Archive for the ‘Palestinian Literature’ Category

I discovered ‘Out of Time : The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam‘ recently. I was very excited because this is the first time Samira Azzam’s stories are getting translated into English. This collection is published by Arablit Books.

Samira Azzam was born in 1927 in Palestine. When the Naqba happened in 1948 and Palestinians were thrown out of their homes and many of them became refugees abroad, she was 21. She worked as a journalist and wrote short stories. She died in 1967, just shy of her fortieth birthday, very young and many more years of life still ahead. It was heartbreaking. It was also the year when the next wave of violence was unleashed on Palestinians and many of them lost their homes.

This collection has 31 stories. Many of the stories are about simple people who are struggling to get through the day, and the joys and sorrows they experience, and how their social and economic situation tries to crush them and how sometimes they resist it with defiance. One of my favourite stories ‘No Harm Intended‘ is about a man who comes to a sweetshop everyday and tries samples but doesn’t buy anything. He can’t afford to buy anything and he knows it and the people working in the shop know it. How things unravel after that is told in the story. Another of my favourite stories ‘Lest the arteries harden‘ is about a old woman who visits the bar everyday at a particular time and the story behind that. ‘The Little Things‘ is about a young woman who doesn’t believe in love but suddenly find herself falling in love. ‘From Afar‘ is about a young man who has been cut off by his dad and who is struggling to pay his college fees, when his friend who has an unconventional job helps him out. It is one of the most beautiful stories in the book. ‘Her Story‘ is a moving letter that a sister writes to her brother. ‘The Ironing Man’s Apprentice‘ is about a boy who works with an ironing man and the small dreams he has. ‘The Bicycle Pump‘ is one of the most moving stories in the book. One of the main characters says in the end – “But isn’t it miserable that I can’t promise you I’ll stop this terrible behavior, unless I choose a life of hunger for myself and for my family?” We feel a deep pain in our heart when we read that. ‘When Wives Fall Ill‘ is structured like a play. ‘Night of Riddance‘ is about an old dog. It is a heartbreaking story and there is more to the story than meets the eye. ‘The Rival’ is about a washerwoman who has to compete against technology which makes her job obsolete. ‘Another Year‘, ‘Zagharid‘, ‘When Hajj Mohammed Sold Out His Hajj‘ are all about people who suffer because they’ve lost their homes or they’ve lost their families who are either dead or on the other side of the border where they can never go. ‘Zagharid‘ is about a mom’s sorrow at not being able to go to her son’s wedding, because she lives in Palestine and he lives outside and she’ll never be able to see him again. It is a story which makes us cry.

I loved ‘Out of Time‘. Many of the stories in the collection are poignant and heartbreaking. Some of them have happy endings. Some of them are fun reads. Ranya Abdelrahman’s translation is beautiful. The book has a beautiful essay by Adania Shibli in which she contemplates on the beauty and power of Samira Azzam’s stories.

The book also has a beautiful introduction which quotes what Samira Azzam said about the Arabic short story. It goes like this –

“It seems to me that the Arabic short story is going through difficult times. The reason might not lie in its nature, as much as it does in factors outside of it, including its subjugation to the novel. Writers of the short story have become convinced that writing a novel is the measure of their creativity, especially since short story collections are not heralded by critics the same way novels are : The publication of a story collection goes by without anyone even trying to say a single word about it… And publishing houses hesitate to accept story collections, as if publishing them is a risky venture.”

It is very fascinating, because this is very true today as it was then, and it is true, not just for Arabic short stories, but for short stories in any language. Writers use short stories as a stepping stone before they can publish their novel, publishers regard short stories as an inferior art form when compared to novels, novelists are rewarded with money and fame if they become successful, while short story writers struggle. Alice Munro said after she won the Nobel Prize that the short story is a beautiful art form and it is beautiful for its own sake, but no one is listening and nothing has changed. It is sad.

I felt sad after reading the book, because this is the only Samira Azzam book out there, this is all there is, and there’ll never be another new story by her. But I’m also glad I read it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. It is from one of my favourite stories, ‘When Hajj Mohammed Sold Out His Hajj‘.

“People had become addicted to grief, and death seemed a logical, acceptable, and happy ending for everyone, no matter their age. The dead died once, and their deaths were certain and final; they knew why they had died, and they didn’t have to live wondering what they were living for, with their voices smothered by roaring tractors that sliced open the stolen land behind the barbed wire fence. The grief of the living was drenched in sunlight, and they had to grieve with their eyes wide open.”

Have you read Samira Azzam’sOut of Time‘? What do you think about it?

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