New Age Islam - Read About Islam, Islamic Religion and Muslims, Terrorism and Jihad
   Urdu Section
   Hindi Section
   Bangla Section
   Assamese Section
   Tamil Section
   Kannada Section
   Malayalam Section
   Arabic Section
   Persian Section
   French Section
   Debating Islam
   Islamic Q and A
   Books and Documents
   Islamic World News
   Radical Islamism and Jihad
   Islam,Terrorism and Jihad
   War on Terror
   Islam and the West
   Interfaith Dialogue
   The War Within Islam
   Islam and Sectarianism
   Islam and Politics
   Islam and Spiritualism
   Current Affairs
   Muslims and Islamophobia
   Spiritual Meditations
   Islamic Ideology
   Islam, Women and Feminism
   Islam and Human Rights
   Islamic Society
   Islam and Pluralism
   Islamic Sharia Laws
   Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam
   Islam and Tolerance
   Islamic History
   Islamic Personalities
   Islam and Science
   Islam and Environment
   Islamic Culture
   Islam and the Media
   Letter to the Editor
   From the Desk of Editor
   Indian Press
   Pakistan Press
   Middle East Press
   World Press
Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal
The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam
Biography, Audio
More Videos.. 
The Quran: A New Translation - The eternal present tense
Preface: The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam By Dr. Muhammad Iqbal
Lecture 1: Knowledge and Religious Experience
Focus on Islam, Jihad and Terrorism
Condemning "Islamist" terrorist attack on Mumbai in harshest terms
Can Ulema save Muslims from Radical Islamism?
Indian Ulema have no time to lose, must call warlike Quranic surahs obsolete.
Jihadism gets sustenance from verses of war in the Quran
Dr. Zakir Naik on Yazeed and Osama bin Laden - A New Age Islam Debate
Unveiling Zakir Naik: Terror cannot be fought with Terror
Comments - 148
On Televangelist Zakir Naik: Don't give in to pretenders
Comments - 31
Beware of the Kafir-manufacturing factories: Maulana Nadeem-ul-Wajidi responds to the Fatawahs of Kufr against Dr. Zakir Naik
Comments - 41
Unity among Muslims and Dr. Zakir Naik's Evil: A Point of View
Comments - 163
This Islamic website offers facts about Islam and Muslims, Islam way and Islamic ideology. Online Islam - Latest Islamic World News, Articles on Radical Islamism & Jihad and Islam, Terrorism and Jihad
Books and Documents
01 Oct 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com
Translating Libya: Non-Political Stories of Love and Hardship


By Susannah Tarbush 


The book "Translating Lybia" is published by Saqi in association with the London Middle East Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies, LondonEthan Chorin's book "Translating Libya: The Modern Libyan Short Story" defies being pigeon-holed within a particular genre. At its heart are 16 Libyan short stories newly translated by Chorin (in three cases jointly with Basem Tulti). But the book is at the same time a delightful mixture of travelogue, scholarly study, and a record of personal encounters. 

Libya, after its long years of international isolation, still appears generally mysterious and little understood to outsiders. The title "Translating Libya" can be seen in two ways. One is the translation of Libyan literature, the other the "translating" of Libya itself. Through the stories and his accompanying jottings and commentaries, Chorin throws much light on different facets of Libya, past and present. 

American enthusiasm 

Chorin was a member of the small team of US diplomats that went to Tripoli after US-Libyan relations were renewed in July 2004. He remained there as Commercial and Economic Attaché until 2006. 

When he asked his assistant in Tripoli, US-educated Basem Tulti, if he could recommend any good local authors, Tulti produced a paperback containing "The Locusts" ("Al-Jarad") by Ahmed Fagih. Chorin loved the story, and translated it into English. Thus was born the idea of collaborating with Tulti on a project to translate a number of stories. 

The stories are interspersed with Chorin's vivid, often amusing, accounts of his adventures while travelling to far-flung places, or trying to track down particular writers or stories. He combed multiple sources for stories, including bookshops, newspapers, magazines, internet sites and personal contacts. 

The stories are divided into three sections – eastern, southern and western Libya – corresponding roughly to the pre-independence provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. The eastern region is placed first, in deference to its "distinct role in producing Libyan writers and intellectuals." 

Complex American-Libyan relations

How did Libyans react to Chorin as a US diplomat? "I found Libyans as a people – and Libyan writers and artists in particular – to be engaged, and extremely generous. I always got the sense that most Libyans felt very positive towards Americans, despite the past obvious tensions in the relationship."


Chorin's book is published against the backdrop of U.S.-Libyan rapprochement. Nevertheless, in Colonel Ghadaffi's Libya censorship is omnipresentChorin reckons this is perhaps because "older Libyans generally had fond memories of interactions with Americans in the 60s and 70s, and Libya's international isolation shielded younger generations (somewhat) from the hot-button issues about which the rest of the region obsesses. This is no longer the case, and expectations are high as to what the rapprochement will produce."

The 16 stories are rendered in clear, flowing translation. Their authors range from Wahbi Bouri, born in 1916 and widely considered the "original" Libyan short story writer, through the next generation of writers such as Ahmed Fagih, Ramadan Abdalla Bukheit, Ali Mustapha Misrati , Sadiq Nayhoum and Kamel Maghur, to younger authors including Abdullah Ali Al-Gazal, Maryam Ahmed Salama and Najwa Ben Shetwan. 

The role of female writers

Chorin notes that a considerable percentage of young Libyan writers today are women in their late twenties and early thirties, whereas in the previous two decades writers were overwhelmingly male. Some women write under male pen-names, however, as they do not feel the act of writing is yet a socially acceptable activity for women.

The stories include timeless fables such as Sadiq Nayhoum's stories "The Good-Hearted Salt Seller" and "The Sultan's Flotilla" ("Markab As-Sultan"). Others are social satires: "Special Edition" by Ali Mustapha Misrati, lampoons Arab journalism, while Lamia El-Makki's previously unpublished "Tripoli Story", set in today's consumerist society, portrays a monstrously materialistic wife. 

Libyan love stories

There are several tales of thwarted love. Kamel Maghur's Tripoli story "The Old Hotel" centres on the relationship between a Muslim migrant from "the hopeless town" of Zwara and a Jewish woman. A nurse in the town of Ghadames falls in love with a Ukrainian doctor in Maryam Salama's "From Door to Door" ("Min Bab Ila Bab"). 

Two hauntingly poetic stories are set on the eastern Libyan coast. In Najwa Ben Shetwan's "The Spontaneous Lover" a young woman on vacation with her family in the village of Bauhareshma writes her lover a letter to be put into a bottle and tossed into the Mediterranean. "The Mute" by Abdullah Ali Al-Gazal is located in a mountainous verdant place where an abused mute girl succumbs to the call of the natural world. 

While there is plenty to savour in the stories, there is also much meat in Chorin's accompanying material. The six concluding chapters cover the history of the Libyan short story; "three generations of economic shock"; migration; minorities; the Libyan psyche; and Libyan women. 

Evading political realities 

Ethan Chorin: "I very much hope to return to Libya."The stories do not directly confront the political realities of the four decades of the Qadhafi era. Chorin observes that in the "revolutionary years" from 1969 to 1986, the realist style of the 1960s was abandoned. A few committed writers with means fled the country. Those who stayed "nursed their hobbies more or less in private". Writers coped with censorship through allegory or "outright evasion". Some of the work from that time is only now seeing the light of day, more than 20 years on. 

Chorin writes: "There are signs that with the recent economic and cultural opening, more people are reading, and short stories in particular." With the recent lifting of restrictions on certain forms of expression, and a new press law, "it will be interesting to see who will be among the next generation of Libyan writers and from where they will draw inspiration." 

The effect of the Internet

He hopes that the trend will be towards more openness and creativity. "Most of my information now about Libya comes either directly through Libyan friends, or the Internet. Individuals like Laila Neihoum (a cousin of Sadiq Nayhoum) have done Libyan arts a tremendous service by publishing blogs describing what's going on in Libyan art and literature. Hopefully more of this sort of thing will start to appear in English." In the book Chorin mentions the effect of the Internet in encouraging writers to take some risks and self publish. "This is clearly having an effect in sharing Libyan arts with the world." 

Chorin is currently on leave from the State Department and working as a senior fellow of the Middle East Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. "My passion is the Middle East, and I hope to be back living in the region soon," he says. "I most certainly keep in touch with my Libyan friends – this project has helped tremendously with that – and very much hope to return to Libya."

Susannah Tarbush

© 2008 




Forward to a friend | Print
Total Comments: 0
     Compose Your Comments here:
Email (Not to be published)
Strike Through
Left Align
Right Align
Change Text Direction
Ordered List
Unordered List
Decrease Indent
Increase Indent
Font Color
Background Color
Insert Link
Remove Link
Horizontal Rule
Please use the browser Internet Explorer to post your comments.
In case of difficulty, please post your comments to:
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles and comments are the opinions of the authors and not necessarily reflect that of
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to promote Co-Existence and Dialogue of Religions and Civilisations, and advance understanding of Islam and Democracy, Pluralism, Terrorism, Human Rights, Islamic Laws and Ideology, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. New Age Islam has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor is New Age Islam endorsed or sponsored by the originator of these articles. For more information go to:
Copyright 2008 - 2009 NewAgeIslam.Com All Rights Reserved.
Site best viewed in 1200 x 900 pixels or higher display resolution.
Editor and Publisher: Sultan Shahin, E-22, Indra Prastha Apts., 114, I. P. Extension, New Delhi – 110092
Phone No. (+91-11) 222 44 868 E-mail:
Home | About Us | Contact Us | Disclaimer | Donate | Submit Articles | Privacy Policy