Archive for January, 2011

Tahrir Square, continued

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Have been transfixed by the scenes on the streets of Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria, watching the live coverage on Al Jazeera English on my laptop at the kitchen table. I keep thinking about the image of the crowd of people just slowly pushing back the line of police in riot gear: The people are simply too many to stop. But it becomes more frightening by the hour, as well.

More, from Radwa Ashour’s Specters, on a bit of the history of the places we keep seeing on the screen:

The incident at Abbas Bridge, when Cairo University students were blocked from behind by police officers and in front by the opening of the bridge, is a blank space in my childhood mind. The incident occurred on February 9, 1946, three months and seventeen days before I was born. At the age of 10 I would have the impression, even after my family moved to another house, that I had complete and total knowledge of the bridge, and that I saw from it more than others did. It would seem to me that I knew the buildings of the medical college, and its hospitals known as Kasr al-Aini, which occupied the northern end of the island and which I passed every day on my way to school from our home at Abbas Bridge and subsequently from our new house in Moustafa Reda Street. I didn’t know that in 1935 students of the college had hidden the body of their colleague, Abdel Hakam al-Jarrahi, in the university hospital so that they would be able to escort it in a public funeral procession. And when the Sudanese student Mohammed Ali Ahmad fell, the students of the college hid his body as well, and when the police had no luck in determining its whereabouts matters escalated into a battle between the students and the police, who tried to prevent them from staging a huge funeral for their martyred comrade. In my childhood the Kasr al-Aini building was a familiar presence. Later I would discover that a child knows things, and yet does not know them.

In Tahrir Square, Cairo

Friday, January 28th, 2011

As tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets in Egypt and authorities respond with violence and by attempting to excise Egypt from the digital world, I offer this excerpt from the Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour’s most recent novel to be translated into English, Specters. As we’ve been hearing the recent reports of protests and their repression in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo (among many other places), I thought of Ashour’s work, which gives a sense of the history of popular protest in the same square.

On the morning of January 24, 1972 I will go to Cairo University and find it surrounded by security forces, and I won’t be able to go in to where a student sit-in has been staged in the large university hall. I will learn that the students were arrested at dawn and led off to prison.

In the evening, Mourid and I will go down to Tahrir Square: the students will be milling around the stone monument in the middle of the square, while other groups conduct discussions with passersby about economic and political conditions in the country, and explain the reasons for the sit-in. We head for the Izavich Café. There we find a number of our fellow writers and we hear talk of a national committee of writers and artists being formed. We sign our names on a petition sponsored by the committee that pledges solidarity with the students and their demands and condemns the arrests that took place that morning. We copy the petition, as do others of our colleagues. We divide up into small groups, each of which takes a copy of the petition, to gather the signatures of writers and artists. We carry out our mission and return to the square. The security forces, from a distance, are watching the students who are sitting and standing around the commemorative statue, shouting and chanting. We move on to the journalists’ guild, where a number of writers, artists, and journalists are assembling. We count the signatures: between nine o’clock and midnight, our activity has yielded 105 signatures. What are we going to do with the petition? Opinion favors sending it to the president of the republic, the prime minister, and the head of the parliament. Three delegates are chosen, and I am one of them. We leave the guild hall on foot and head toward the telegraph office in Adli Street. The employee on duty asks us the sender’s name, and we say, “This list—we want all 105 names to show.” He says it’s not possible, so we say, “The three of us, then—our names.” He refuses. I show him my card and the employee records the pertinent information on it, then takes the text of the telegram and the signatures that accompany it.We go back to the guild hall, and I leave with Mourid. On our way home we watch the students and the security forces. Before dawn, the forces advance on the students and clash with them; they arrest many of them, and pursue those who flee into the surrounding streets. In the morning, new students come to reinforce those who fled the night before; they demonstrate, and there are new confrontations with the police detachments.

There is more to the story, concerning my part in it and concerning the incident itself, but for now I move away from Tahrir Square, mere footsteps away from which I lived nine years without knowing the story of ’46. The story of ’72, though—that one I witnessed, and participated in, too. The workers’ protests in ’75 took place in the square, as well as the violent demonstrations of ’77, and in the middle of all these events, also in ’75, the funeral of Umm Kulthoum. A few meters from the heart of the square is the Mosque of Omar Makram. From the mosque, I will walk with the mourners time after time to say goodbye to friends and colleagues, and most likely my friends and colleagues will see me off from this very same place. The mourners will bid farewell to Umm Kulthoum from the Mosque of OmarMakram; I will hear about it and see it on the television screen while I am in the United States working on my doctorate. And from this mosque I will say goodbye to my lifelong friend, Latifa al-Zayyat. I take part in the ritual ablutions in the oppressive crypt of the Misr International Hospital. I go out with the body, and then we part company: she borne away in her coffin in the hearse, I in a car whose color I no longer remember.

Tomorrow:  the story of ’46.

Thanks to the blog, the POMED Wire, of the Project for Middle East Democracy for the image of protesters in Tahrir Square this week.

Best Translated Book Award: fiction longlist

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Over at the excellent blog Three Percent, the first announcement about this year’s Best Translated Book award includes our own Touch, by Adania Shibli and translated by Paula Haydar. Congratulations to them both, and to those responsible for the rest of the amazing round-up of books.

Come find us in DC

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Clockroot is ramping up for the AWP conference next week at the Marriott Wardman Park — Omni Shoreham Hotels in DC. Come find us at the bookfair at table H5 with panels, translators, and books! And please join us for these Clockroot-strong events:

Clockroot’s own Pam Thompson will be moderating the panel “The Experimental and the International” on Friday, February 4 at 10:30 in the Nathan Hale room of the Marriott.  This panel will feature Karen Emmerich, Scott Esposito, Steve Dolph, Anna Moschovakis, and Jill Schoolman, and will consider  why literature in translation is often described as experimental, touching on such questions as: What issues arise as foreign literary traditions enter the U.S. milieu? What can happen when highly language-focused (thus experimental?) work moves between languages?

Afterwards, back at our booth, Karen Emmerich will be signing books from 1:30–2pm.

Later that evening, Kenyon Review Online, Monsters of Poetry and Rescue Press sponsor readings by Clockroot’s Becka Mara McKay, along with Julia Story, Christie Ann Reynolds, Zach Savich, Shane McCrae, Jess Lacher, Hannah Sanghee Park, Daniel Khalastchi, Kevin Gonzalez, and Adam Fell. 7:30 at the Asylum Bar, 2471 18th Street.

On Saturday at 1:30, back at our booth, Becka will be signing books.

We look forward to seeing you there!

The Missing

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

WHAT THEY never tell you about a land under siege is that it becomes like a person with bipolar disorder. It suffers short bursts of hyperactivity between long periods of lethargy. That is what they never show on television. All they show are riots and protests and bomb blasts. They never show monotony. Monotony is for those who live in it. Not for those who watch. Or so Mr Shahid thought one morning, while driving to work in his once-white Toyota. He was certain he was reaching the point where he would do anything to break the monotony…

Check out the new Pulp & Noir issue of Tehelka to read Uzma Aslam Khan’s new story. Tehelka also featured Clockroot’s newest author, Sunetra Gupta, in an earlier issue on Excess.

BOMBLOG discusses The Sleepwalker

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Elsbeth Pancrazi has interviewed Karen Emmerich for the BOMBlog—excerpt below:

EP What particular difficulties did you encounter, translating Sleepwalker?

sleepwalkerforwebKE Well, in a book that’s in English it’s very difficult for me to mark what’s in English in the original. When it’s French, I leave it in French. When it’s German, I leave it in German. Usually I say, “He said in English,” or—well, there are a few different approaches, but because of the typographical difference between the Greek alphabet and the Roman, this is much more striking in the original text. You can’t really reproduce that.

There’s just so much English. And people are speaking bad Greek and bad English. And at times even when you know they’re speaking English in the book, it’s written in Greek. It speaks to what one of the characters, Placido, calls “the problem of languages,” which is central to the book. So, that’s one of the things that I wish there was a better solution for.

EP Are there other things that are in that category? Things you never figured out?

KE Sometimes it’s hard to know until you hear what someone else thinks. My brother and I read one another’s stuff all the time and often I’ll tell him, “Michael, that is not English.” And he’ll be like, “Wait, we don’t say that?” Because you know what it means, you have it in your head as something that makes sense.

Sometimes going too close to the literal can be really productive. But you have to know that you’re doing it. There’s this phrase, siga siga, that literally means, “slowly, slowly.” As in, take your time, don’t worry about it, one step at a time. And I have translated that in poetry as “slowly, slowly,” because I think it’s really lovely. And people who know Greek will be like, “Oh, that is a bad translation.”

Read in full here.