A UNIQUELY CREATIVE SHORT STORY WRITER
style. I met up with him more than once at the Amman headquarters of the Jordanian daily Al-Akhbar, a paper he wrote for, though not for long.
I tirelessly read everything of Tamer’s I could lay my hands on. I read the collections Spring in the Ashes, The Thunder, Damascus Fire, The Tigers on the Tenth Day, and everything else that came after them, with a voracious passion. I learned how his short story style developed and broadened, yet preserved the core of “The Neighing of the White Horse”. The extraordinary diversity of his expressivity drew on fantasy, marvel and imagination to excoriate the tyranny and injustice done to human beings and the domestication of ordinary citizens themselves. Tamer defended, too, the right of women to equality. In the story “Tigers on the tenth day”, the tiger is starved to the point of utter degradation, a symbol of the citizen tamed into submission, the city a tyrant’s cage. In “Randa”, from Damascus Fire, a man kills his sister on the grounds of defending her honour, with Randa becoming a symbol of innocence destroyed by the ever-deepening oppression of women.
Anyone who reads Tamer’s tales, though they may have been written decades ago – never mind the stories and articles that he writes now – will very clearly get a powerful sense of how much they speak to our own age, a time in the Arab world filled with religious extremism and doctrinal intolerance. They explore and express the corrupting power the dictatorial regimes we live under have over their citizens, and the marginalisation, poverty and exploitation, the oppression and degradation they mete out.
Zakaria Tamer is eminent among the short story writers of the Arab world, indeed the whole world. He stands in the front rank of pioneers in the form, alongside Anton Chekhov, Edgar Allen Poe, Guy de Maupassant, O. Henry, Jorge Luis Borges, Yusuf Idris, Julio Cortázar, Alice Munro, and Raymond Carver.
So here’s to Zakaria Tamer, with the utmost affection, admiration and respect.
Translated by John Peate
90 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015