sábado, 25 de mayo de 2019

Unos jardines de Irak / Lorena Iglesias

Unos jardines de un país llamado Irak

Lorena Iglesias Fernández
Los jardines del presidente es la última novela de Muhsin Al-Ramli, es la primera que yo leo de este escritor y, pronostico, que no será la última.
La novela empieza en un pequeño pueblo rural de Irak tras la invasión de la coalición estadounidense. Un pueblo tranquilo, en el que las guerras, porque han sufrido más de una y dos en las últimas décadas, se habían notado sólo en sus habitantes que entraban amanece con el descubrimiento de nueve cabezas en cajas para transportar plátanos.
Entre las cabezas está la de Ibrahim, uno de “los hijos de la grieta”. Éstos son los protagonistas de la historia, tres amigos que sufren la guerra, el cautiverio, la postguerra y las consecuencias de vivir en las proximidades de un tirano. Sus vidas simbolizan el sufrimiento de un país y el sufrimiento de un Pueblo por culpa de tiranos y guerras.
Pese a que “los hijos de la grieta” son los protagonistas y sus vivencias y desgracias son el hilo conductor de esta novela cruda y salvaje de la época en la que Saddam Hussein, aunque nunca se le nombre, gobernaba el país, yo me voy a detener en las mujeres que orbitan alrededor de estos personajes, porque el sufrimiento de estas mujeres, ficticias, es el reflejo de lo que muchas otras, reales, sufren a diario en muchos países y que muchas veces son olvidadas.
Samiha, obligada a casarse con uno de sus primos, en vez de con la persona que ama, cada vez que huye de su marido es golpeada y obligada a volver, hasta que es repudiada por su marido.
Quisma, una mujer joven con altas aspiraciones en la vida. Se casa con un oficial del Ejército, es violada por un hombre, que no voy a desvelar, y tras la invasión su marido desaparece. Se queda viuda, con un hijo, y con la “necesidad” de casarse para evitar algunas suspicacias de la sociedad.
Zakia, otra mujer joven, pero esta con una discapacidad intelectual. Un hombre joven, casi de la familia, se aprovecha de su discapacidad para tener relaciones sexuales con ella. Se queda embaraza, la encierran hasta que da a luz y tras eso, la lapidan y la entierra. Los hombres que le hacen todas estas cosas viven su vida después como si nada.
Zeineb, una anciana que, por las convenciones sociales, aguantó una vida de horrores, que la mantuvo en vilo durante toda su vida.
Estas son sólo cuatro de las mujeres que aparecen en la novela, son cuatro historias de injusticias que miles de mujeres en Irak y en otros muchos países viven a diario. Son cuatro historias que tienen un apartado reducido dentro de la historia mayor, pero que sin las cuales la historia no se desarrollaría tal y como lo hace.

jueves, 23 de mayo de 2019

Interview/ Iraqi poet Muhsin Al-Ramli

An Iraqi poet’s view of the merits of literature
“It’s time for other people from other cultures to read us and know us better through our literature.” - Iraqi poet Muhsin Al-Ramli 
By: Sharmila Devi
The Arab Weekly
Muhsin Al-Ramli is an Iraqi poet, playwright, short-story writer, novelist and translator who has lived in Spain since 1995. He was born in the village of Sudara in northern Iraq, in 1967, published his first work in 1985 and writes in Arabic and Spanish. He teaches Arabic at the Saint Louis University in Madrid.
He fled Iraq after the death of his brother, poet Hassan Mutlak, who was hanged in 1990 after six months of imprisonment during which he was tortured for his involvement in an attempted coup against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In 2006, nine of Ramli’s relatives were killed in Iraq and their severed heads were found in banana crates. He uses the incident in the opening of his novel “The President’s Gardens,” which recounts the effects of Iraq’s wars on ordinary people over the past 50 years and which was recently translated into English to glowing reviews. He spoke with The Arab Weekly via e-mail.
The Arab Weekly (TAW): You wrote your novel “The President’s Gardens” partly as a response to the killing of nine of your relatives. Have you achieved any peace, if that is possible?
Muhsin Al-Ramli (MAR): “Yes, up to a point. I feel relieved because to express something helps the one who says it and the one who hears it. A human being has to express himself and everything he does in life is a form of expression.
“As for the book, I’ve received thousands of messages of thanks from relatives of victims in Iraq and that makes me feel that I’ve helped the many who are suffering to raise their voices further, something that allows them to be supported and heard.”
TAW: Is the killing of your brother still part of your motivation to write and in what way? How do you think he might have reacted to your work?
MAR: “I wish my brother were still alive and could read this and my other books, which I wrote to please him. Part of my task is to continue writing so that his name survives as long as I’m alive.
“He was my master and my idol. He confronted the [Saddam] dictatorship directly and lost his life when the dictator was at the height of his power, control and savagery.
“Many national Arabs see this dictator as a hero, a leader and a source of pride and I want to tell them who he was in reality, this tyrant, the murderer of my brother and my people, through a literary description of the disaster and destruction that he brought to Iraq and above all the great harm and pain he caused to families, lives and the souls of people.”
TAW: Do you feel the translation into English, Spanish and other languages of your novels and those of other contemporary Arabic writers is helping to bridge Western ignorance of the Middle East and in what way?
MAR: “Yes but very little up to now because this vacuum is too deep. There’s a general ignorance in the West about Arab culture, literature, people’s complex situation, history and modern reality.
“The press, which both manipulates and is manipulated, is not enough, nor is it the best medium for knowledge. For example, the press talks of victims in terms of numbers, while literature focuses on the human and on every victim, his circumstances, his thoughts, feelings and dreams.
“We have got to know other cultures better, among them the West and Latin America, more through literature than the press. It’s time for other people from other cultures to read us and know us better through our literature.”
TAW: Have you noticed any change in attitudes among your students towards the Middle East since you started to teach Arabic language, literature and culture?
MAR: “Without a doubt, many came to my classes out of curiosity and took them as a secondary option but they’ve ended up wanting to specialise in it for the rest of their lives. Others are living in Arab countries or have married Arabs.
“In general, people fear the unknown and tend to judge it badly or superficially but when they open themselves up and get closer, they get to know it better and, in some cases, fall in love with it. Knowledge is the key to everything.”
TAW: Your last trip to Iraq was in 2014. Are you planning any trips back? How do you feel about Iraq now? Do you feel optimistic about its future?
MAR: “I want to and must visit Iraq when I can, especially now that my people have been liberated from [the Islamic State] ISIS after four hard and savage years.
“I want to see my sisters and nephews, who were miraculously spared.
“As for the future of Iraq, it will continue to be difficult, complicated and hard. No one could yet say that Iraq is in the hands of Iraqis. It’s not a truly sovereign country and its running is in the hands of others, such as Iran, the US and other foreigners.”
TAW: Do you think that Arabic language literary prizes are helping to encourage more Arabs to read fiction?
MAR: “Yes, to a great extent, although these prizes often hurt the quality of the literature when they encourage writers and those who are not writers to produce too much too quickly in order to participate. They also sometimes give the prize to mediocre works for reasons that have nothing to do with quality.
“But the marvellous phenomenon these days of being able to read many novels in the Arab world is not thanks to prizes but because the young, who are a majority of the Arab population, are looking for a vision of the world, a form of understanding it and themselves and their identity, especially without the weight of ideology, philosophy and loss of faith in books of religion, politics, official education and even history books that contain so much manipulation.”
Written BySharmila Devi
Sharmila Devi is a former British correspondent in the Middle East and writes extensSharmila Devi is a former British correspondent in the Middle East and writes extensively on political and social issues in the region.

The President's Gardens | Free Audiobook

The Presidents Gardens

The President's Gardens/The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize

The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

Saif Ghobash Banipal Translation Prize logo
wins the 2018 Prize

"A seamless rendering of
an outstanding work of fiction"
The 2018 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is awarded to Luke Leafgren for his translation of the novel The President's Gardens by Iraqi author Muhsin Al-Ramli, published by MacLehose Press. The judges chose his translation from the shortlist of four works announced on 10 December 2018. The award of £3,000 will be presented to Luke Leafgren on 13 February 2019 at the Translation Prizes Award Ceremony, organised and hosted by the Society of Authors, at the British Library's Knowledge Centre, along with the other translation prizes being awarded this year.  
The judging panel comprised publisher and translator Pete Ayrton (chair), editor and translator Georgia de Chamberet, Jordanian author Fadia Faqir, and university lecturer and translator Sophia Vasalou. The prize is administered by Paula Johnson, Head of Prizes and Awards at the Society of Authors.

Luke Leafgren for his translation of the novel

The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli
In this brilliant novel the personal, political and fantastical are interwoven to excavate and record Iraq's recent history in all its complexity, horror and absurdity. The translation by Luke Leafgren is imperceptible and mirrors the writer's many changes of register. The author is fortunate to have found a translator totally in sympathy with his writing. Faced with many difficult choices, Leafgren has produced a work both faithful to the Arabic and a work of art in English.
In a clear reference to Gabriel Garcia Márquez's Macondo, which was destroyed by the establishment of a banana plantation, Muhsin Al-Ramli's begins his novel with the discovery of nine banana crates, each containing a severed, mutilated head in an Iraqi village without bananas – one of the heads belonged to  Ibrahim, "the fated", who is made sterile by poison gas in the Iran war, loses his foot during the invasion of Kuwait and, then, finds a job in the President's Gardens.
When Ibrahim is appointed to "care for these roses", he is impressed with how immaculate the garden appears on the surface - the crimes lie beneath. His job description and responsibilities keep shifting as he descends into the inferno until he becomes a grave-digger.
Despite Ibrahim's fear and fatalism, he begins to give the dead a dignified burial, register the date and time of their killing, establish and document their identity by painstakingly gathering shreds of evidence like skin, teeth, nails, etc.
Ibrahim's acts of salvation give a history to the thousands of Iraqi disappeared. The point is made that ordinary people can make a difference – giving an identity to nameless corpses ensures that they cannot be forgotten.
Tender, funny, tragic, wise and poetic, The President's Garden is imbued with the richness and complexity of a region that has known little peace over the last century. Luke Leafgren's  translation  conveys beautifully the spirit and idiosyncrasies of the original. It is a seamless rendering of an outstanding work of fiction. Both author and translator are to be warmly congratulated.
* * *
Winner Luke Leafgren says:

"Learning that my translation was selected for the shortlist was already the recognition that pleased me more than any other in my life, and I've been enjoying a complicated feeling of being grateful, humbled, proud, and inspired ever since. I am so grateful to Muhsin for writing this novel and then entrusting me with its translation. I think of Khaled Al-Masri, my good friend and Arabic teacher who helped me get my start in translating. I also feel my debt of gratitude to Yousif Hanna, an Iraqi friend who read parts of The President's Gardenswith me to answer all my linguistic and cultural questions, and who could become a preeminent literary scholar if he weren't committed to a career in medicine. Finally, to Paul Engles and Christopher MacLehose, for believing in this book and publishing the translation."

Publisher Christopher MacLehose says:

"This is wonderful news. It gives a publisher immense pride that the scholarship and the genius of our translator should be recognised by the jury for your award."

Luke Leafgren is an Assistant Dean of Harvard College and teaches Arabic at Harvard University, where he received his PhD in Comparative Literature in 2012. He is also a keen sailor, and the inventor of the StandStand portable standing desk.
As well as translating the winning novel The President's Gardens, his first venture into literary translation was Mushin Al-Ramli's second novel Dates on my Fingers (2014). He has also translated the debut novel of Shahad Al Rawi The Baghdad Clock (2018), whose Arabic original was shortlisted for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and Oh Salaam!(2014) by Najwa Barakat.
On the MacLehose Press website he describes how he came to translate The President's Gardens.
"Muhsin Al-Ramli was the first author I ever translated. While writing my dissertation and needing a creative outlet, I approached one of my Arabic teachers during the final years of graduate school to ask about how to get a start in literary translation. My teacher told me about a friend of his who was looking for a translator for his second novel. That friend was Muhsin, who passed through my teacher's hometown of Irbid, Jordan, on his way from Iraq to Spain in the early '90s. I read the novel – Dates on My Fingers – and as I was reading the Arabic text, I could hear in my head the voice of the narrator telling his story in English. I found myself relating to the narrator's attempt to make sense of his place in the world, and the English translation came through almost as quickly as I read."  To continue, go to this link: https://www.maclehosepress.com/blog/2018/4/5/luke-leafgren-on-translating-the-presidents-gardens

Muhsin Al-Ramli was born in the village of Sudara, northern Iraq, in 1967. Since 1995 he has lived in Madrid, Spain, where he has published 11 works – collections of short stories, novels, a play, essays and poetry, in addition to translating some Spanish classics into Arabic, most notably Don Quixote, and co-founding Alwaha literary magazine. He has a PhD in Philosophy and Spanish Literature from the Autonomous University of Madrid (2003), and teaches at the Saint Louis University, Madrid.
His three novels to date are all translated into English: the first, Scattered Crumbs,translated by Yasmeen Hanoosh, won the Arkansas Manuscript Translation Award; the second, Dates on My Fingers, and third, The President's Gardens, were both translated by Luke Leafgren, with both their Arabic originals being longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, aka Arabic Booker Prize) in 2009 and 2013 respectively. His novel-in-progress, Qisma's Fate, a follow-up to The President's Gardens, and also being translated by Luke Leafgren, is due out later this year.
Muhsin Al-Ramli writes on the MacLehose Press website about how he came to start writing the book in 2006. "I began writing The President's Gardens in 2006 after receiving the news of the murder of nine of my relatives, who were fasting on the third day of Ramadan. The people of the village found only their heads in banana crates, along with their identity cards. I dedicated the novel to their souls. It was a huge shock to me. It horrified me, and, to start with, the novel was a reaction to this event undertaken without planning or a clear vision."

The President's Gardens

MacLehose Press (20 April 2017),

Paperback edition: 352 pages
ISBN 9780857056788

The translated novel The President's Gardens has already been much reviewed and talked about since publication in 2017. Its Arabic original sold well and was longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2013. It also has a Spanish edition Los  Jardines Del Presidente.
Buy a copy in UK

Buy a copy in US


7.00pm Wednesday 13 February

The Knowledge Centre, The British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB
Hosted and organised by the Society of Authors, who administer all the prizes, the ceremony will award prizes for translation from Arabic, French, Italian German and Spanish and the Translators' Association First Translation Prize. https://www.societyofauthors.org/Prizes/Translation-Prizes

Discussions, Readings and Q&A ............... and refreshments
6.30pm Thursday 14 February, Lower Ground Reception, Waterstones Piccadilly, London W1V 9LW

Hosted by Banipal Trust for Arab Literature. prize/award2018.cfm

This is a free event, but places must be booked to avoid disappointment. Please register here on the Waterstones Piccadilly Events special webpage.  
* * *
The 2018 Prize – The Shortlist
The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize is delighted to announce the shortlist of the 2018 Prize. The four works are translated by two former winners of the prize, Khaled Mattawa and Jonathan Wright, and two relative newcomers to literary translation Ben Koerber and Luke Leafgren.
The judges were impressed by the tremendous variety of the entries from different parts of the Arab world, ranging through poetry, crime, literary fiction and graphic novels. The shortlist reflects this diversity, with two novels about the wars in Iraq and their aftermath, a collection of poetry about Jerusalem, and a contemporary take on Cairo today. In the face of social and political upheaval, literature continues to make waves in the Arab world.
Using Life by Ahmed Naji (Egypt), 

translated by Ben Koerber (CMES Publications, University of Texas at Austin)

The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli (Iraq), 

translated by Luke Leafgren (MacLehose Press)

Concerto al-Quds by Adonis (Syria), 

translated by Khaled Mattawa (Yale University Press)

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq),

translated by Jonathan Wright (Oneworld)

lunes, 6 de mayo de 2019

Muhsin Al Ramli – relatos - Literatura para oír

Muhsin Al Ramli

Desde la tierra del paraíso terrenal y relatos

Del escritor iraquí Muhsin Al-Ramli,
Desde la tierra del paraíso terrenal y otros relatos.

The President's Gardens - Muhsin Al-Ramli / Nille

By: Nille
*Dansk titel: Ikke oversat

Jeg er begejstret for anderledes litteratur end main-stream amerikansk eller engelsk af slagsen; og der er så meget interessant fra andre lande, som dog sjældent oversættes til dansk. Khaled Hosseini er nok den bedst kendte i den brede kreds indenfor arabisk litteratur; ikke mindst takket være blockbuster-filmen Drageløberen. Men der er også forfattere som Tahar Ben Jelloun og El Aswany.

Mellemøsten byder på en rig fortællekunst, som er tidsløs tilbage fra 1001 Nats Eventyr; og mange fortællinger følger stadig denne samme konceptuelle og arkaiske form.

Muhsin Al-Ramli har udgivet flere bøger, som nu begynder at blive oversat til engelsk; han bor i Spanien - og er som sådan uden tvivl influeret af den spanske tradition, som jo går tilbage til Cervantes. Hvad jeg ikke havde set, da jeg købte bogen var referencen på forsiden til Marquez' Hundrede års ensomhed - en anden spansksproget klassiker; men absolut ikke én af mine favoritter. Jeg elskede Kærlighed i koleraens tidhvorimod den anden var alt for langtrukken til mig.

Det burde have advaret mig - hvis jeg havde set det; for der er tydelige sammenfaldende træk uden, at det dog er så abstrakt som hos Marquez.

Vi er dog i en unavngiven irakisk landsby, hvor vi følger historien over ca. halvtreds år. I 1959 fødes tre drenge - Tariq, Abdullah og Ibrahim; de bliver tætte venner og er omdrejningspunktet i de mange år fremover.

En dag i 2006 findes ni hoveder i en banankasse langs vejen; kroppene mangler men man kan identificere Ibrahim. Ifølge muslimsk skik skal de begraves indenfor et døgn - selvom de tydeligvis har været døde længere; og det bringer konflikter og historie op til overfladen.

Derfra springes vi tilbage til starten af de tre knægtes barndom og ungdom; deres forskellige familieforhold - socialt og økonomisk. Da Irak i 1980 invaderer Iran er Ibrahim og Abdullah næsten færdige med deres militærtjeneste - men sendes i krig; den varer otte år. Ikke lang tid efter følger Golfkrigen - og Abdullah er krigsfange, hvor han ender med at sidde i knap tyve år.

Men de finder alle tilbage til landsbyen med deres forandrede livssyn; Abdullah, som allerede havde tilnavnet Kafka er nihilisten, der blot vil ryge cigaretter og være i fred. Tariq er byens playboy, og selvom de er barndomsvenner er han ikke loyal. Endelig er der Ibrahim - den myrdede - som bliver steril efter krigens gasangreb. Han har kun en datter, Qisma, men nægter at gifte sig igen - han er fatalisten.

Der springes tilbage og frem og tilbage igen til Abdullahs fortælling fra årene under Khomeini; og så følger vi styret i Irak med Saddam Hossein. Der er nogle få kvindelige protagonister; men de fylder ikke rigtigt deres karakterer ud.

Jeg fandt den desværre umådeligt langtrukken til tider; jeg javde svært ved at se, hvor Al-Ramli ville tage mig hen - og jeg kunne uden tvivl have undværet hundrede sider. Den ender temmelig brat - midt i en sætning nærmest, og det forklares med, at der kommer en opfølger i 2019. Om den skal læses er jeg dog virkelig i tvivl om?

Der er ingen tvivl om, at Al-Ramli har skævet til de spanske traditioner. Han har blandt andet oversat Don Quixote - men netop parallellen til Marquez ødelagde det lidt for mig.