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Beirut39

by Samuel Shimon and Hanan Al-Shaykh (ed)

An intriguing collection from young Arabic writers, ranging across the Middle East from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, and encompassing poetry, short stories and excerpts from novels. The pieces vary in length and are mixed in style, with some vibrant and beautiful and others dark and disturbing. The whole provides a wonderful introduction to a diverse group of authors and I found myself jotting down names to look up and read again in the future.

Extract

Sheikh Hubb el-Din recited the verses of the Quran with a veneration that shook men's hearts, a submissiveness that forced men to bow their heads. His voice was omnipresent, manifest yet hidden and internal, mysterious as the sound of the earth turning. It issued from heart and soul, not from mouth, gullet, vocal cords and throat. My every limb strained to hear him, and my tongue would move, repeating after him the verses exactly the way that he recited them, at the same pitch, and with the same rendering, tone and piety. I'd spread my fingers to their limit, place my hands over my ears and sway to the right and left where I sat, exactly like him. My body would shake, and a melody of the utmost sweetness would course through it as my soul filled with his celestial voice, and I'd pass into a state of ecstasy, my eyes closed, my heart seeming to circle as though riding a shooting star, doting.
from Secret Pleasures by Hamdy el Gazzar

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