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27th February 2017

More from Orange 4

Farah Elhouni continues to explore the Arabic literature from Orange 4

The Arabic collection in Main Library’s Orange 4 is a relatively small but rich collection of books. Three books only begin to scratch the surface of the Arabic literary experience. The following are three more to delve into the treasure trove that is Orange 4. Set in two countries, Lebanon and Sudan, these books are all available in English, adapted from Arabic in Main Library.

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih [Orange 4 (892.73 S73 )]

This novel written by Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih is a beautifully written and structured work on postcolonialism and power. This is essentially a reflection on the relationship between postcolonial Sudan and its former colonists, subtly dealing with the power play and the divide between the global north and the south; the west and the east. It raises the question of whether a disequilibrium between cultures can be a cause for their differences.

The story follows the protagonist who recently returned to his homeland, whom we learn more about through his relationship with the mysterious Mustafa Sa’eed. Through these odd conversations we learn about his life in London, the global north, and his professional and sexual adventures. We later learn that Mustafa may or may not have a reason to confide in our protagonist  himself. Through them we learn more about the differences that exist between societies and how the imagination of Salih, the author, attempts to remedy them through his use of symbolism.

Selected by a panel of Arab writers and critics as the most important Arab novel of the twentieth century, his story is especially important for readers interested in Arabic literature, not only for the literary status this work holds, but also for a chance to decipher the political, social, and philosophical symbolism that is characteristic of his work.

The Broken Wings by Khalil Gibran [Orange 5 (892.78 K51 )]

Kahlil Gibran, a leading figure of idyllic literature, wrote The Broken Wings to document his first encounter with love, albeit never realized.

Published in 1912 Beirut, Lebanon, traditions and customs of that era are chronicled in this novella. The story follows Gibran himself, and his beloved Salma, and the way they face familial and societal pressure in the form of circumstances and traditions.

One of Gibran’s most popular works, this is a cliché love story which depicts the turbulences many lovers face in a conservative society.  Gibran’s ‘version’ of this widely circulated scenario of star-crossed lovers is set apart from other similar themed stories in its descriptive and poetic nature. His romantic use of metaphors, not quite lost in the English translation, shows a side that is unique to Arabic literature.

Beirut ’75 : a novel, by Ghada Samman [Orange 4 (892.7309 S10 )]

Ghada Samman’s first full-length novel was written and published months before war broke in Lebanon, predicting what later came to be known as the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). Not only is this a story about the dangers of war, it is also a social commentary on the Lebanese society, set in the capital city of Beirut. As many socially critical novels set in the Arab world, it follows the lives of a number of characters within the city to illustrate certain stereotypes about the people and reflect social problems ranging from poverty to sexual repression to desperation and problems rising from sectarianism.

It raises questions that delve deep into human nature: its inevitability, its repetitiveness, its necessity. It examines the human condition and leaves it to the reader to decide whether or not war has to be a part of it. To paraphrase an oracle — a character in Beirut ’75 — we come to realise that the result is always ‘sadness and blood. Lots of blood’.

It is relevant today because it tells us that just like the author, paying close attention to social problems allows us to predict when societies might crack. But it also gives us hope that maybe, if we act in time, we might be able to turn it around before it’s too late.

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