Monthly Archives: August 2011
An interview with Elias Khoury, who appeared at the Edinburgh festival yesterday afternoon, will be broadcast on the BBC World Service’s The Strand arts programme this evening. He will be talking about his new novel in translation, As Though She Were Sleeping. The programme goes out at 22.30 (GMT) this evening and is repeated on Monday.
You can listen online here
Elias Khoury will be appearing at the Edinburgh Festival today with leading Moroccan poet and writer Tahar Ben Jelloun. Khoury will be talking about his latest novel in English translation, As Though She Were Sleeping, translated by Humphrey Davies. The novel follows a young Lebanese woman who takes refuge from the world around her in lucid dreams that seem more real than reality itself. In this extract, Meelya and her new husband Mansour have just arrived at the hotel for their honeymoon.
Entering the spacious room, Meelya found a large bed, and a mirror that took up most of the opposite wall. A square table in the middle of the room was covered with an orange tablecloth on which had been placed a bottle of champagne, two large rounds of floppy bread and a dish of white cheese. The bathroom was to the left of the bed, and the stove, which was by the table, had been lit. Mansour locked the door and Meelya heard the driver and Wadeea 1 whispering and guffawing loudly.
Meelya doesn’t remember clearly what took place in the room. She watched Mansour take off his coat and hang it behind the door. She watched him go over to the table and work on the champagne bottle and pop the cork, the white foam overflowing as he poured it into the glasses. He gave his bride a glass and raised his.
“To your health, bride!”
Meelya took a sip and swallowed the white bubbles brimming on the liquid’s surface. Feeling slightly nauseous, she put the glass down on the table and said she wanted a cup of hot tea. Mansour didn’t seem to hear her. He ate a mouthful of cheese and prepared one for his bride. She pushed his hand away and said she wasn’t hungry, so he ate it himself and gulped down the champagne he’d poured for her. Then he poured another glass, and his eyes started to glaze over as if he were thinking strange thoughts. Smiling, Meelya remembered what her mother had said about the foolishness that possesses men on their wedding nights.
The man took her by the hand and led her over to the bed. She felt her throat go dry. This was the long-awaited moment and she had to be brave.
They sat on the end of the bed. Mansour rested his head on her neck and kissed it. A slight shudder ran through the bride’s body and she wanted to lie down. Falling back a bit, she imagined herself flying in Mansour’s arms. Now he would pick her up and fly with her before putting her down again on the bed and taking her.
Meelya fell back onto the bed and waited. The kisses on her neck ceased and the man started to shake. She wanted to hold him to her to make it easier for him, but he jumped up and started taking off his clothes. This was the last thing Meelya had expected – that the groom would stand in the middle of the room and start taking off his clothes and throwing them on the floor. His face had receded, as though he’d put on a mask, and the hair on his shoulders and chest was like a thick black skin.
“Now he’ll launch his attack and conquer me,” thought Meelya, and a strange feeling took hold of her, as though she were standing at a high lookout point waiting for someone to push her over the edge and was resigned to the waiting. She closed her eyes to the image of the terrifying fall and of the two hands that would throw her onto the bed and pull off her dress before ripping at her underclothes.
The wait continued, and she was overcome by drowsiness. As she supported her head with her wrist, a light, fitful sleep stole over her. The fog on the road gathered in her eyes. Shaking herself, she opened them, but instead of seeing Mansour standing naked in the middle of the room, she found that the man had disappeared. She saw his rumpled clothes on the floor and remembered the sight of him struggling out of them – the trousers mixed up with the shoes, the shirt wrapped around his neck, the socks sticking to his feet. Also, she recalled his thick black moustache trembling above his lips, and her waiting smile returned to her. Then she heard a kind of low moaning and realized that it was coming from the bathroom. The moaning grew in volume, accompanied by sounds of retching and gagging. Instead of going to the bathroom, though, to see what had happened to her husband, she lay down on the bed and, without taking off her dress, covered herself with the quilt.
“What kind of a honeymoon is this?” she asked loudly, thinking that the bridegroom, seated on the lavatory, would hear her. When he didn’t reply, she felt afraid, and the man who had been swallowed up by the fog on the summit of Dahr el Baydar appeared before her, shaking, running towards the car making sounds like barks enveloped in moans, then opening the car door and sitting down next to the driver, trembling and gasping. She got up and went over to the stove, where she saw that the fire had died down, put some logs into it and waited for the flames to rise again. Then she went over to the bathroom door and called out to Mansour. He didn’t reply. She knocked several times, but all she could hear was a faint moaning that seemed to come from far away. Becoming warm, she decided to take off her dress. Bending over the suitcase, she took out her long blue nightdress and put it on. She heard the man calling to her. Going back to the bathroom door, she called out, “Open up, Mansour. It’s Meelya.” The voice that answered fell almost to a whisper.
Did he call “Meelya” or “Mother”?
“Open the door, please.”
“Keep your voice down or the driver will hear,” the man said hoarsely.
“Do you want us to get a doctor?”
“Be quiet. Please be quiet.”
The words stopped and the man’s moaning turned strange. Meelya was certain that he was dying and sank to the floor. She found herself kneeling and knocking. She grasped the doorknob as though to pull herself up by it and heard Mansour calling for his mother in a whisper. Hearing him gagging and retching, she begged him to open up. She remained on her knees for a long time, feeling alone and impotent.
“I’m going downstairs to ask the owner to get the doctor.”
“Keep your voice down or the driver will hear and make fun of us.”
Mansour’s voice seemed to come from deep inside a well as he told his wife not to leave the room, that nothing was wrong.
“You get into bed and I’ll join you.”
She doesn’t know how she got to her feet or how she lay down on the bed and covered herself with the quilt and slept.
The MacLehose Press publicity team have embarked on their annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh, with Philippe Claudel, Kurdo Baksi and Elias Khoury all taking part in this year’s festival.
Claudel’s event took place on Saturday evening and it was very pleasing to see, in a show of hands at the start of proceedings, that around half of the audience had read the book under discussion, Monsieur Linh and his Child.
Claudel revealed that since the international success of his novel Grey Souls, he has kept a worldwide audience in mind when writing, which partially accounts for the non-specificity of place in Monsieur Linh. He also said that he had recently turned down a request by a scriptwriter to take his slim, beguiling fable to the big screen, as seeing his novels made into films has never much interested him. Films can be complex, says Claudel, a successful screenwriter and director himself, but adapting a novel always requires simplification, something he found out first hand when Grey Souls was adapted. In any case, anyone who has read Monsieur Linh will agree that it must be one of the definitive unfilmable novels.
Radio Teesdale recorded an interview with Claudel earlier this month, which will give a flavour of Saturday’s lively discussion and question and answer session.
Kurdo Baksi made his first Edinburgh appearance on Sunday, talking about his book Stieg Larsson, My Friend, and even before his event he was attracting attention. Always partial to one myself, I insisted he join me in a cookies and cream with chocolate flake ice cream; as I queued, he was approached by Ann Giles of the Bookwitch blog, who spoke to him in Swedish and ask for a photograph. Later that day, Baksi gave one of the complimentary tickets to the photographer, Helen.
The Guardian reported this morning on the more sensationalist aspects of Baksi’s talk, but you can also read about his work with the Kurdish diaspora around the world in this Kurdish Globe interview. Radio Teesdale have also recorded an interview with Mr Baksi.
Elias Khoury will be appearing at Edinburgh on Thursday, but more on Mr Khoury later . . .
Folded Earth and Atlas of Impossible Longing author Anuardha Roy has published a wonderful article with The Hindu about finding surprising links between favourite authors
During a recent conversation I had with a Frenchwoman she posed the “what is your favourite book” question in relation to French writers. The only name I could come up with, racking my brains and trying to distract her by asking if she wanted tea, was Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised, of which I can’t remember a thing except that it had a lot of sex and the sex was minus love because the whole point of the book was that we are all unlinked atoms, incapable of connection, rattling about in the sterile tin that is the cosmos. The Frenchwoman gave me a helpful nudge. “Proust, perhaps?” she suggested, “Would you say you like Remembrance of Things Past?” After that, having no access to madeleines, we ordered pineapple pastries and changed the subject.
One afternoon, creaking up a Ranikhet hillside, I came to a stop when I realised I have no favourite authors or even a favourite book. Worse, there is no author, even among the ones I love, whose every work I have read; not unless forced to by an exam or tutorial. I might love an author but not with the adoration that makes me a devotee. I am an Unfaithful Reader. My tastes change often and I can be immersed to the point of drowning in a book whose name I will fail to summon up a year or two later.
Despite my cavalier lack of devotion to individual authors, it makes me disproportionately happy when one author I like (at the time) turns out to be devoted to another author I like (at the time). Such a thrill to discover, for example, the link between Haruki Murakami and Raymond Carver. Reading one Carver story made Murakami swear he would translate everything Carver had written. He kept his promise. What more selfless act of literary love could there be? Murakami’s own first novel came out the year after Carver’s death in 1988 so, while they did once meet, Carver never read the work of his devotee. And although I read them both years after the Carver stories and Murakami’s first novel came out, and may be years after the Japanese translations were published, I felt somewhat proprietorial, as if they were the bride and groom and I the go-between. Read on . . . at The Hindu
Until Thy Wrath Be Past continues to spread through the crime reading community and the Nordic Bookblog seems to approve:
“Until Thy Wrath be Past starts with a bang … This is a remarkable and interesting book, very well written, about repression, violence, devotion and ruthlessness. The epigraph from the Book of Job – Until Thy Wrath be Past – with reference to the pain of human existence, is very appropriate as a title … I really liked the book, it is perhaps the best Åsa Larsson has written so far! Until Thy Wrath be Past is a great crime fiction novel, and I am already looking forward to the next Rebecka Martinsson novel!”
As Though She Were Sleeping by Elias Khoury was reviewed in the Independent last week and with the increase in interest in the Arab Spring it would not surprise us to see more reviews of this book in the future. In this review Guy Mannes-Abbott declares Khoury’s fiction to be both vivid and powerful:
“Journeying towards Mount Ararat, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstram wrote of cultivating a sixth sense, ‘the sense of attraction to a mountain’. Writing about food, American novelist James Salter quoted Brillat – Savarin approvingly of his notion of a sixth sense, ‘physical desire’. The other five senses, he wrote, are optimized only in ‘sexual union’. The Lebanese writer, Elias Khoury belongs in such exalted company. His new novel also pivots on mountains in Lebanon - and appreciations of sexual union. This novel proceeds in ways very like his last, Yalo, but centers on Meelya Shaheen’s singular relationship to her world … Khoury’s style resembles the ‘world of circles’ in which Meelya is said to live. Elements return in variations and narrative mass builds … This novel, translated by Humphrey Davies, is contextualised by the Great Arab Revolt and Palestinian dispossession.”
The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyzska has been reviewed in th e Sunday Business Post in Ireland, which calls it a ‘quietly gripping novel’:
“Tyszka writes in a detached, almost cold manner. He describes in deft detail the disintegration of his characters’ mental and physical states of being, and benefits from Margaret Jull Costa’s eloquent translation. The novel’s strength is amplified by its brevity, leaving the reader impressed by its depth and realism.”
And finally, Heart of Tango by Elia Barceló is definitely cracking a much wider market than its previously specialized genre. This week the paperback is reviewed in the Daily Mail:
“Elia Barcelo’s mesmerizing novel captures all of the sensuality and danger associated with Argentina’s national dance. It also comes with a dose of magical realism and a twist of which the great Jorge Luis Borges might have approved.”