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183 article(s) translated from French

Water in the Rice Fields up to My Knees!

Malagasy writer Johary Ravaloson riffs on the urban legend of the vanishing hitchhiker.  1 It happened in November. A sticky night, relieved by crisp poststorm air. I was waiting for passengers under a streetlight in Ampasampito, near the cemetery, when I heard squelch-squelch on the pavement. I looked up from my notebook and saw a faltering shadow stumble into the circle of light. Slathered with mud, her feet and wedge heels forming thick, slimy boots, the woman lurched...

From “Tazmamartyrs”

Translator’s Note: Tazmamart was a secret prison for political prisoners built in the wake of a second failed coup d’état against King Hassan II of Morocco in 1972. Aziz BineBine was one of the soldiers caught up in that day’s events who found themselves condemned to a 2 x 3 yard underground cube in notoriously inhumane conditions for eighteen years. Over half of Tazmamart’s prisoners died there. Tahar Ben Jelloun’s This Blinding Absence of Light (which...

Quipapá Gold

L’or de Quipapá is the debut novel from Hubert Tézenas, an author who has spent the first thirty years of his career translating American and Brazilian novels into his native French. The crime novel dives into Brazil of the late 80s, exploring all the crime, corruption, and seedy underbelly of a country in economic repression, having just recovered from a military dictatorship. Quipapá is home to a sugar cane magnate, whose workers are treated more like slaves....

Tomorrow, God Willing

Long ago, my father told me that there was a place in Paris, behind a bush, where you could glimpse paradise, which you only saw once because men went there to die. This place was located somewhere in Montsouris Park, he said, hidden between two paths where someone walking would be swept along by the wind, while the dying man entertained his last conversation with himself before ending it all.   On September 6, 2042, I found myself there. Stretched out on the damp grass with a...

The Right Path

Centuries ago, on the vast plains that extend between the coasts of the Black and Caspian seas, was a kingdom founded by General Poltrov. Poltrov was the product of a life of military discipline: tyrannical, cruel, and rational to the extreme. At the pinnacle of his glory, he enjoyed absolute power over his subjects, a few thousand farmers and artisans. There were only two cities on Poltrov’s territory: Lalandia in the east and Falstria in the west. But communications and...

The Seed of Evil: Sarajevo 1995

In a story that spans more than two decades, scenes from armed conflicts in Beirut and Sarajevo are portrayed in a literary diptych as six diverse characters struggle for survival and self-definition from inside varying epicenters of chaos. Holiday Inn: Nights of Respite is the polyphonic account of these characters’ lives, which are extraordinarily intertwined. It is also a fearless inquiry into some of the darkest human impulses. In this excerpt from Sonia...

The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers

“Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism,” sighs Dassoukine, staring into the distance. I don’t respond because this phrase seems like a prologue—and in the face of a prologue, what can you do but await what follows, resigned. My commensal examines his mug of beer suspiciously, even though we are, after all, in the country that saw the birth of this pretty blonde, sometimes brunette, child—in an abbey, I’m told. The server eyes us. In this superb...

From “Photograms”

Our country has no more warriors only timeworn fig trees beaten thoroughly by the thousand winds of our plight. The barefooted angels with pathetic faces at the bottom of our ramparts die with each new light. The scent of childhood is now nowhere to be found no chance of nursery rhymes or sunshowers what happened to the hours of ancient romance our dreamy obsession with Al-Buraq’s powers? Oh that horse-woman with the mane flowing longer than the clouds over our houses crumbling...

A Red Lighter in the Heart of M.

The weight of the world is visible in your eyes, heavier and fuller than the generous breasts of the unfamiliar girl seated across from you. She tells you her name is Hiba and says she lives in the next neighborhood over. She looks at you, dumbfounded, while you continue to play with the lighter that someone forgot in your apartment. You light it and let it go out, and think of the swamp of despair swallowing your heart. Hiba stands up and walks toward the large mirror. She adjusts her...

From “The Dove-Text”

The Arabophone poet Abdallah Zrika composed a volume of French prose poems, La Colombe du texte (The Dove-Text), during his three-month residency at the Centre International de la Poésie Marseille in 2002. The following is an extract. The highest degree of solitude is not reached when you cannot open the door for more than two days, but when no fly enters through the window. I do not know the degree of solitude of the trees around me, or if they haven’t known...

Infinite Fall

In Infinite Fall, his second book, Mohamed Leftah takes up one of the “small true facts of the past” (Stendahl’s term). In Leftah’s hometown, a high school boy leaps to his death in front of his classmates. Leftah, one of the boys who witnessed this act, replays the scene in slow motion, and from it opens a meditation on homosexual love, repression, and bigotry, as performed in a small town in Morocco in the 1960s. This “little chronicle” (a...

From “Dreams of a Berber Night, or The Tomb of Thorns”

Your pain Scars my blood With a fire Always smoldering   Your smile Escapes Their chains To light up My body   I sink Into the darkness Of your night To drink it in   Heart in     embers I cross Your night   I would like to hide myself in you   chisel time to the rhythm of your heartbeat cover the rose in the sky with your sheet I would like to sleep in your kiss   not wake up only dream in your night I would like to be...

They Told You

Stick a toothpick of silence in your mouth! That your word should never bear witness! That your song should never be the echo of fire While a fire is being prepared for you in the afterlife! They told you That your feet should be nailed to the household! That you should never reach a market or a beach! They told you That you are your father’s when you’re young!    That you are your spouse’s when you’re married! That you are your grave’s once...

On Angoulême and Control

Illustration accompanying call for boycott. © Julie Maroh. The furor over the list of nominees for the Grand Prix of the Angoulême International Comics Festival (FIBD) should be understood as a typical example of a number of societal phenomena. I mean by this that the comics world is no more or less sexist than other communities: it’s just the same. But I also mean that this controversy was a gift for the media and for those who love to dig into such a juicy morsel since...

The Garden of Tears

Translator's note: Driss and Souad are in their late twenties and recently married. Driss is a nurse and Souad is a cook at one of Marrakech’s finest restaurants. Their lives mirror those of the average Moroccan working class: confined to badly paid jobs in a country ruled by a monarchic kleptocracy. Driss and Souad work hard and are hoping to save enough money to buy their own home. During one of her evening shifts, Souad is assaulted by a drunken government officer: Police...

Saad

Saad bursts into the bedroom, where David is resting after lunch, and declares: “They’re coming! Quick, Monsieur David, let’s go see them!” The whole town seems to race toward Ambado. A cloud of dust rises into view in the distant haze between Tadjoura and the palm grove. David and Saad, on their mules, are the first to reach them. Hemmed in by around twenty armed horsemen, they’ve been marching like this for months. A thousand people of all ages, from the...

Abandoning Myself

Burning, the needle that gently scrapes my skin, that doesn’t press very deep, that moves along slowly, that skims my flesh beneath the surface, that injects black ink blood between the two layers. Gaël crouches over my thigh. His left hand stretches and holds the skin. The other draws with the strange machine. Piercing, its sound—it reminds me of the dentist’s drill. Its tiny needle makes me think about the one in the sewing machine where Neny Kely rips open her...

The Conspiracists

One day, an uncle of mine called Alphonse sent me to get advice from his childhood friend who’d become a policeman. The friend’s name was Anatole Rabe. He’d steadily climbed the steps of the National Police hierarchy, my uncle said, and now found himself near the top. Alphonse and Anatole had first met when they were still in short pants and both had enthusiastically donned the thankless uniform of civil servitude—but that was at a simpler time when the...

Omeo Zamako

He lives in the land of impunity. Although he didn’t choose to live here, he loves it and he would not live in another place. His land is beautiful: milk and honey flow there and everything is blessed. It’s a shame that men have made a dump of it—a dump for injustice. Lehilahy is a craftsman and proud of it. His wife is pretty and she is expecting a child. The waiting is serene. He will be born in their small bedroom. They have never been to hospitals or maternity wards....

Nenitou

Crayfish leap backward in huge bounds, which I loved. But later, I’d find their own excrement in their heads.   Lord Rat washes his face, he is bald. Lady Mouse trills, she is toothless.   Once upon a time, I was a little girl. I lived in the country. Then, Nenitou came. Nenitou is my mother-sister. She took me with her. She made me leave the country. I was going to go to school. I was going to have beautiful dresses. Clean ones. I was going to watch...

Blastomycosis

Before starting his nightly route, Lemizo patted himself down to make sure that he had all the tools of his trade. On his left shoulder: a scrap paper bag glued around a large, empty, white metal container without a lid. On his right: two large sacks dangling down, one for different kinds of glass bottles, the other for scrap plastic. Around his waist: a large belt made from a tightly rolled swath of fabric, to hold any handled objects that could be reused. He also had his pointed metal...

Auntie’s Eggs

Tragedy has struck the Rambahy house: Ikalamainty, the black chicken, has just joined her ancestors on Mount Ambondrombe. Her demise brings great sorrow: a steady source of income for the household has disappeared. And worse, the poor thing was brooding at the moment of passing, so this morning, Rambahy’s wife is brooding over the orphan-eggs. Her husband looks on, powerless to console her. “What are we going to do with these eggs now?” she asks, worried and sad....

Wife Sold at Auction

On this morning, the old musician stops playing the moment I bend my lanky bag of bones and squeeze through the tiny doorframe of his home. I’ve stopped greeting him, at least while he’s playing, so as not to frighten away, like birdsong, the music my ears drink in from the street. But today, he breaks off. A long silence settles in while Marvane—that’s what I call him—aligns and adjusts the chunks of calabash gourd under the strings of his instrument. His...

One Times Two

Hamban-Joky and Hamban-Jandry were twin brothers, unusually identical brothers. They looked the same and acted the same. Their mother, Velonaina, mixed them up. Their father, Tsiahoana, couldn’t tell them apart. No one in the village knew one from the other. Only they recognized one another, only they knew which one was which. For Hamban-Jandry had been the first to see the light of day. And thus he was Zandry, his parents’ youngest child.  Hamban-Joky was the one charged...

The Anarchist

First published in 1980 and republished in 2011, l’Anarchiste has never earned Soth Polin the literary status in France merited by the quality of its prose, whose luminosity is reminiscent of the writings of Marguerite Duras and Albert Camus. The novel's failure to gain stronger traction with French literary circuits on its first publication might have resulted from its stark critique of French journalists who had taken a strong pro-Khmer Rouge position in...
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