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October 2019

The Comic Edge: Arabic Humor

Image: Doaa Eladl, "Global Warming Effect." Courtesy of Cartoon Movement.

This month we present humor writing translated from the Arabic. Arabic literature has a rich tradition of the comic, grounded in human folly and a keen sense of the absurd in both the personal and the political. From pompous generals to toiling laborers, in nuptial chambers and crowded graveyards, the characters in this issue offer comedy both specific and universal. Libyan author Najwa Bin Shatwan’s hapless ghost risks his (after)life as he seeks a final resting place. In two pieces from Egypt, Muhammed Mustajab looks on as quarry workers literally roast on the job, while the great poet and songwriter Ahmed Fouad Negm’s satirical lyrics skewer the powerful. Classic Iraqi writer Ibn al-Jawzi's twelfth-century taxonomy of morons proves that stupidity has always been a current event. And in two romantic farces, Lebanon’s Sahar Mandour faithfully records a young TV star’s serial infidelity, and Yemeni playwright Wajdi Al-Ahdal’s wedding scene is upstaged by an assassination attempt. We thank our guest editor, M. Lynx Qualey, for her contributions and sharp introduction to the issue. Also this month we bring you writing from the Himalayas via oral tales on the theme of migration, committed to paper and translated into English by Noor Zaheer.

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Book Reviews

A Family Drama Unfolds in Silence in Linda Boström Knausgård’s “Welcome to America”

Reviewed by Deborah Bragan-Turner

A Stockholm apartment where two children live with their mother is the main setting for this book, an intimate portrait of a family in crisis that won the prestigious Swedish August Prize and has been described as a chamber play.

Huzama Habayeb Challenges Myths of Motherhood and Exile in “Velvet”

Reviewed by M. Lynx Qualey

Distinguished with the 2017 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, this multi-generational novel confronts traditional taboos to tell a late-in-life love story between two Palestinian refugees living in Jordan’s Baqa’a camp.

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