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  1. SAMIR NAQQASH
     
  2. from THE ANGELS' GENITALIA
     



Excerpt from The Angels' Genitalia

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Samir Naqqash

From Keys to the Garden, edited by Ammiel Alcalay
© 1996 Ammiel Alcalay
Reprinted by permission of City Lights Press

SAMIR NAQQASH


SAMIR NAQQASH is one of the last, and certainly the most important Jewish writer in Israel to continue writing in Arabic. Born in Baghdad, Naqqash has lived in Teheran and Bombay. Novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, he presently lives in Petah Tikva. A remarkably dense and innovative artist, Naqqash's life and oeuvre attest to a steadfast act of resistance towards the massive socialization process undergone in Israel by Jews from the Arab world. Naqqash's work is unique and stands out among the writers of his generation in its boldness to plumb the depths of the historical moment he is living through in a highly personal and uncompromising way. His prose, whether written in standard literary Arabic or the assortment of dialects he masters, expresses an enormous semantic range that is scathingly ironic as it cuts to the quick to touch the nerve of wounded dignity and human suffering. In another interview Naqqash has stated that: "I feel discriminated against for a number of reasons: First, a Jew writing in Arabic is not read in Israel and gets no institutional support from the literary establishment. Second, the general attitude towards a writer like me is not positive. The question always looms in the background: why should a Jew write in Arabic? Third, I would like to emphasize an absurd fact: I am much more well-known in the Arab states and abroad than in Israel. Doctoral theses have been written on my books in Italy, the United States, England, and Arab countries including Iraq, Egypt, and the West Bank." The Egyptian novelist and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz has called Naqqash "one of the greatest living artists writing in Arabic today." While Naqqash is often categorized as someone obsessively concerned with the past, the selections included here show him to be very much a writer of the here and now. In "Prophesies of a Madman in a Cursed City," Naqqash takes two venerable tropes -- that of the prophet chosen to prophesize against his will, and that of a topsy-turvy world, where everything is the opposite of what it seems -- to new imaginative heights. This text, perhaps more than anything else written in Israel, epitomizes for Arab Jews the experience of the total transformation of values, perceptions, and aspirations that accompanied exile from one homeland to exile into another homeland. The other text is an excerpt from Naqqash's novel, The Angels' Genitalia ; the scene takes place in the consciousness of the narrator, in the space of a minute or two. As the narrator (a Jew from Baghdad traveling out of Tel Aviv), reaches in to present his ID card to an Israeli checkpoint guard who is convinced that this man might be an Arab, that is, a "terrorist," Naqqash relentlessly interrogates the arbitrary nature of power and offers a remarkably profound and and far-ranging meditation on the absurdity of racism. His books include five collections of short stories, The Mistake (1971), The Story of Any Time and Place (1978), Me, Them and the Disassociation (1978), The Day the World was Conceived and Miscarried (1980), Prophesies of a Madman in a Cursed City (1995); three plays, Caught On a Reef (1980), In His Absence (1981) and The Chilly People (1990); as well as four novels, Courtyard Dwellers and Cobwebs (1986), Perfect Blood for Sale (1987), The Abomination (1987) and The Angels' Genitalia (1991). In addition, an essay, "When the Sides of the Triangle Have Fallen," came out in 1984. Only one of his books, The Day the World Was Conceived and Miscarried, has appeared in Hebrew, translated by the author's sister, Ruth Naqqash. In both 1981 and 1985, Naqqash received the Prime Minister's Award for Arabic Literature. The novel from which the excerpt below has been taken, The Angels' Genitalia, was brought out by al-Kamel Verlag, a publishing house run by Iraqi exiles in Cologne, Germany.

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