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How to describe Banipal magazine’s last issue? A sad, sad occasion? A continuation of the best aspects of the magazine over the years? It is all of that and more, and features a number of our long-standing editors, translators and reviewers, among them Anton Shammas, Paul Starkey, Raphael Cohen, Samira Kawar, Jonathan Wright, Nancy Roberts, Becki Maddock, Susannah Tarbush, Stephanie Petit, Fayez Ghazi and Hannah Somerville.
We open with a special glimpse into Adoniada, the recent philosophical and poetic autobiographical work by the great Syrian poet Adonis, with an introduction to it later in the issue. It is followed by a commemorative page displaying all Banipal’s front covers, issues 1 to 75.
We remember the life and works of Armenian-Iraqi painter Ardash Kakafian (1941-1999) with tributes by Iraqi critic Farouk Yousif and artist Sherine Morsi, whose father Ahmed Morsi was an old and dear friend since their young days in Baghdad’s art scene, and for whom the painter was Uncle Ardash. Although spending a good part of his life in Paris, for Kakafian Baghdad was always with him, it “had become a part of me”, he said.
Novelist Najwa Barakat, whose second novel in English translation Mister N is reviewed in this issue, presents her Literary Influences: she describes how the Lebanese civil war, at its start on 13 April 1975, created ten “abominable, battered, stagnant years”. Five years in Paris reading great writers helped her “to bear the unbearable” before she was able to write again.
Anton Shammas describes a startling revelation after he eventually asked Emile Habiby the question he’d had on his mind for ten years since he had been “struggling with translating his untranslatable Al-Mutashā’il (The Pessoptimist) into Hebrew”; and reflects on Emile Habiby’s interminable problem of how “to carry two watermelons in one hand”.
A major author we are proud to include is Abdelfattah Kilito: an excerpt from his Le Cheval de Nietzsche revolves around the phrase “our foreign language”, apparently spoken by Averroes in a dream, which Kilito then interrogates and dissects. The inimitable Lebanese-Canadian author Rawi Hage presents a story about a local boy, The Shepherd. And, in fellow Lebanese Katia Al-Tawil’s novel Heaven is more Beautiful from a Distance, the protagonist is at loggerheads with the author (suffering from writer’s block), while Ammar Almamoun, reviewing the book, describes the protagonist himself setting out to complete not one, but seven different novels.
We are pleased to present excerpts from the winner of the 2022 Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature, The Café Riche – An Eye on Egypt by Emirati author and poet Maisoon Saqer. Literary Cairo is unveiled in all its “richness” in this extensive study of the Café’s place as narrative, with its “deep cultural history . . . and social heritage”.
A Prison Writing feature presents Syrian author Thaer Deeb, who reflects on his incarceration and horrifying tortures, when the “mind starts to live off its reserves” and finds a way to access the only weapon it has – “culture, the humanity of man”.
Among authors for the first time in Banipal are young Egyptian poet Menna Abo Zahra with poems that call for independence and freedom for thought, and Sudanese author Ann El Safi, who draws us into the crowded, bustling village life of Al-Qama’ir where the two branches of the Nile join, with its social norms harnessing and controlling women’s lives. Also, Nizar Aghri with his novel In Search of Aazar, longlisted for the 2022 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and set in that “beautiful melting pot of diversity” that was his childhood city of Qamishli.
An astute sense of life’s bottomless tragi-comedy, particularly for those who don’t fit into the borders that society tries to impose, marks the stories of Amir Sommer – Afro-Palestinian Disco and One Fine Day You Find Out You’re an Arab, which follow Marwan as a young man and then as a father.
In a historic tribute to both Denys Johnson-Davies, and Ghalib Halasa, we reproduce by kind permission of Paula Crociano, the latter’s letter to DJD from over 40 years ago.
With texts fighting to get into this last issue, we are having to publish three online – a short story by Jordanian author Jamila Omairah, poems by Kurdish-Iraqi poet Walid Hermiz, based in Sweden, and a short story by Qatari author Jamal Fayez.
Last but not least for this last issue is our book review section of new poetry and fiction titles, with all but three already in English translation. We refer here only to two reviews. In one, poet and translator Trino Cruz reviews The Stone Serpent, Barates of Palmyra’s Elegy for Regina his Beloved, by Syrian poet Nouri Al-Jarrah, translated from the original Arabic by Catherine Cobham. It is Banipal Books’ latest title and Nouri Al-Jarrah’s second book in translation published by Banipal. Trino Cruz emphasises the “apparently effortless melding of mythologies, tales, legends and history, Celtic, Norse, Irish, Ugaritic, Sumerian, amongst others, of poems in Latin, Arabic, Greek, English”, supported by the poet’s own copious notes and references.
Introduced by Jaafar Al-Aluni is the latest work by Adonis, the poetic and autobiographical Adoniada featured on page one, with French and Spanish translations but not yet English. Though the ancient poets al-Mutanabbi, Abu Tammam, Abu Nuwas, to name only three, were always with Adonis, the central issue for him has been “whether the poet can initiate a new direction in the history of poetry in the same way that the poet creates a new history for him or herself”. Without an answer to this “the writing of poetry would make no sense at all”, he maintains. Al-Aluni’s introduction, written originally for the Spanish Adoniada, which was translated by Al-Aluni and Trino Cruz, is reproduced by special agreement with the publisher in this last Banipal.
A splendid last issue for which we thank all the authors, translators, editors, reviewers and writers.
The digital archive of all 75 issues is available for institutions and libraries, and back copies of many print issues are available to purchase to create personal archives. The website will remain active.