Ahlan wa sahlan!
Thank you for joining in with us in the Year of the Middle Eastern Reading Challenge (YMERC).
As promised, I will begin each month with:
- A book by a Middle Eastern author
- A graphic novel by a Middle Eastern author and/or Middle Eastern illustrator
- A new Arabic song to listen to throughout the month
#YMERC BOOK OF THE MONTH
Silence Is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar
A profound and life-affirming debut about migration, trauma, and the healing power of community.
A young woman sits in her apartment in an unnamed English city, absorbed in watching the small dramas of her assorted neighbors through their windows across the way. Traumatized into muteness after a long, devastating trip from war-torn Syria to the UK, she believes that she wants to sink deeper into isolation, moving between memories of her absent boyfriend and family and her homeland, dreams, and reality. At the same time, she begins writing for a magazine under the pseudonym “the Voiceless,” trying to explain the refugee experience without sensationalizing it—or revealing anything about herself.
Gradually, as the boundaries of her world expand—as she ventures to the neighborhood corner store, to a gathering at a nearby mosque, and to the bookstore and laundromat, and as an anti-Muslim hate crime shatters the members of a nearby mosque—she has to make a choice: Will she remain a voiceless observer, or become an active participant in her own life and in a community that, despite her best efforts, is quickly becoming her own?
With brilliant, poetic prose that captures all the fragments of this character’s life, and making use of fragments of text from Tweets and emails to the narrator’s own articles, journals, and fiction, Silence Is a Sense explores what it means to be a refugee and to need asylum, and how fundamental human connection is to survival.
Read more here.
#YMERC SHORT STORY COLLECTION OF THE MONTH
A Bed for the King’s Daughter by Shahla Ujayli, Sawad Hussain (Translation)
This month, I decided to showcase a short story collection, instead of a graphic novel.
A groundbreaking collection of experimental short fiction by award-winning Syrian author and Booker International Prize for Arabic Fiction nominee Shahla Ujayli, A Bed for the King’s Daughter uses surrealism and irony to examine such themes as women’s agency, the decline of collective life and imagination under modernity, and the effects of social and political corruption on daily life.
In “The Memoir of Cinderella’s Shoes,” Cinderella uses her famous glass slipper as a weapon in order to take justice into her own hands. In “Tell Me About Surrealism,” an art history professor’s writing assignment reveals the slipperiness of storytelling, and in “Merry Christmas,” the realities of apartheid interfere with one family’s celebration.
Through twenty-two short stories, Ujayli animates–with brevity and inventiveness–themes relevant to both the particularities of life in the Arab world and life outside it.
Read more here.
#YMERC ARABIC SONG OF THE MONTH
Yacht by Abir.
From North Africa to New York City, singer/songwriter Abir buffers her joyful dance-pop with a strong, soulful voice…Read more here.
Born Abir Haronni in Fez, Morocco, she moved to the U.S. with her family when she was just five years old. Raised in Arlington, Virginia, she started singing soon after the family relocated, heavily influenced by Etta James, whose CDs she listened to while cruising with her limousine-driving father. In addition to James, Haronni also drew from her family’s home continent, drawing inspiration from revered Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. As she grew up, formidable divas Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Sarah Vaughan, and Beyonce influenced her style and powerful vocals.
Don’t forget to spread the word on WordPress, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #YMERC2020.
*The beautiful blog graphic is done by liv_does.