fore an immense stone statue of “a tall man with a stern face, his right hand raised in a gesture that inspired awe and respect, as if blessing his invisible minions kneeling there.” She had wanted to look daggers at this man who killed her sons and their father, but “her gaze was incapable of letting go of its usual sadness and humility.” She feels as if she is shrinking, and everything around her is shrinking and disappearing. “Nothing remained except the statue, and the birds whose pleasure it was to crap on it.”
In Story 48 a man sees news on TV of soldiers firing on children in a demonstration and senses he has himself been hit in the chest. There is no blood, but he feels pain, and after he reaches to turn off the TV “he continued to see soldiers descending with their swords on the necks of men, women and children, and setting on fire green trees which could not cry out for help.”
The director of a government hospital touring it unannounced at night finds it running riot. Doctors drinking beer and smoking cigarettes stare at a TV. On the screen “he saw the most modern jet fighters dropping huge sacks of wheat and sugar on top of ancient mud houses scattered over a barren landscape. Every time a sack landed, it brought the roof down on its dwellers and buried them in rubble covered with mountains of wheat and sugar.”
Ibrahim Muhawi does a fine job of translating the stories. Born in Ramallah, Palestine, in 1937 Muhawi has a PhD in English from the University of California, Davis. He has held a number of academic posts, and was in 1997-2002 Director of the Master’s Programme in Translation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is currently Courtesy Professor at the University of Oregon’s Department of Comparative Literature, specialising in Palestinian and Arabic literature and folklore and translation.
In his introduction to Breaking Knees Muhawi writes on the challenges of translating Tamer, a great prose stylist of Arabic. “Tamer’s prose is poetic in its economy – lucid syntax, characterized by precision in the choice of words coupled with sentences that are very much aware of their rhythms.” In translating such a text, “each word must be absolutely the right word for the context, and, equally importantly, the rhythm of the prose must dance in English as it does in Arabic”. Muhawi succeeds admirably on both counts.
BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015 109