Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Iraq's Modern Arabic Literature in English Translation: A Preliminary Bibliography

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Iraq's Modern Arabic Literature in English Translation: A Preliminary Bibliography

Article excerpt

The primary purpose of this bibliographical survey is to provide a guide to Iraq's modern Arabic literature in English translation. Iraqi literature written in other languages such as Kurdish and Turkmen are not included in this survey. Iraqi-Jewish writers who were noted for their literary efforts during the pre-1950 period are cited only if their translated works were published before their departure from Iraq (e.g. Ya'qub Balbul and Anwar Sha'ul). It should be pointed out that their writings are recognized, often in positive terms, as an integral part of Iraq's Arabic literature. The 1988 anthology of Iraqi Short Stories, a government-sponsored publication, refers, for example, to "the sincere earnest efforts made by writers of that period [the 1930s], namely Mahmoud Ahmed Al-Sayyid, Anwar Shaoul, Dhul-Noun Ayyoub, Abdul-Haq Fadhil, Yousif Matti, Shalmon [Shalom] Darweesh and others." (p. 10).(1)

As the various parts of the bibliography suggest, both English translations and studies have focused on the significant contribution which Iraqi poets have made, especially since the 1940s, to contemporary Arabic poetry. Hence the prominence given to the leading modernist poets who have enriched Arabic poetry in techniques and thematic orientation: Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1926-1964), Nazik al-Mala'ika (b.1923), Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati (b.1926), Buland al-Haydari (1926-1996) and Sa'di Yusuf (b.1934). On the other hand, Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri (1900-1997), who stands out as the greatest representative of the classical tradition, is represented only by fragments of his rich legacy in English translation. There is no doubt that the current literary taste, in targeted Western languages, is not receptive to such traditional poetry. However, it is also important to keep in mind another restraining factor, i.e., the demanding task of translating al-Jawahiri's poetic form, its wealth of allusions and usages spanning more than fourteen hundred years of Arabic literature, and the rhetorical expressions which the poet uses extensively in his works.

The other genres (the drama, the novel, and the short story) are marginally represented primarily because they are, on the whole, more concerned with sociopolitical themes, current issues or revolutionary causes than with artistic requirements. The bibliography lists only a few items, mostly individual short stories, by pioneering and prolific writers such as Ayyub (19081988), Ja' far al-Khalili (1902-1985), Mahmud al-Sayyid (1893-1937), Yusuf alAni (b.1927) and others. Apart from al-Ani's play (1995), there are three other complete works of fiction by individual authors (two novels and a short story collection) available in English. Mu'alla's novel, noted for its political Ba'thist overtones, was translated and published in three parts(1979-1982) in London and Baghdad. The other two works, by two leading women writers, Daisy al-Amir (1994) and Aliyah Mamduh (1996) represent a welcome addition to the growing corpus of Arab women's writings in English translation. Mamduh's novel, Mothballs, translated by Peter Theroux, offers a unique perspective within the Iraqi, and perhaps the larger Arab, context. Narrated primarily by the heroine, the novel presents the world of a young Arab woman's struggle torn between her compassionate understanding of her ancient heritage and her disenchantment with its oppressive customs and practices. Mamduh's portrayal of a traditional life (in Baghdad and Karbala) gradually giving way to modernity is exceptionally vivid and authentic.

It is obvious that these four works give us only a very limited access to a rich literature of Iraqi fiction and drama. Among the contemporary writers who deserve greater attention because of the artistic quality of their works are Muhammad Khudayyir, Abd al-Malik Nuri (b.921), Abd al-Rahman al-Rubay'i (b.1930), and Fu'ad Takarli known also as Tikirli (b.1927). The latter's novel al-Raj' al-Ba'id (The Distant Echo), 1980, has been judged in a recent study to be "one of the best novels written in Arabic during the last fifteen years" (Walther, p. …

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