ARC £15.99 (239pp) £14.39 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
Midnight, By Mourid Barghouti, trans Radwa Ashour
Friday 23 January 2009
Every exiled writer must carry the sorrows of a spoiled history. But Palestinian authors now labour under an extra curse. They stand in danger of becoming – as individual voices – inaudible on every front. No one who backs the occupiers' case in this most polarising of disputes wants to hear the testimony of the dispossessed. In this conflict, literature has utterly failed to open minds or build bridges. As for sympathisers with the 60-year ordeal of a people stripped of both land and past, they usually crave the fire and fury of political rhetoric. Anger soothes, but true art may only sharpen pain.
Born near Ramallah in British-mandate Palestine in 1944, the poet Mourid Barghouti found himself houseless and stateless after the Six Day War of 1967. A winding road of exile took him through Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and – for many years – Budapest, before a return to Cairo, where he currently lives. His prose memoir of loss and displacement, I Saw Ramallah, is globally acknowledged as a classic journey through the homeless mind.
Midnight at last gathers into English a generous selection of his poetry in a bilingual edition, with original texts partnered by lean and supple translations from the Arabic by the Egyptian novelist and critic Radwa Ashour (the poet's wife). Guy Mannes-Abbott supplies a revealing essay, enriched by interviews with Barghouti, on this "taut and often tortured writing" that "emerges from the deepest realms of our humanity".
Both in the long, meditative title poem, and the compact lyrics that follow it, Barghouti speaks with a sort of glowing despair about the plight of souls stranded in an emotional – and existential – limbo. His efforts to rescue words of hope from the rubble of broken lives seem to shatter time and again against the walls of an implacable reality. "We were wounded," runs the refrain of "Narcissus Hat", "and trying to heal history".
There is not a single line of propaganda in this book. You will search in vain for any didactic message about Israel-Palestine politics. The only poem clearly prompted by a public event, the televised killing of a small boy by occupying forces on the West Bank, segues into a poignant ghost story in which dream – and dream alone – redeems an accursed time.
Instead of polemic and accusation, Barghouti fashions harrowing elegies, mordant ironies, and a gallows humour as bitter as the coffee grounds marking one of the small rituals that help make the days of dispossession bearable. He quotes Yeats and Shakespeare; he can sound, in his weary, sardonic pluck, much like Auden or Brecht.
This bone-bred sadness does not make Barghouti a detached or "neutral" voice. He bears witness to a people's tragedy that men, not fate, have made – but men in several different uniforms. And, in many poems, the life that coercion cannot kill – the memory of an orange grove, a woman's love, the creatures of the earth and the stars in the sky – kicks against the dark. Barghouti never openly indicts but, an emissary of the defeated, he does ask the victors – any of history's victors – why they find it so hard to sleep soundly.
As "The Pillow" puts it, "only I know the loser's dignity/ the winner's loneliness/ and the stupid coldness one feels/ when a wish has been granted". Midnight, a radiant cry from the vanquished, delivers its heavy load of thwarted wishes. In compensation, and as a balm for battered hearts and minds, Barghouti's insight and warmth grace every page of this precious collection.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Asteroid narrowly scrapes past Earth: how to watch the closest space rock for decades as it flies by
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
- 5 Watch Richard Dawkins read his own hatemail: 'I hope you do get sodomised by satanic monkeys in hell'
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after Wembley Stadium rant
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
30,000 reasons why the rhetoric on immigrants claiming benefits can stop now