Banned Books Week (September 27-October 3, 2015) is the US book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. We take intellectual freedom seriously at SU Press and have recommended some reads for you. Join the movement by using the hashtag on Facebook and Twitter!
The World Through the Eyes of Angels, by Mahmoud Saeed
Mosul, Iraq, in the 1940s is a teeming, multi-ethnic city where Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Jews, Aramaeans, Turkmens, Yazidis, and Syriacs mingle in the ancient souks and alleyways. In these crowded streets, among rich and poor, educated and illiterate, pious and unbelieving, a boy is growing up. Burdened with chores from an early age, and afflicted with an older brother who persecutes him with mindless sadism, the child finds happiness only in stolen moments with his beloved older sister and with friends in the streets. Closest to his heart are three girls, encountered by chance: a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew. After enriching the boy’s life immensely, all three meet tragic fates, leaving a wound in his heart that will not heal. A richly textured portrayal of Iraqi society before the upheavals of the late twentieth century, Saeed’s novel depicts a sensitive and loving child assailed by the cruelty of life. Sometimes defeated but never surrendering, he is sustained by his city and its people.
Mahmoud Saeed is an Iraqi-born award-winning novelist. He has written more than twenty novels and short story collections. He was imprisoned several times and left Iraq when the authorities banned the publication of some of his novels, including Zanka bin Baraka (1970), which won the Ministry of Information Award in 1993.
A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems, by Simin Behbahani
Written over almost half a century, much of her work shows the traumatic experiences of revolution and war that has shaped Iraq’s history. In the traditional verse of the qhazel, she improvises with meter to echo and provides new interpretations.
Simin Behbahani,who died in August of 2014. She was widely considered to be the greatest living Persian language poet, known throughout the Middle East and much of the world as the “Lioness of Iran”. She began writing poetry under the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, dealing with issues of poverty, orphans and corruption, reflecting her lifelong concern with the marginalized and outcast. Her most popular poem, My Country, I Will Build You Again, was published soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution and expressed the optimism of those who thought they had witnessed a “democratic” revolution.
My Blue Piano, by Else Lasker-Schuler
The poems collected in this bilingual volume represent the full range of Lasker-Schüler’s work, from her earliest poems until her death. Haxton’s translation embraces the poems’ lyrical imagery, remaining faithful to the poet’s vision while also capturing the cadence and rhythms of the poetry. Critics have long dismissed her poetry as decadent in its romantic use of references to moonlight, flowers, and woodland creatures. Her poetry also resonates with the cultural moment of Sarah Bernhardt’s gender-bending stage performances and Freud’s sexual interpretations of the subconscious.
Before her exile from 1933 to 1945, Lasker-Schüler wrote hundreds of poems and prose pieces, many of which appeared in leading journals. Thirty volumes of her poetry, prose, and plays were published by 1933. She was featured among other banned authors on Natzi Germany’s list for undesirable writing and of Jewish descent.
The Committee, by Sonallah Ibrahim
This wry take on Kafka’s The Trial revolves around its narrator’s attempts to petition successfully the elusive ruling body of his country, known simply as “the committee.” Consequences for his actions range from the absurd to the hideous. In Kafkaesque fashion, Ibrahim offers an unbroken first-person narrative rendered in brief, crisp prose framed by a conspicuous absence of vivid imagery. Furthermore, the petitioner is a man without identity. The ideal anti-hero, he remains, as does his country, unnamed throughout the intricate plot with a locale suggestive of 1970s Cairo.
Sonallah Ibrahim is an Egyptian novelist and a major literary figure in the Arab world. He’s known for his leftist and nationalist views which are expressed rather directly in his work. Because of his political opinions he was imprisoned during the 1960s; his imprisonment is featured in his first book, a collection of short stories titled That Smell, which was one of the first writings into adopt a modernist tinge.