Robyn Creswell is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale and the Poetry Editor of The Paris Review.
 (October 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

The Seal of the Poets

‘The Conference of the Birds’; detail of an illustration by Habiballah of Sava from a Persian manuscript of the poem by Farid ud-Din Attar, circa 1600

The Conference of the Birds

by Attar, translated from the Persian by Sholeh Wolpé
Almost nothing is known for certain about the life of Farid ud-Din Attar, a Persian poet celebrated for his delightful long poem The Conference of the Birds. He had no contemporary biographers and the few vignettes of his life that do exist feel apocryphal. He was born toward the middle …

Tripoli Nights with a Master of Arabic

Elias Khoury, London, 2006

Broken Mirrors: Sinalcol

by Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies

Confessions

by Rabee Jaber, translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
A little more than halfway through Elias Khoury’s novel Broken Mirrors, the main character, Karim Shammas, meets an architect from Solidere, the real estate company that razed and rebuilt downtown Beirut after Lebanon’s ruinous civil war. The architect shows Shammas a computer program that works like the video game SimCity …

The First Great Arabic Novel

Théodore Géricault: The Giaour, circa 1822–1823

Leg Over Leg, or the Turtle in the Tree: Concerning the Fariyaq, What Manner of Creature Might He Be

by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, edited and translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies
Published in Paris in 1855, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg Over Leg is often called the first novel written in Arabic. It does not read at all like Little Dorrit, whose first installment was published the same year, and certainly not like Madame Bovary, published two years later, but “novel” is …

NYR DAILY

Persia’s Hybrid Art

“Technologies of the Image,” now at the Harvard Art Museums, is fascinated by precisely the thing that repelled many Europeans about art of the Qajar period (1779-1925)—its hybrid aesthetic, a combination of “native styles” with European sources and technology. The curators are especially interested in what they call “remediation,” that is, images made in one medium subsequently emulated in another: a painting that incorporates a photographic model, for example, or a lithograph based on a sculpture. The longer one studies them, the more absorbing they become.

Voices from a Different Syria

The characteristic style of Abounaddara, an anonymous Syrian film collective, took shape during the early days of the Syrian uprising, before it became an armed conflict, and the collective’s work remains close to the ethos of the protest movement. But their politics have more to do with challenging the way we consume images than with taking sides in the conflict.

Syria’s Lost Spring

The Syrian People Knows Its Way: This is civil disobedience. There's no excuse for silence anymore, circa 2012

What happened to the Arab Spring in Syria? Amid a wave of jihadist violence extending from Aleppo to Paris, it is sometimes hard to remember that many of the original participants aspired to something dramatically different. In their courage, humor, defiance, and occasional moments of optimism, these protesters already seem to belong to another era—before sectarian war and waves of refugees made the idea of revolution seem quaint.

Escaping Beirut

Beirut, 1972

In Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman, the narrator is a septuagenarian literary translator in Beirut—“the Elizabeth Taylor of cities,” as she calls it, “insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart.” But Aaliya does not feel at home in her native city. For most of the novel, she walks through her neighborhood in West Beirut, remembering past lovers and favorite books.