cover image Stories from the Center of the World: New Middle East Fiction

Stories from the Center of the World: New Middle East Fiction

Edited by Jordan Elgrably. City Lights, $17.95 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-0-8728-6907-3

Elgrably, editor in chief of the Markaz Review, presents a welcome if uneven anthology of new Middle Eastern short fiction. Among the 25 writers included are familiar names like Leila Aboulela and Hanif Kureishi and newcomers including May Haddad and Diary Marif. Plenty of entries dazzle: among them, Abdellah Taïa’s gorgeous and formally inventive “Nadira of Tlemcen,” translated from the Arabic by Elgrably, about a trans Algerian woman who reminisces on her decades turning tricks in Paris; and Mohammed Al Naas’s moving “The Cactus,” translated from the Arabic by Rana Asfour, in which a young Libyan man’s potted cactus becomes a totem for his memories and desires for the lover he left behind in Tripoli. In contrast, “Counter Strike” by MK Harb feels clumsy and prosaic in its portrayal of queer desire among teens in Beirut who spend their time playing video games in an internet café. Other entries are a bit overwrought, like Marif’s “My Rebellious Feet,” in which the narrator, a young boy, has an epiphany about human suffering as a result of losing one of his shoes. On the whole, however, the anthology fulfills Elgrably’s stated vision of creating “a collective orchestra of voices and... the beginning of an east-west conversation.” The highlights alone are worth the price of admission. (May)