Writing the World: Central Asia
By Shaniah Shields, Jia Wen Ho, Leanne Francis and Christina Moore
This is the last stop on our journey to cover the literary scene in Asia and it has been an incredibly eye-opening adventure. There are many literary works found in Central Asia and the Middle East, and a wonderfully vibrant community of writers.
Palestinian literature has flourished in recent times, with explorations of identity being prominent in contemporary fiction. The vibrancy of this literature is reflected in the broad range of exciting books that are slowly making their way overseas through translation.
Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa
Winner of the 2020 Palestine Book Award, Against the Loveless World paints deeply complex and powerful images of life in Palestine through the eyes of a young refugee. Offering an insight into the life of the marginalised, Abulhawa provides a story of love and defiance in a world of oppression and misogyny.
Salt Houses by Hala Alyah
This heart-breaking but hopeful, multigenerational story follows a family in the Middle East as they deal with grief, pain and displacement. Alyah’s remarkable and lyrical debut shows that home is not always a place, but a feeling we carry in our hearts.
Along the Almond Trees by Hussein Barghouthi
Translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, Barghouthi’s memoir is an examination of illness, loss and life against the backdrop of Palestine. From vivid childhood memories to walks in moonlight, this poetic memoir is full of hope and sorrow.
The literature scene in Oman has also grown in recent years. Though it is predominantly written in Arabic, more and more Omani literature is being translated into English. Celestial Bodies, by Jokha al-Harthi, was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2019, making her Oman’s first woman to have a novel translated into English. Celestial Bodies is a “multi-generational saga" which tells the story of family, tradition, money and fighting for freedom.
Kazakh literature has a “rich oral tradition of epic poems, ballads and verse tales,” with stories being passed down orally from generation to generation. Despite its great history of oral storytelling, with the epic, Manas, being “twenty times longer than The Iliad and The Odyssey combined,” Kazakh literature has, for the most part, remained out of the spotlight in the West. Recently, translations of contemporary poetry from Kazakhstan have become available. Contemporary Kazakh Literature: Poetry (2019) is a compilation of poetry by thirty-one Kazakh poets, translated by a team of five translators. With a great focus on the natural world, Kazakhstan’s literary traditions flow throughout this collection.
Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian
This memoir tells the story of growing up as an Armenian in the 50s and 60s, and despite the tumultuous era, being written about allows for wonderful tales that are then balanced out with a serious historical examination.
The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel
This book, based on events taking place in 1915 such as the second year of World War I and the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, was originally published in German in 1933. It achieved great international success and has been credited with awakening the world to the evidence of the persecution and genocide inflicted on the Armenian nation during World War I.
My Name is Aram by William Saroyan
This collection of short stories first published in 1940, focuses on an Armenian boy named Aram Garoghlanian, who lives in Fresno, California. All of the stories feature Aram as the hero, he is first written about as a nine-year-old and in the final story, he is a young man leaving his hometown. These stories detail Aram's exploits with his large family and friends.
Though vibrant and full of history, Georgian literature is not widely spread to other places. The restrictive nature of the previous Soviet regime and lack of translation has proved to be barriers for propagation of Georgian literature. However, there are still some brilliant literary works available to us by Georgian writers.
Of Old Hearts and Swords by Aka Morchiladze
Considered the biggest contemporary Georgian writer, Aka Morchiladze has written twenty novels and several short stories. Of Hearts and Swords is a historical novel set in the nineteenth century where a Georgian nobleman, Baduna flees from the Tiflis in search of his disabled brother. However, the police are hot on his heels, because Baduna has killed a Russian officer. Aka Morchiladze characterises a tragic hero in Baduna, where he risks everything for an uncertain fate.
Intelekti Publishing is one of the biggest publishing houses in Georgia. Founded in 1994, they publish around 300 books a year, ranging from fiction to poetry, to academic and scientific literature. Specialising in both classic and contemporary Georgian literature, Intelekti has many interesting titles.