February 3, 2012 10:22 pm

Middle Eastern literary gems

Reza Aslan’s ‘Tablet & Pen’ offers English translations of a wealth of the region’s literature from the 20th century
 

Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, edited by Reza Aslan, Norton RRP£16.99, 688 pages

This huge anthology offers English translations of a wealth of Middle Eastern literature from the 20th century. Lesser-known writers jostle with familiar names, such as Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk and Naguib Mahfouz. Sadegh Hedayat’s greatest work The Blind Owl yields a hallucinatory extract alongside fellow Iranian Forough Farrokhzad’s elegiac poem “Those Days”.

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Aslan groups his selections by language and period – mid-century Arabic literature or Urdu after partition – and prefaces each section with a page or two of historical background. But, in a gazette of this scope, these are scarcely enough to give a satisfying context to his more political choices. Fleshing out the significance of Pakistan’s “so-called modernists” or the feminist and experimental “engaged” writers of pre-republic Iran would have given more substance to what is a rich and absorbing introduction to this turbulent region’s more potent literature.

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