ‘no’s made me think about my own commitment to balancing my ‘yes’s and ‘no’s – for so long I have said yes to everything and finally I’ve come to realise the sense in knowing how not to

a fact: born in 1928, Naranjo enrolled in a writers workshop following her return to Costa Rica in 1964 (having worked for the UN in Venezuela) and soon began publishing both poetry & prose

want to read more of Naranjo’s poetry? visit here

The Tram Journey by Milena Ercolani (tr. Pasquale Iannone and Robyn Marsack)

a nutshell: this quiet, gentle poem draws parallels between the course of life and a journey on a tram

a line: “Our faces | masked our uncertainties”

an image: slow steps, a shaking hand, his gaze lit by nostalgia – the fellow passenger’s old age emerges only gradually through hints

a thought: I interpreted this poem as a mediation on the loss of a loved one, perhaps a father or grandfather, particularly through how the onlooker saw herself in his face

a fact: born in 1963, Sammarinese poet and novelist Ercolani is President of the Sammarina Cultural Association – promoting the artistic work of San Marino and the surrounding region

want to read The Tram Journey? visit here

Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero (tr. Frances Riddle)

cockfight book yellow cover against blanket floral

a nutshell: through 13 stories of extraordinary power, this steely debut from Ecuadorian writer Ampuero spotlights the ruinous & cyclical nature of domestic abuse

a line: “But it was just faith, the most pathetic of feelings. Faith didn’t do a goddamn thing”

an image: Ampuero is astonishingly talented at building tension, such as when one character describes how the presence of her friends’ father means they had to whisper and the air filled with an electric energy, wet, like when a huge storm is coming

a thought: I was bowled over time & time again by these stories, particularly their dagger-like endings, and finished the book within hours (which really is something, given that I’ve struggled to engage fully with books as we approach our 14th week of lockdown no.2 in Melbourne) – one thought that’s stuck in my head is a protagonist’s comment about vacations in these countries being all about contrasts – I have been guilty of this, a desire for contrasts, in my travels

a fact: this interview is a fascinating exploration of the mind behind Cockfight (& I couldn’t agree more with Ampuero that there’s nothing more profound than the harm your family can cause you; as she shares, “You can leave your family, I did it many, many years ago, but your family does not leave you”)

want to read Cockfight? visit here

Selected Poems by Paula Erizanu

a nutshell: thanks to the Moldova Foundation in the US, I was thrilled to be put in touch with Moldovan poet, writer & journalist Paula Erizanu who generously shared some of her extraordinary poetry – I was particularly moved by her work-in-progress collection Poems for Mental Hygiene

a line: “the joy to discover that | you don’t have to be | any thought | that crosses | your head” – ‘Authenticity is overestimated’ (I may have to adopt this as my mantra…)

an image: I loved Erizanu’s portrayal of the ego as a popcorn kernel that jumps oily on the frying pan, before being sealed in a plastic bag for the working day in the poem ‘Monday to Friday, from nine til six’

a thought: through her use of the second person and intimately powerful imagery, the poems often gave me the sense that they were tuned into my own (pandemic-infused) psyche – very much a collection that struck a chord

a fact: Erizanu recommended Tatianta Țîbuleac’s novels (excerpts here) and, as an aside, mentioned that she also just finished her first novel, which she is translating from Romanian into English over the coming months – watch this space!

want to read more? follow here

Les Enfants du Khat by Mouna-Hodan Ahmed

Town beside water on book cover, sat on desk next to coffee, pencil and plant

a nutshell: this unique novel follows the life of an eldest daughter who has to grow up quickly due to her father’s addiction to khat, a hallucinogenic herb, which wreaks havoc across society – with particularly sinister impacts on women

a line: “Pourquoi sommes-nous obligés de retoucher son chef-d’œuvre? Sommes-nous plus savant que lui?” | “Why are we forced to retouch his masterpiece? Are we more knowledgeable than him?” – on female genital mutilation (FGM) and God’s will

an image: throughout this hard-hitting novel, Ahmed is unsparing in her depictions of the violence against women that exists not only within Djibouti but globally – from domestic abuse to sexual coercion to FGM

a thought: the book opens with a quote from Pius Ngandu Nkashama about African youth being at a crossroads, and this seems to be the ongoing theme of Les Enfants du Khat – the potential power of young people to generate change

a fact: I was intrigued by the beautiful image on the book’s cover and discovered it was a photo of Tadjoura, one of Djibouti’s oldest towns & an important port for many centuries; Tadjoura evolved into an early Islamic centre with the arrival of Muslims shortly after the Hijra, and is also known for its whitewashed buildings, nearby beaches, and mosques

want to read Les Enfants du Khat? visit here

Man Wortet Sich die Orte Selbst by Iren Nigg (tr. Marissa Grünes)

a nutshell: not yet published in English, this book (Wording the Places Oneself) consists of prose – from short vignettes to novellas – in which Liechenstein author Nigg explores the creative writing proces

a line: “To flirt with misfortune, allow one’s thoughts to circle it: this would never occur to children. The form of the circle isn’t meant for that… Sometimes life is winter. Nature! lets it happen. Fare well – a beautiful wish, lovely! like my cat.”

an image: I loved the description of the snow having been bejeweled by the sun

a thought: at one point the narrator poses a riddle: what is greater than God & more evil than the devil? The poor have it. The happy need it. And when you eat it, you die. (I didn’t get it)

a fact: this is Nigg’s second book and was among the 2011 winners of the European Union Prize for Literature which recognises the best new or emerging authors in the EU – I read a translated excerpt through the website

want to read Man Wortet Sich die Orte Selbst? visit here

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 Gravedigger’s Son by Teresa Colom (tr. Mara Faye Lethem)

a nutshell: with one of the most unique & memorable frameworks I’ve encountered in my project, this story explores an extraordinary childhood set among tombstones

a line: “Death had been tempted by the idea of being a mother for centuries”

an image: my favourite moment was the one in which, as if harvesting an onion, the astonished gravedigger pulled something entirely unexpected out of a grave (no spoilers here!)

a thought: I was amused by the way in which Colom colourfully details the assumptions made by local characters about the child’s origins, each figuring that he had come from another without ever making efforts to find out the truth

a fact: born in Andorra in 1973, Colom writes poetry as well as prose – excerpts are available to read here

The Gravedigger’s Son is not yet in publication – watch this space!

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