THE SHORT STORIES OF ZAKARIA TAMER
from Syria was published in Arabic in 2002, under the title Taksir Rukab. It is the first of Tamer’s collections to be published in English translation in a single volume. Before Garnet published Breaking Knees in 2008, the only book of Tamer’s stories in English translation was Tigers on the Tenth Day and Other Stories (Quartet Books, 1985) translated by Denys Johnson-Davies. This is a selection of stories from several collections rather than being a translation of a single collection.
In his illuminating introduction to Breaking Knees, the translator Ibrahim Muhawi argues that it was essential to translate and publish the collection as a single volume so as to preserve it as an “artistic unit”. He notes that Tamer gave his 2005 eleventh collection The Hedgehog the subtitle “A Story” (published in English translation by AUC Press and reviewed above on page 102), although it is made up of twenty-two individual tales recounting the experiences of a single character, a child. Muhawi sees this as “clear indication that he intends us to read his books as artistic units”.
The same process is at work in Breaking Knees, in which the stories do not have names but numbers. Muhawi adds: “Each story can stand on its own, yet there are underlying (and frequently quite subtle) connections of theme, style, and perspective that knit the work together in the reader’s mind long after the book has been read.”
Seven years on from the publication of Muhawi’s translation, Breaking Knees could well attract new readers. For one thing, recent years have seen a rapid growth in popularity of the “short short story” or “flash fiction”. This is partly due to the digital revolution and on-screen reading. Given Tamer’s gift for writing complete stories with remarkable brevity, he can be seen as a practitioner of flash fiction par excellence.
Another reason why Breaking Knees might well find a new audience is the relevance of its stories to the Arab uprisings that erupted in 2011, and their chaotic aftermath. Tamer’s stories have always explored and satirised political and social conditions in the Arab world and their impact on “ordinary” people. The Arab revolutions, and in particular the horrors of the Syrian civil war, give new resonances and poignancy to the stories in Breaking Knees.
The stories contain many memorable and disquieting images. In a one-paragraph story, an old woman goes to a park and stands be-
108 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015