We are grateful to have Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger re-seeing poetry by Ibn Arabi in an ongoing translational conversation, where multiple translations of the same text give us a new way of seeing. Just so, Moger and Maha ElNabawy have two different ways of translating Haytham al-Wardany’s Book of Sleep. While Moger reads and rebuilds an eye-oriented section of the book in English text, Elnabawy translates it into a musical playlist.
The short fictions included in this issue focus on both the strange and hypnotic physicality of the human eye (as in Ameer Hamad’s “Suad’s Eyes,” written and translated for this issue), and the eye’s magic, as in Tareq Emam’s “One-Eyed Woman,” translated here by Katherine Van de Vate.
Other stories focus on the gaze: in Rami Tawil’s “Eyes Shut,” translated by Nashwa Gowanlock, our protagonist works hard to move around the world with closed eyes, and in Bushra Fadil’s startling metaphysical “Phosphorous at the Bottom of a Well,” we see the world from the bottom of a well, as it exists after death. People also fail to recognize one another: Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Man in the Picture” is something of a “Picture of Dorian Gray” set sideways and inside-out; it’s been translated by Karim Zidan and appears in English here for the first time.
This issue’s “Judge a Book by Its Cover” column is generously and beautifully written by Hadeel Eltayeb, about a 1980 children’s book called The Evil Eye, apparently translated from an Irish folktale, illustrated by a Syrian, and published in Beirut, which she discovered in Qatar. Layla Azmi Goushey writes our “Letter to a Late Author” to the late Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, and May Hawass takes the cliché that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and makes it new. She asks: “Do societies with high debt or high unemployment or high illiteracy or other high causes for alarm, for example, really need beauty?” and answers with a “Yes. Without the dream of an aesthetic, there is no end to ugliness.”
There are two visual translations: Hassân Al Mohtasib's "Dictionary" feature, and two eye-themed selections from Melissa Chalhoub's delightful Badly Translated Arabic Songs.
We also have a special section of the fictions shortlisted for the 2019 ArabLit Story Prize. Also, Nawal Nasrallah writes a short food-history memoir about eating sheep’s eyeballs as a child, writing both about how they appear in classical texts as well as in current culinary practice.