Sylvia Poggioli’s NPR piece about British Muslims focuses on the widening disconnect between Muslim youth and the culture they inhabit, but doesn’t offer anything terribly new. For the literary-minded among us, however, there’s an interesting exchange toward the end, with British-Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who just completed a new collection of essays titled Mezzaterra. The word refers to the common ground between cultures.
This was the world that my generation believed we had inherited, an area of overlap where one culture shaded into the other, where echoes and reflections added depth and perspective, where differences were interesting rather than threatening because they were foregrounded against a backdrop of affinities.
Soueif worries that this mezzaterra is being lost, that it’s being quickly swallowed up by conservatives on both sides.
Robert Birnbaum’s latest interview is with Lan Samantha Chang, author of the short story collection Hunger, and whose first novel, Inheritance, took ten years to complete. A fair amount of the chat centers around origins, whether national or ethnic, and there are seemingly uncomfortable moments like this one:
RB: [laughs] When you meet people, where do you say you are from?
RB: Wow! Do people then treat you differently?
LSC: Being from the Midwest?
RB: Yeah. And being Chinese from the Midwest.
LSC: When you said ‘Wow,’ did you mean, ‘Wow, you say you are from Wisconsin and you should be saying you are from another country?’
RB: I don’t know what I meant.
But the conversation eventually picks up and and they get to talk about how Chang came to writing, MFA programs, and, of course, Inheritance.
“Lalita Noronha’s Where Monsoons Cry is an enlightening read,” Susan Muaddi Darraj says. “It’s a vibrant collection of short stories spanning two continents, from India to North America. The heroines of Noronha’s stories are young Indian and Indian-American women, grappling with the cultural clash they face upon immigration, as well as the economic, social, and patriarchal issues that challenge them at home. These stories form a complex, colorful lens that offers a view into the lives of women who struggle to find a home in between the cultural divide. Noronha’s writing is layered, colorful, and poetic. A recommended read.”
Susan Muaddi Darraj is the editor of Scheherazade’s Legacy: Arab and Arab American Women on Writing, and the managing editor of The Baltimore Review. Her essays and fiction have appeared in anthologies such as Colonize This!, Catching a Wave and Dinarzad’s Children
A manuscript of an early novel byTruman Capote was found recently and is now being auctioned.
The first draft of “Summer Crossing” the story of a 17-year-old girl who has been left in New York while her parents spend the summer in Europe was at the bottom of a box of Capote manuscripts and photos that was consigned by a relative of Capote’s former house sitter.
The sitter had been hired to look after Capote’s Brooklyn apartment while he was in Switzerland writing In Cold Blood. After the book’s publication, Capote simply abandoned his possessions in Brooklyn, and the lucky sitter inherited the box.
Not content with renaming the months of the year after himself Turkmenistan’s potentate Saparmurat Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi, has now published a book of poetry. The oeuvre is called My People. My Country. My Dignity and Honor. Previous bestsellers in the genre include Zabiba and The King, by one Saddam Hussein.
The idea that Africa had no written literary tradition is so ingrained in everyone’s minds, it is rarely challenged. In an IHT piece, Philip Smucker describes a new project that seeks to restore thousands of manuscripts from Africa’s so-called oral tradition, which were shared with readers using the bookmobiles of the time.
From West Africa’s Atlantic coast across the sandy expanses to the White Nile in the east, camels laden with chests full of books and manuscripts trekked from one oasis to the next. In caravan cities like Timbuktu, tanners, leather workers and scribes worked to replenish the rich stock of political treatises, scientific manuals, law books and sacred texts.
Many of the manuscripts were lost during the colonial era, but those that remain are particularly relevant. In them, one can find testament of an African tradition in Islam that is distinct from the Arab tradition.
Scholars today argue that study of the ancient texts will help the region’s people reconnect with a lost identity. “Our work is both urgent and necessary as a means of recovering our collective memory,” said [library director] Abdelkader Haidara.
Readers outside Timbuktu may get a chance to see the manuscripts as well, as some of them are being digitized.
The Daily Star wraps up the weeklong activities at the Globe Theatre in London for its Shakespeare and Islam festival. The organizer said that the inspiration for the festival came from a discussion of Othello.
“I had a conversation with the Ambassador of Morocco, who is convinced that [the character of] Othello was based on the Moroccan Ambassador who came to England in 1600. He told me a lot [about] England’s relationship with Morocco and it made me realize that what we need to do is explore the context of Othello, politically, socially and culturally [in] the early 17th Century. We wanted to explore England’s perceptions of Islam and Islamic lands.”
Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago has again expressed his distaste for the Bush administration, this time at a speaking engagement in Caracas. Among many quotes in the article:
‘I am a person with leftist convictions, and always have been,’ said the 82-year-old writer, adding that whenever he addresses the subject of international politics, ‘I always ask two questions, and only two: How many countries have military bases in the United States? And in how many countries does the United States not have military bases?
Adam Shatz’s article about Maxime Rodinson and Jacques Derrida draws interesting parallels and contrasts between the famed scholar of Islam and the famed philosopher and thinker, both of whom passed on recently.
Where Rodinson was a fervent rationalist in the Enlightenment mold, Derrida relentlessly questioned the universality of Western reason, and at times displayed a streak of Jewish mysticism. While Rodinson wrote in a prose of impeccable lucidity, Derrida cultivated a style that was highly metaphoric, elusive, gnomic, teeming with paradox and wordplay, at times opaque to the point of self-parody (“Therefore we will be incoherent, but without systematically resigning ourselves to incoherence”). In their approach to ideas they could hardly have been more different.
Yet it’s the affinities between the two scholars that make this exceedingly well-researched article such an interesting read.