Reviewed By Jordan Elgrably
[This Angelic Land, a novel by Aris Janigian, West of West Books, 2012]
Do you remember the early ‘90s in Los Angeles? Between the riots, the Northridge earthquake, OJ Simpson and the Malibu mudslides, it became an apocalyptic landscape, at once horrific, beautiful, and unforgettable.
Not unlike Beirut during its civil war, 1975-1990.
This Angelic Land is a novel set in Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King riots—the largest, most destructive civil uprising in American history. Adam Derderian, the central protagonist, is a 27-year-old Lebanese Armenian bar owner. The narrative shifts back and forth from his perspective to that of his brother, a New York-based artist five years his senior. The backdrop is their youth during the Lebanese civil war in Beirut—the longest civil war in modern history.
"In all, it appears that whatever the future holds in store for Egypt, the legacy of Tahrir Square—not the legacy of operation Iraqi Freedom—will provide the beacon of democracy in the region." —James Gelvin
Reviewed By Saba Mohtasham and Sasha Sadri
As we approach the second anniversary of the Islamic Republic of Iran's most intense period of political turmoil since the revolution that brought Khomeini to power in 1979, it is important to look back and reflect. The protests in 2009 were triggered by the official results of the presidential election, but quickly evolved into a massive manifestation of political dissent. Millions of Iranians poured into the streets of all major cities across the nation, with slogans such as "Ra-ye man koo?" (Where's my vote) and "Ahmadi raft" (Ahmadinejad is gone), thoroughly shaking the pillars on which the Islamic Republic was founded.
Hisham Matar's timely novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, arrives as the Middle East is rising, alight, its people chanting and fighting their way to justice—knocking down their dictators, one by one. As we watch brutal regimes cling to power by clawing into the flesh and spirits of their people, Matar tells the story of a boy whose father is abducted in an act of political brutality.
Disappearing fathers, a recurring theme in Matar's work, draws parallels from his own story. Matar's father, Jaballa, a prominent Libyan dissident living with his family in exile in Cairo, was abducted from his home in 1990. He was imprisoned in the notorious Abu Sleem jail in Tripoli. Save for a few letters, the last one from 1996, there has been very little information on his father's status. Until this day, Matar does not know his father's fate.
Reviewed by Jawad Ali
As we know there has been for a long while a phenomenon in literature of "being between worlds," in which immigrant writers narrate their lives, carving out dual identities. The trend has been prominent in American literature for many decades among earlier communities—Asian, Latin, African American, Jewish.
Since 9/11—and in some cases years before—there has been a cultural and political blossoming of American writers of Arab and Iranian heritage which is now joined by those of the Afghan diaspora, especially in the United States, revealing a vibrant, active, and intellectual Afghan American community. With the success of Khaled Hosseni's The Kite Runner—the first work of fiction written by an Afghan American to become a bestseller—has come new interest in the works of other Afghan American writers. One Story, Thirty Stories (or "Afsanah, Seesaneh," the Afghan equivalent of "once upon a time") collects poetry, fiction, essays, and selections from two blogs from thirty-three men and women—poets, fiction writers, journalists, filmmakers and video artists, photographers, community leaders and organizers, and diplomats.
The countries that stretch along the broad horizons of the Middle East—from Morocco to Iran, from Turkey to Pakistan—boast different cultures, different languages, and different religions. Yet the literary landscape of this dynamic part of the world has been bound together not by borders and nationalities but by a common experience of Western imperialism. Keenly aware of the collective scars left by a legacy of colonial rule, the acclaimed writer Reza Aslan, with a team of three regional editors—Michael Beard (Arabic), Sholeh Wolpé (Persian), Zeenut Ziad (Urdu)—and seventy-seven translators, cogently demonstrates with Tablet and Pen how literature can, in fact, be used to fo4rm identity and serve as an extraordinary chronicle of the disrupted history of the region.
Memoirs by political prisoners shed light on a world unknown to most of us—a world of forced confession, threats and psychological torture. American journalist Roxana Saberi's new Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, an account of 100 days in Iran's notorious Evin prison, serves as a small window into the closed world of Iran's prisons.
Prison memoirs written by Iranians were long rare, only becoming popular when former political prisoners living in exile in Western countries began telling their stories. The resulting books—often written by women such as Shahrnush Parsipur (1994), M. Raha a.k.a. Monireh Baradaran (1997), and Effat Mahbaz (2008)—are important and necessary, but tend to recount events that are many years old and can sometimes be myopic in their focus on political divisions among prisoners.
Reviewed by David Shasha
Towards the end of Ariel Sabar's extraordinarily compelling retelling of his family's history in Iraqi Kurdistan, he makes a brilliant observation that encapsulates his tale and is emblematic of the broken stories of so many Middle Eastern Jews. Recalling his father's feverish memories of his fractured past-a past of rich traditions that were destroyed over the course of successive exiles-he states:
Dreams, I recalled now, had long been a refuge from his life's incongruities. During his first year in the United States, he once told me, he dreamed he was in New York, all alone in Grand Central Station. All at once, the train doors swept open and all of Zakho's Kurds poured out onto the platform. Dreams were a place where fragments could be made whole. (pp. 278-279)
Zeitoun (McSweeney's Books, 2009), so named for the surname of the main character, is a harrowing, nonfictional tale of biblical proportions—the crux of which takes place in New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife Kathy are practicing Muslims who own a busy painting company and numerous properties throughout New Orleans. Zeitoun is well-known and heavily utilized, especially at the first warnings of any storm, for in addition to the usual painting jobs his company is regularly called on for the preparatory securing of homes and offices. When Katrina arrives, he feels he cannot abandon the city during its time of crisis. He evacuates Kathy and their four children but is compelled to stay behind. Like a mini version of the flood story, his world is all but drowned. Rather than seeking the protection of an ark, however, this protagonist takes to a second-hand canoe.