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The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Best of the Year?

'Tis the season for best-of round-ups: the Literary Saloon have flagged up UK, US, French and German broadsheet lists, of which the most influential (in terms of sales, at least) is probably the New York Times' Holiday Books selection.

Which gave me pause. Remember that debate, earlier this year, about Horace Engdahl's comment that American literature was insular? Well, here are the books in translation on the NYT list, from established favourites Ma Jian, Victor Pelevin, and Roberto Bolaño: Beijing Coma; The Sacred Book of the Werewolf; 2666; Oh, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Good to see that international tensions, fervours, disasters and achievements can all be so neatly summed up by American authors, for the most part the usual suspects (Proulx, Roth, Updike). Non-fiction fares even worse, in a sense, when it comes to opening eyes to the greater world: there are books _about_, say the Middle East, like Robin Wright's Dreams and Shadows and Dexter Filkins' The Forever War , but everything on the list is by American and British writers.

The Guardian's list, which asks authors for their selections, fares little better; but Ahdaf Soueif flags up Raja Shehada's brilliant Palestinian Walks and Chimananda Ngozi Adichie cheers for Rawi Hage's IMPAC-winning De Niro's Game, which is also the only YA book to make the list.

But, they do also have a review of The Earth in the Attic, the first poetry collection from Fady Joudah, who won the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation earlier this year, for his translation of The Butterfly's Burden, a collection of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's late work. Joudah is the first Arab-American to win the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets award (he was selected by Louise Glück in 2007), which has been running since 1919. In his review of The Earth, Charles Bainbridge writes that:
Joudah's poetry thrives on dramatic shifts in perspective, on continually challenging received notions.
This suggests the deep influence of Darwish's fluent imagination, and also an implicit manifesto for literature -- and for review pages -- in complex and interconnected times.

In other words, come on, NYT, time for a dramatic shift of perspective -- say, to contemplating books written in places other than New York -- in order to challenge received notions.

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