You as of To­day My Home­land

Tay­seer al-sboul Nes­reen Akhtarkhavari, trans­la­tor Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity Press Soft­cover $21.95 (120pp) 978-1-61186-210-2

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - JEFF FLEIS­CHER

He ex­pertly ties in­di­vid­ual sto­ries into larger themes of Jor­da­nian iden­tity, with­out los­ing fo­cus on his nar­ra­tives.

The late Tay­seer al-sboul was con­sid­ered one of Jor­dan’s most re­spected writ­ers, a poet and au­thor with a knack for vivid de­scrip­tion and for cap­tur­ing the mood of his home­land. You as of To­day My Home­land: Sto­ries of War, Self, and Love col­lects three of his works, newly trans­lated from Ara­bic to English by Nes­reen Akhtarkhavari.

The tit­u­lar story won a 1968 award as the best Ara­bic novel, but is closer to a novella in length. “You as of To­day My Home­land” is set af­ter the 1967 Six-day War and is told from the per­spec­tive of two dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tors, with the text al­ter­nat­ing be­tween third- and first-per­son nar­ra­tion: a young man named Arabi, and a name­less fel­low Jor­da­nian. This post­mod­ern ap­proach can be a bit jar­ring at first, but it comes to­gether nicely as the story pro­gresses and the two per­spec­tives join. The story opens with a de­scrip­tion of the pro­tag­o­nist’s fam­ily, go­ing on to chron­i­cle Arabi’s re­la­tion­ships with women, the po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions of the time, and the un­cer­tainty of post­war Jor­dan. al-sboul uses th­ese small sto­ries to tell a big­ger story about how ev­ery­day Jor­da­ni­ans han­dled the changes that the war brought.

“Red In­dian” is a short story set in 1960s Beirut, with a strong sense of place, tak­ing a look at how West­ern and East­ern at­ti­tudes co­ex­isted in the cos­mopoli­tan cities of that time. The nar­ra­tor’s fa­ther takes him to the cinema, where they root for West­ern he­roes; the rest of the story shows the son mov­ing away from his fa­ther’s at­ti­tudes un­til he comes to cheer for the In­di­ans in West­ern films. “The Rooster’s Cry” tells of a newly freed for­mer prisoner din­ing in the home of one of his friends from the in­side. The ti­tle comes from the in­dig­nity of the rooster the host­ess serves for din­ner, its head rest­ing in a pile of food, and sym­bol­izes the prisoner’s mixed feel­ings about re­turn­ing to so­ci­ety af­ter his or­deal.

Th­ese sto­ries are more straight­for­ward than the ti­tle piece, but more af­fect­ing in their sim­plic­ity, and share al-sboul’s deft and de­scrip­tive prose. He ex­pertly ties in­di­vid­ual sto­ries into larger themes of Jor­da­nian iden­tity, with­out los­ing fo­cus on his nar­ra­tives.

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