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New Libyan Literature

M. Lynx Qualey, who runs the excellent blog Arabic Literature (In English), wrote an interesting, useful article for Al-Masry Al-Youm entitled New Life for New Libyan Lit which discusses the future of Libyan literature post-Qadhafi:

While Egyptian authors embraced social realism in the 1960s and 1970s, many Libyan writers shied away from it. Some authors did write in a realistic style, such as Abdallah al-Ghazal in his “Toyota War.” But many others continued to rely on symbolist techniques, from metaphor to animal fables. Unlike the 1990s generation of Egyptian authors that rebelled against social realism, in Libya “the 1990s generation literature was born from fear of punishment. They just needed to…[avoid] putting themselves in trouble with the regime,” says author Mohamed Mesraty.

It was only in 2003, Mesraty said, that young Libyan authors began to re-emerge, adding that Libyan authors who live and write abroad have experienced greater creative freedom.

But even novelists who write in English seem to have been affected by a fear of Qadhafi. Hisham Matar’s second novel, “Anatomy of a Disappearance” released earlier this year is a deftly written realist work that foregrounds a kidnapping by the Libyan regime. Still, there is something exceptionally careful about the way “Anatomy” is written, as though the narrator were afraid of turning over too many stones, naming too many names, asking too many questions. [. . .]

Things are clearly changing for Libyan letters. In the months since 17 February, new newspapers and poetry have appeared. But Mohamed Mesraty says that there is still a long way to go.

“Even after the fall of Qadhafi’s regime, we still need to fight for freedom in a society that never had it,” Mesraty said. “The fear starts from the family, neighborhood, and general readers. … The liberal Libyan author in Libya is also afraid of the other authors who won’t understand his writing.”

Revolutionary poetry has been the first post-Qadhafi writing. But Gheblawy feels that this sort of poetry will die out relatively soon, making way for a new style of poetry, which, he has predicted, “will become more descriptive, with a sense of narrative and detail of the daily life of Libyans, and less focus on language and style.”

Gheblawy hopes that many authors will also bring out works they’ve been unable to publish during the Qadhafi years. Gheblawy and Mesraty both lauded new, more realist tendencies in Libyan fiction. Younger authors – such as Beirut39 winner Najwa Binshatwan and Razan Naim al-Maghraby, who was longlisted for the 2011 International Prize for Arabic Fiction – have begun writing scenes of ordinary city life.

Gheblawy believes the general trend will be away from short symbolist works and toward longer poems and novels.

It will be interesting to see what develops—and hopefully some of these works will make their way to the U.S. . . .



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