Category Archives: middle east

Arabic literature goes west

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For many in the West, the term ‘Middle East’ connotes military action and political reaction. But behind the sobering news reports is a rich literary world waiting to be discovered.

Born millennia apart, King Ashurbanipal of Assyria and the contemporary literary journal, Banipal, have more in common than their names. Just like the 7th century monarch, who collected texts from across the neo-Assyrian empire to create the first library in the ancient Middle East, the UK-based publication compiles contemporary writing from all over the Arab world – albeit in English translation.

I came across Banipal at the International Literary Festival Berlin (ilb), where its founders, Samuel Shimon and Margaret Obank, were talking about their efforts to make Arab literature accessible to the wider world. Their new magazine, Kikah,translates the other direction, aiming to introduce readers in the Middle East to uncensored, high-quality Arabic translations of international literature.

In its blurb about the Banipal and Kikah event, the ilb program referred to the West’s “rudimentary knowledge of the Arab world,” claiming that only three percent of books published in the US are translations from other languages. Three percent? That seemed too meager to be true. But further research supports the claim, and what’s more, the scenario is repeated in the UK. Read on

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