Arabic Fiction

The Slaves

By GHALIB HALASA
Translated by THORAYA EL-RAYYES


At the borderland between the desert and the plains, Emirate of Transjordan, early twentieth century

 Two men sat near the round threshing floor in the western fields. Each with his rifle on his lap. “What a goddamn year,” Tafish said. He had a skull-like face. Small, sunken, deep-set eyes. Emaciated cheeks with protruding cheekbones. A broad forehead with dark blue veins at the sides. Skin like an aged tortoise. His hair and lower jaw were hidden behind a white keffiyeh, held in place by a black fleece cord around his head. His frame was tall, straight, lithe. He rubbed his nose with his hand, letting a low whistle out of his nostrils. By the time he lowered his hand, a pensive expression of disgust had formed on his face. Staring straight ahead, he spoke, as if to himself: “What a goddamn year.”

The Slaves
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After Creation, Before The Fall

By MUFLEH AL-ODWAN

Translated by ALICE GUTHRIE

 

Adam

As broken as a venial sin,

and as weary as the last to be created (or the first), 

he looked to the sky, now become his ground. 

Once he’d learned about naming and questioning, and saw what he saw of the blue corridors of space, he asked himself: 

I wonder what the Throne is?

Did the Throne of the Almighty exist before water, or arise after water? And what is water, anyway? 

Despairing, he smacked the trunk of the tree he was sitting under.

After Creation, Before The Fall
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It Happens

By JAMILA AMAIREH
Translated by THORAYA EL-RAYYES

1

I sit on my old chair, scatter my multicolored toys around me, and start watching evening cartoons on TV. Cool Pancho shoots off through the streets in his car, feeling awesome. He’d bought the car back from the old lady living next door. Never mind that he’d paid too much, more than two thousand pounds. No problem. He slows down, speeds up, and finally stops at the green fields to go for a stroll. The episode ends, but I stay glued to the television, waiting for my truly favorite cartoon: The Adventures of Zaina the Bee. Zaina is a menacing creature; she has no other business but instigating pranks on her friend Nahhul. Nahhul, for his part, has no choice but to come crawling back to his bully-of-a-buddy every time.

It Happens
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Operating Manual

By Fairooz Tamimi

Translated by Thoraya El-Rayyes

 

How to make a cup of hot chocolate

Stand in front of the window of your kitchen refuge and prepare the following ingredients:

  1. A welcoming, empty green glass.
  2. A bottle of cold, fresh milk.
  3. An orange and brown tin of Cadbury’s Cocoa.
  4. The two large tablespoons locked in an embrace in the drawer (possibly because of your awful dishwashing skills), which have triggered your loneliness. Use them as they are; do not expend any emotion separating them.
Operating Manual
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Propositions

By HAIFA’ ABUL-NADI
Translated by ELISABETH JAQUETTE

Coffee

His coffee lasts. It’s what he starts his mornings with, early, and then he drinks half a cup in the mid-afternoon. It keeps him company. Maybe the smell of it fresh is the reason he keeps sipping it, even after it’s gone cold. Or maybe he has other reasons. Maybe he feels a certain duty, a responsibility toward it. His coffee, poured into a paper cup, changes in color, shape, and size each day, depending on the kiosk he buys it from. The man and his coffee spend the whole day together, and then he leaves it on his desk or the first ledge he sees. He abandons it without a last sip, or even a word of farewell. He leaves the paper cup of coffee and returns to his world, trusting that another one will be waiting for him in another kiosk tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that. 

Propositions
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The Village Idiot

By MAJIDAH AL-OUTOUM

Translated by ALICE GUTHRIE

 

We awoke one morning to news of a death. The person we had lost was the one we used to call the Village Idiot—that buffoon who used to make us laugh and cry at the same time, that leaping, dancing ball of energy who would hurl himself around, wild with enthusiasm, stomping on our toes and crashing into us as he went gesticulating by.

The Village Idiot
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A Space for Dreaming

By M. LYNX QUALEY

Scholars of Arabic literature were, for a time, obsessed with naming a “first” Arabic novel to stand at the head of an apparently new literary tradition. Was it M. H. Haykal’s 1914 Zaynab? Was it one of the many novels that were serialized in popular magazines that sprouted up in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Or perhaps Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s peripatetic, language-glorifying Leg Over Leg (1855)? Never mind that al-Shidyaq mocked the obsessions of European writing.

A Space for Dreaming
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Four Very Short Stories

By KHALED SAMEH

The Guard of Darkness
In the dark depths of this pit, I try to touch the light seeping in through the cracks. My hands clasp nothing but dust, while the silence carries its nightly promise of my everlasting confinement.

On the very first night, one thousand years ago, or… wait, why do we always begin our stories with the first night? There is absolutely no difference between what happened in that distant time and what is happening now. The same columns of men march beneath the sun’s rays in the afternoon’s scorching heat, the same tear-soaked supplications and hymns: “O God, make his grave a green pasture in the gardens of Paradise—don’t cast him into a burning pit of hell.” “O God, grant him a better spouse than the one he has, a better home, and better children.” “O God, forgive his sins and those of your faithful worshippers.”

Four Very Short Stories
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