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April 2006

Multi-Multi-Culti: Writing Between The Lines


What the US has long known as "multiculturalism" (never without controversy) is now Europe's most conflicted issue. Yet immigration has brought great, fresh literary voices-and wry, often humorous eyes on the paradoxes of contemporary First World culture-to a continent rich in world-renowned writing. In Senegalese-French author Fatou Diome's "The Belly of the Atlantic," a sensitive footballer forfeits his role during sudden death overtime; in Moroccan-Dutch writer Abdelkader Benali's "May the Sun Shine Tomorrow," an alternative healer quits the phone book. Congolese-French novelist Alain Mabanckou proves the lasting power of the phrase "J'accuse" in "Broken Glass." In Iranian-German Navid Kermani's classroom tale, "On Literature," a brilliant and impossible writing student vows never to write anything. A Roma girl in the Czech Republic learns a harsh lesson in Tera Fabiánová's "How I Went to School."

Hungarian-German Esther Kinsky's "Love," follows a quiet and unpredictable man who seduces and then breaks the heart of a village woman. In Lebanese-French Elias Khoury's White Masks, a Beirut garbage collector recalls the mysterious discovery of a corpse. Lebanese-French poet Vénus Khoury-Ghata creates a kind of fairy tale from an asylum garden, a surrealist homage to the speaker's mother, in "Nettles."

While Words Without Borders is devoted to literary work in translation, in rare circumstances, English language authors receive a visa, allowing publication here of Lebanese-British Zeina Ghandour's personal meditation, the "Omega Definitions," and Pakistani-Australian Azhar Abidi's fantastical family history, "Rosa."

From our archives, Moroccan-Dutch Hafid Bouazza shows that there are people for whom patience or passivity is a sort of job in itself in "Paravion," and Japanese-German Yoko Tawada sends up a controversial "Hair Tax."

Finally, we thank Pete Ayrton of Serpent's Tail, the UK publisher of international literature, for his recommendations and contributions to this issue.

from “The Belly of the Atlantic,” Chapter One

The first free kick goes to the Italians. Madické's delighted. They've rallied, he thinks, and that reassures him. But his optimism's soon frustrated. The Dutch value their

from “May the Sun Shine Tomorrow”

1 Malik Ben weighed 300 pounds on the day he decided to have his name removed from the Yellow Pages. Lugging all that weight around day after day had gotten to be a chore, which is what

Broken Glass

I need to start by describing the row that accompanied the birth of the bar, to tell you a bit about the calvary the Captain had to face, because some people wanted to drive him into his

On Literature

A writer friend of mine told me that a few weeks ago he had had to exclude the most gifted of his students, a young man from Swabia or Baden or Württemberg - neither he nor I can really

How I Went to School

My mother said to me: "You must go to school, or they will lock up your father." There were five of us children at home, four girls and one boy. The eldest was my sister, then me, one year


The villages here are small and scattered. The houses are low, and trees hardly reach the height of the roofs before they begin to grow crooked. Once a young girl lived in a low-built, brown

from “White Masks”

Chapter IV: The Dog -1- There's the clatter of the ancient truck lumbering through the hazy Beirut morning, the sea, and the mingled smell of salt and fish. Sky, gray clouds and

from “Nettles”

IV. At what line and on what page did they begin their emigration the mother asks herself ought one to connect it to the windows which reflect and stare at each other to the rains which

Omega:  Definitions

I am a Muslim feminist from the Fertile Crescent. I have a tattoo on my right wrist. It's of God. I designed it. Do you know where the Fertile Crescent is? One day when we were


Family tradition relates that in the year of grace 1667, my grandfather, the Count de la Savoia eloped with a beautiful nun from the monastery of Domus Ciliota. The Corpa della Nobilita


Listen. What sounds like a call for silence-shhh!-is really the sound of the wind in the trees, a rumor whispered through the leaves by many tongues. And could that chirping of invisible

Hair Tax

After months of controversy, the new hair tax was approved. The Hamster Lovers' Guild was said to be the driving force behind the reform. The Guild had always found it objectionable that


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