Margaret Obank: “Arab literature is an essential part of universal culture and human civilization”

The magazine of modern Arab literature 'Banipal' publishes its first issue in Spanish headed by an essay by the Jordanian novelist Kafa al-Zou'bi
Cover of the magazine of modern Arab literature 'Banipal'

PHOTO  -   Cover of the magazine of modern Arab literature 'Banipal'

There is an Arab proverb that says that "books, pathways and days give man knowledge". Under this premise and with the aim of deepening the dialogue between cultures - as the magazine 'Atalayar, entre dos orillas' also does - the English version of 'Banipal' was born in the summer of 1977, in response to the marginalization suffered by Arab authors at that time. More than 40 years later, this magazine has presented its first issue in Spanish with the aim of converting 'Banipal' "into a catalyst for a new form of knowledge, understanding and empathy between cultures". 

The editorial of this first issue written by the editor Margaret Obank makes a journey through the history of 'Banipal' and its main successes since its appearance. "Banipal takes its name from the Emperor Asurbanipal (668-627 B.C.), patron of the arts and founder of the first library in the world", explained the author, who also emphasised the reasons that constitute the essence of 'Banipal' and its first issue in Spanish. "The first reason is that Arab literature is an essential part of universal culture and human civilization; the second is that it serves to deepen the dialogue between cultures; and the third is the joy and emotion itself that comes from reading a beautiful poem or an imaginative text". 

The first issue in Spanish of the magazine 'Banipal' is headed by an essay by the Jordanian novelist Kafa al-Zou'bi in which she tells of her early relationship with the literary world, as well as her main influences, including Victor Hugo's 'Les Misérables' and Russian literature.  "However, I believe that literature was, above the press, the media and even reality itself, the instrument of knowledge that made me understand the lives of Russian people," he stresses in this article.  The black humour that characterises the Palestinian author Mahmoud Shukair is revealed in the book 'Mordechai's Whiskers and His Wife's Cats', where this renowned writer tells the story of an Israeli captain at his checkpoint. 

Salima Salih - an Iraqi writer born in 1942 in the northern city of Mosul - looks death in the face in a story entitled 'The Corpse'.  The Flower of the Prophets. From childhood in an Iraqi city' is one of the author's most famous books. Poetry is represented in this first issue of Banipal in Spanish by the Arab poet Rasha Omran who tells us about the life of a lonely woman. "Poets are evasive and know well that if they do not kill their loneliness they will become mere widows dressed in mourning, weaving hard cotton shrouds while waiting for someone to die," concludes this reflection on loneliness and the role of women in the Arab world.

For her part, Tunisian author Rachida el-Charni presents in this issue a young woman who is determined to catch the thief who snatched a necklace from her neck in broad daylight. Is it possible to understand philosophy through photography or vice versa? Lebanese Canadian author Rawi Hage reflects on both subjects in an article entitled 'Stray dogs'. Later, this issue highlights the work of Omani poet Said-al Rahbi who talks about different issues, including the power of memory. "Past! Step back a little so that we can follow today's walk," concludes his poem 'Steps'. The colour red that characterises the planet Mars and the city of Marrakech is the focus of the story by the writer Abdelkader Benali, entitled 'I killed her because I loved her', a piece of writing that forms part of the anthology Baghdad Noir, published in 2018 by Akashic Books. 

"Before copper and photography, before windmills, elegies and yellow fever, the universe was born, dead and severed by the neck like a saxophone, amidst the fury of the rays and the desolation of the creatures suddenly hiding their light behind the heights". With these words the Emirate Abdel Aziz Jassim reflects through poetry on life and the constant search for knowledge. 

Damascus-based Syrian poet and novelist Khalil Sweileh takes a journey into his state's past, recalling with nostalgia the time when his country lived away from war. "Repentance? It may be a belated excuse for events we judged right at the time, or for not having done what we once planned," begins the chapter of his novel 'Remorse on Trial'. Later in this first issue of 'Banipal' in Spanish we can see an episode extracted from the autobiographical novel by Samuel Shimon entitled 'An Iraqi in Paris' and which takes place in the famous cemetery of Père Lachaise. 

On the other hand, the chapter of a work by the Moroccan author Hanane Derkaoui stands out, which, for a moment, makes us travel to the city of Essaouira. And to round off this cultural anthology, 'Banipal' pays homage to Sargon Boulus, born into an Assyrian family in Iraq in 1944. For this author, poetry means "dealing with the old vocabulary and formulating it in new contexts, in creative structures that speak of our present and shed light on what is happening now".

Finally, the first edition of a magazine of 'Banipal' in Spanish gathers a series of reviews on the books 'States of Passion', by Nihad Sirees; 'The stories of Yusuf Tadrus', by Adel Esmat; 'Boat to Lesbos and other poems', by Nouri-al Jarrah; ‘After Coffee' by Abdelrashid Mahmoudi; 'Bamboo Cane' by Saud Alsanousi; 'In the Spider's Room' by Muhammad Abdelnabi; 'The Clock of Baghdad' by Shadad Al-Rawi; 'The Diaries of Waguih Ghali: an Egyptian writer from the crazy '60s', ed. May Hawas or 'Baghdad Noir', ed.Samuel Shimon In short, the quality of the magazine 'Banipal' highlights "the multiple realities of Arab cultures in all their diversity and with all their vitality".