About Xavier Luffin

Xavier Luffin is a Professor of Arabic Literature at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). He has translated several novels, short stories, poems, and dramas from Arabic into French. His published translations include novels by Ahmad al-Malik and Amir Tagelsir (Sudan), Rachid Daif (Lebanon) and Samir Naqqash (Israel-Iraq), as well as Nawal el-Saadawi’s drama, Isis. His academic research focuses on the representations of Africans in Arabic Literature as well as on the Arabic literature of Africa. He is now preparing a book in English about the representations of African-Americans in Arabic fiction.

Mogadishu in Arabia

One way to Caracas“People don’t know what it means to become an Arab at six years old,” writes Somali author Mohammad Ali Diriye on the back cover of his short story collection, Ila Karakas bila ‘awdah (One way to Caracas). Born in Somalia, Diriye went into exile at a young age, and studied in Saudi Arabia and Sudan — formative experiences in his literary career that have deeply influenced his contributions to contemporary Arabic fiction. Like other emerging Somali diaspora authors, Diriye deals with the familiar themes of war and exile, but from a new perspective. Unlike Arabic writers in Beirut or Baghdad, he uses the Arabic language to describe another civil war, on the other shore of the Red Sea. In his writing about about exile, which he describes as “the narrative of an Arab pirate,” the Arab world is no longer the point of departure but the destination.

In La‘nat al-janub (“The Curse of the South”), a short story I recently translated into English, a man leaves his homeland — Somalia is not explicitly named — and starts a new life in Saudi Arabia. The man tries to forget everything in relation with the land of his ancestors, but at the end of the day, his efforts prove futile: remnants of Somalia persist in his mind, against his will. Despite the fact that Diriye doesn’t directly mention Somalia or the civil war in the story, they still linger all over the text. Indeed, their very omission evokes a traumatic lapse in memory.

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