Category Archives: Ramblings

Arabic Fiction and the Exclamation Mark

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First, I must admit that I have not read a lot of Arabic fiction. But from what I read, and especially what I’m reading right now (A World without Maps by Jabra and Munif), there seems to be an overuse of the exclamation mark. It’s an excessive overuse!

A quick google search about exclamation marks and fiction will result in a barrage of articles and pages recommending to avoid using it, never to use, or that using it is a sign of a lazy author or an amateur.

So why is it still used in Arabic fiction?

One would assume that Jabra and Munif who are professionals by every definition, if not masters of the craft, would have been able to convey exclamations without relying on the dreaded mark.

I would like to leave you with a couple of questions. Is there an overuse of the exclamation marks in Arabic fiction, or is it just a case of an availability bias based on the very little I read? Is this overuse indicative of the (for lack of a better word) inferiority of Arabic fiction, or is it simply a product of the Arabic language?

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The Best of the Best List

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Needless to say, I love lists (who doesn’t? It’s like someone not liking ice-cream. Madness!) So I’m very excited to share this list by a reader who combined 11 different lists to see “what books are most recommended.”

I never agree with everything on these lists, but I still take great pleasure in combing through them (not to mention the countless of sleepless nights I spend fuming about the addition of some books. Ayn Rand? Really!).

So what do I think of this new list?

I hate it (Rand? Again? Really!!!), and love it.

I think the lists chosen here suffer because they are mostly of modern literature, and they are usually English (if not American) centric. And, some of the lists are based on users/consumers rather than critics.

So I would be very interested to see the same process done but only using critical lists of all-time world literature (as opposed to the last century or any specific era).

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How Can Arab Writers Forge a Space ‘Beyond National Origins’?

My thoughts are in the comment section.

Arabic Literature (in English)

In the fourth and final part of the series on “the Arabic novel in the West,” Palestinian novelist Raba’i Madhoun asked Palestinian-British writer Selma Dabbagh, author of Out of It, for her views:

Dabbagh argued that writers — and this is perhaps particularly true of the current era — cannot be considered just national writers, as they are influenced by many traditions:

“I believe that geographical and linguistic labels on literature are less relevant than the way that writers, wherever they are or come from, are able to emotionally communicate a story. A Libyan writer may have more in common with an Argentinian writer than another Libyan in terms of style and approach. It would be hard to find a writer who has not read and been influenced by writers beyond their national boundaries.”

While a linguistic tradition and milieu certainly shape writers, Arab authors…

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Dostoyevsky’s house and flavorwire’s list of 50 places every literary fan should visit

Here’s the link to flavorwire’s list: http://flavorwire.com/403319/50-places-every-literary-fan-should-visit

The places I’d like to visit most are those of the Russian greats. It would be really interesting to see Nabokov’s butterflies (btw that would be a great name for a novel), imagining him running around the field to capture them, then meticulously trying to preserve them.

Was Dostoyevsky’s house on the list? If not, it really, really should be.

Here are some photos of his place:

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The Arabic Language and the Arabs

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The Arabic language is beautiful. It is majestic. Personally, I was an ardent defender of it (even though, there were barely any attackers). I have stood atop the podium and recited verses upon verses of poetry. Real Arabic poetry, not the ones popular in the Gulf these days.

But here lies the problem. Why do I have to say that it’s “real” Arabic instead of just saying Arabic?

You see, what I believed to be real Arabic (I’ll call it formal Arabic from now on or FA) is not spoken natively in all of the world. Let me repeat that, FA is not the native language of anyone. This is not an exaggeration. Yet the only real acknowledged language by the Arabs is FA.

Does having a language that no one speaks natively (let alone read or write it natively, or better yet using it to think) cause any problems for the people who cling so tightly to it?

The answer most emphatically is, yes.

To better illustrate that point, let me share with you this real story.

I (a person from Hijaz) along with a Libyan, and a Tunisian wanted to get some info from a Moroccan friend of ours. All of us being Arabs, this should not be a problem. Oh but it was. The Moroccan spoke English, French, and North West African Arabic (NWAA). The Tunisian spoke English, French, NWAA, and FA. The Libyan spoke NWAA and FA. I speak English, Hijazi Arabic, and FA.

The poor Moroccan had to give the info first to the Tunisian and Libyan in NWAA, then repeat it to me in English.

Taking a quick glance at the Arab world, I would say that there at least three distinct Arabic languages, each with regional dialects.

1. NWAA: Spoken by Libyans, Algerian, Tunisians, Moroccans, and maybe, Mauritanians.

2. Central Arabic: Spoken by Egyptians, Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Hijazis, and maybe Sudanese.

3. Gulf Arabic: Saudi (except for Hijaz), Yemen, Oman, UAE, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain.

As for Somalia, Djibouti, and Comoros, I’m not sure what do the people there speak natively, so I really don’t know where to put them.

The following article compares FA with Latin in Europe during the middle ages, and it is an apt comparison. I encourage you to read it. It delves deeper into the issue.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2013/06/arabic

What do you guys think? Does the benefit of having one unified language outweigh the fact that the majority of Arabs do not speak, read, or write it adequately?

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