Congratulations to Prof. Michelle Hartman, Prof. Laila Parsons and Prof. Robert Wisnowsky on their latest publications:
- Ḥumaydān, Īmān, and Michelle Hartman (translation). The Weight of Paradise. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2016.
Iman Humaydan’s Weight of Paradise narrates the story of two women set against the post-war backdrop of 1990s Beirut. While making a documentary film about the reconstruction of downtown Beirut, Maya Amer stumbles upon a battered leather suitcase that will change her life forever. Inside it she finds letters, photographs, a diary, and an envelope labeled: Letters from Istanbul. The Weight of Paradise is both the story of Maya and her discovery, and also the story of the owner of these papers, Noura Abu Sawwan. A journalist, Noura fled Syria just before the Lebanese civil war to find greater freedom of expression. But as we learn from her diaries, her flight was also precipitated by her family’s denial of her sister’s suicide after she fell pregnant by a mukhabarat officer. The diaries lead us through the turmoil of Noura’s life first in Syria and then in Beirut: her family’s resistance to political repression in her childhood and adolescence, the passionate love story she lived with Kemal Firat, her Turkish soul mate and the author of the Letters from Istanbul and her commitment to writing against injustice, including publishing her sister’s tragic story. A multi-voiced, multi-genre narration, The Weight of Paradise interweaves the stories of these two women and the people who surround them within the fabric of Beirut in the civil war and its immediate aftermath. A love story as well as a story of women’s liberation and political freedom, the novel is also the tale of a city and country torn apart by repression, occupation, and war. Beirut, Damascus, and Istanbul are shown as vibrant locations where people resist state violence trying to live and thrive together across linguistic, ethnic, religious, and communitarian differences.
- Parsons, Laila. The Commander: Fawzi Al-Qawuqji and the Fight for Arab Independence, 1914-1948. New York : Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.
The Commander: Fawzi al-Qawuqji and the Fight for Arab Independence, 1914-1948 (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux/Hill & Wang, 2016) focuses on the life of Fawzi al-Qawuqji, the Arab nationalist and soldier who served as an officer in the Ottoman army during World War I; fought against the French in Syria during the rebellion of 1925-1927; fought against the British in Palestine during the Palestinian Revolt of 1936-39, and again in Iraq during the Rashid ‘Ali Coup of 1941; lived in exile in Nazi Germany during World War II; and led the Arab Salvation Army (Jaysh al-inqâdh) against the Haganah/IDF during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Using Qawuqji’s own archive to construct a detailed and carefully contextualized narrative of the journey that he made through certain moments, Parsons offers a glimpse of the complexity and contingency of the historical worlds he inhabited. The book has already been reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly (starred review), Kirkus, Booklist, and the New Yorker. It will also come out in the UK in January with Saqi Books.
- Wallis, Faith and Robert Wisnovsky. Medieval Textual Cultures: Agents of Transmission, Translation and Transformation. De Gruyter, 2016.
Understanding how medieval textual cultures engaged with the heritage of antiquity (transmission and translation) depends on recognizing that reception is a creative cultural act (transformation). The essays in this volume focus on the people, societies and institutions who were doing the transmitting, translating, and transforming — the “agents”. The subject matter ranges from medicine to astronomy, literature to magic, while the cultural context encompasses Islamic and Jewish societies, as well as Byzantium and the Latin West. What unites these studies is their attention to the methodological and conceptual challenges of thinking about agency. Not every agent acted with an agenda, and agenda were sometimes driven by immediate needs or religious considerations that while compelling to the actors, are more opaque to us. What does it mean to say that a text becomes “available” for transmission or translation? And why do some texts, once transmitted, fail to thrive in their new milieu? This collection thus points toward a more sophisticated “ecology” of transmission, where not only individuals and teams of individuals, but also social spaces and local cultures, act as the agents of cultural creativity.