On his last visit to Cairo, the German translator Hartmut Fähndrich was despondent about the lack of interest in contemporary Arabic writing, and he offered this interesting explanation of Western reluctance to engage with Arabic literature: “I think [readers] fear that it will destroy TheThousand and One Nights image they have in their minds.” One might argue about the number of potential German book buyers who have the timeless classic lodged in their minds, but even those who do need not worry. No one writing today could possibly live up to the lack of sophistication, unadorned sensuality, and aimless fantasizing found in The Thousand and One Nights.
“Wait here. We’ll get in touch with you later. Don’t go beyond the confines of the village.”
The village seemed to have been abandoned, although there were still goats roaming here and there. I didn’t know how long I would have to wait. To pass the time I wandered in and out of the abandoned houses. I felt tired, but I wasn’t sure whether sleeping had a place in my new life. I went up on the roof of one of the houses and looked out over the neighborhood. The smoke of battle was rising from the nearby towns, and two military helicopters were skimming along the horizon. Fields of cotton surrounded the village on all sides. I had never before had a chance to see cotton flowers. Or maybe I’d seen them in documentaries and other films; I don’t exactly remember. I had spent my life working in a bakery, then as a taxi driver, and finally as a prison guard. When the revolution broke out, I joined the resistance. I fought to my last breath. The cotton flowers looked like snowflakes, but they would have had to be artificial or else the fierce rays of the sun would have melted them all.
In your stained dishdasha, drooping collar, and sneakers with grimy laces, you stand waiting. You see him poring over a faded paper, its lines glowing red with numbers and scribbles. The paper yells: Overdue payment!
A few days after the sunset-to-sunrise curfew went into effect, the members of this jolly family began to feel run-down. Their apartment had all the needed emergency supplies—food, water, first-aid kit—in addition to entertainment options such as reading materials, television and video programs, and Internet, not to mention a landline and a personal cell phone for each. Still, something kept irking them and leading them to feel that they were leading a prison life. They felt as if they were living in a rather spacious dungeon, yet a dungeon all the same. Inside that dungeon, in a matter of days, they began to notice that their weight was steadily increasing. Their bodies grew heavier as time weighed down on them. None of the entertainment options could lighten them up. Besides, the sounds of gunshots and explosions were within earshot, inviting gory images of sniper operations and assassinations. They intimated to each other in a variety of ways their fear of unconsciously slipping from despondency to despair.
It’s the quality you know me by—not just you, but my neighbors and the people on my street.
Come closer. Don’t move away, and don’t cover your ears, because talking comes instinctively to me, and I get no relief from my exasperation or sadness unless I talk to you. Come closer—don’t sit so far away. The day I told you I was going to leave you, you laughed, and I saw in your eyes a confidence I can never erase from my memory: you were confident I’d never do it, because I’m weak before you. But I’ll conquer that weakness and attempt to forget the memories I have with you.