Unbuttoning the Violin

Unbuttoning the Violin
by Mansoura Ez-Eldin, Joumana Haddad, Ala Hlehel, Abed Ismael
ISBN: 978-0-9549666-2-1

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Pre-eminent among young Arab writers today are two poets and two fiction writers from countries with literary heritages that go to the heart of Arab literature's heritage – poets Joumana Haddad from Lebanon and Abed Ismael from Syria, and fiction writers Ala Hlehel from Palestine and Mansoura Ez-Eldin from Egypt.

Unbuttoning the Violin was published to accompany the Banipal LIve 2006 UK tour, a joint venture by Banipal, the British Council and The Reading Agency.  For more information, click here

Unbuttoning the Violin was produced by Banipal Books for the Banipal Live tour of the UK, 14-20 August 2006, which is a partnership of Banipal Magazine with the British Council and The Reading Agency, and generously supported by Arts Council England. Please visit this link for further details of the tour: https://www.banipal.co.uk/tour/

Four authors from the heart of the Arab world, and pre-eminent in their generation, tour the UK in August 2006 – poets Joumana Haddad from Lebanon and Abed Ismael from Syria, with fiction writers Mansoura Ez-Eldin from Egypt and Ala Hlehel from Palestine. This elegant paperback volume of selected works celebrates the tour with Banipal Live 2006, which includes a pioneering project with selected libraries along the tour route.

Skilful and ingenious translators are indispensable to the task of bringing the writers’ original words into the orbit and the soul of the reader in another language. This volume is fortunate in having the support of experienced translators from Arabic, Issa J. Boullata, Paul Starkey and Anthony Calderbank, and from French, the award-winning American poet and translator Marilyn Hacker, and the new-comer Nada Elzeer.

All four authors differ in their approach to writing, all are active in their local literary scenes as both creative writers and as cultural journalists. Joumana Haddad’s poetry takes the reader on excursions into history, into the life of women, is at times metaphorical, at other times a puzzle for the reader to unravel, while that of Abed Ismael is existential, questioning, sometimes with sadness, sometimes in mocking or heroic mood, and includes an unusual tour of Damascus in “Mirrors of Damascus”. Mansoura Ez-Eldin’s short stories are tantalising for their dark unexpected sides. Having heard from her grandmother’s knee countless enchanting country tales of ghosts, fairies, goblins and djinn, she has no hesitation in shifting time and place, writing as a man, waking up in a dream, or just letting the reader draw his/her own conclusions. Ala Hlehel, a prize-winning author and a playwright, has a rare talent and follows in the footsteps of other powerful and individual Palestinian fiction writers such as Ghassan Kanafani and Emile Habiby in the way he takes an ordinary situation and lays bare its varying layers of pain, futility, absurdity, pomposity and injustice.

Here are four authors not to miss.

In the words of their translators:

Mansoura’s first novel is remarkable, not only for its freshness of vision but also for its precision of language – a truly original creation

Paul Starkey

At once sensual and cerebral, anarchic and self-contained, in Joumana’s poems one hears the voice of Lilith, rebel woman at the origins of all three Abrahamic monotheisms

Marilyn Hacker

Stunningly simple, refreshingly honest, Ala Hlehel’s style resonates far beyond the daily traumas of occupied Palestine

Anthony Calderbank

One of the most prominent young poets of Syria, Abed’s poetry is intensely individual, concerned as it is with existential issues that press him for an answer

Issa J Boullata

Reviewed on the Laura Hird ezine