About this book
This book continues the personal story of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (1920–1994) that began with The First Well: A Bethlehem Boyhood. Jabra was one of the Middle East’s leading novelists, poets, critics, painters, and translators (he was the first to translate The Sound and the Fury into Arabic), and is the writer who is given credit for modernizing the Arabic novel. This book not only helps us understand Jabra as a writer and human being but also his times in post–World War II Baghdad when Iraq was enjoying an unprecedented period of creativity in literature and the arts.
As a bright and inquisitive young man he became friends with the archeologist Max Mallowan and his wife, who, he later learned, was Agatha Christie (she wrote The Mousetrap during this period, in a little mud brick room). Jabra’s intellectual autobiography quickly developed as he traveled to Jerusalem, Oxford, and Harvard University, where he studied with I. A. Richards and Archibald MacLeish. A number of different teaching posts in Baghdad provided him opportunities to become friends with many leading poets, such as Buland al-Haydari and Tawfiq Sayigh; historians like George Antonius; and the renowned translators of Arabic literature Desmond Stewart and Denys Johnson-Davies.
But this book is not only about matters of the mind, it is about matters of the heart as well. Jabra beautifully describes his lengthy love affair with a young Muslim woman, the beautiful Lamica, whom he first met near Princesses’ Street and whom he eventually married. He recounts all of the difficulties they had to surmount, and the pleasures to be had.
This is the last book that Jabra published during his lifetime. Not only is Jabra’s life an outstanding example of the circumstances—and fate—of the Palestinian in the twentieth century, but it also provides countless interesting insights into the cultural life of the Middle East in general and its modes of interconnection with the West.
Finalist for the 2005 Arabic Literature in Translation Prize
About the author
Issa J. Boulatta is professor of Arabic literature at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. He is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, and author of several books in both Arabic and English. His translation of Jabra’s The First Well won the inaugural Arabic Translation Award sponsored by the King Fahd Center at the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas Press.
“The sheer variety of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s interests and talents means that this memoir provides a wealth of information and insight on the confrontation and blending of political, social, and cultural principles and ideals that were so much a part of the inter- and post-war period that are the primary focus of this work. There is much to enjoy and much to ponder.”
—Roger Allen, professor of Arabic and comparative literature, University of Pennsylvania, translator of many books by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Naguib Mahfouz