THE SHORT STORIES OF ZAKARIA TAMER
stories. Taksir Rukab (Breaking Knees* in English), or Segamentu de Ancas as I translated it in Sardinian, is a collection of sixty-three very short stories whose common denominator is sexuality and lust. My on-going adventure continued in April 2012 in Oxford, England, where Zakaria has lived for many years now. I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation to his home, and for the first time I could ask him all the questions that had been lingering in my head about his stories. When the title of this collection came up in our conversation he explained its meaning: “In colloquial Syrian Arabic, when you want to describe someone who is completely shattered you say that his knees are broken. I’ve always thought this would be a great allegory to describe the oppression and the injustice that has been visited upon the Syrian people. More, in particular in the parlance of the Damascene working-class, when a sexually ravenous woman has intercourse with a man you say that ‘she broke his knees’ by forcing him to kneel down between her legs for long hours.”
The violent and painful image that a title like Taksir Rukab immediately delivers belies allegories and metaphors that take the reader through a journey into a territory populated by strong and courageous women, hypocritical impotent men, djinn, flying cats and talking apples. Throughout the sixty-three stories that comprise the collection, the reader traverses a surreal world and a multifarious array of characters that are depicted and satirised by the narrator in an original style that borrows heavily from the traditional Arabic tale and from the Arabian Nights. The broad picture that emerges from the collection taken as one artistic unit is an apparently unchanging and emasculating reality that nonetheless possesses the seeds of change and emancipation, and the polyphonic set of voices and characters that come up on the stage are the first necessary alternative that literature can put forward to oppose authoritarian one-mindedness.
Translating these stories from Arabic into Sardinian was an exciting, challenging but ultimately very rewarding enterprise. Motivating this arduous initiative was the desire to expand the potential of a ghettoised language like Sardinian, and to multiply the range of experiences our language can address. Like most minority languages, Sardinian also finds itself in the uncomfortable position of being imprisoned in a self-belittling mentality according to which
86 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015