Date and Time
Sep 29, 2023 6:00 pm
14th & V
This is an evening of lost and found language, ecology, and culture. We will start with a reading from the works of these authors and then the three writers will talk about capturing the magic and scholarship of languages past and present.
“The Last Pomegranate Tree”:
“Whenever he told lies, the birds would fly away. It had been that way since he was a child. Whenever he told a lie, something strange would happen.” So begins Bachtyar Ali’s “The Last Pomegranate Tree,” a phantasmagoric warren of fact, fabrication, and mystical allegory, set in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s rule and Iraq’s Kurdish conflict. Muzafar-i Subhdam, a peshmerga fighter, has spent the last twenty-one years imprisoned in a desert yearning for his son, Saryas, who was only a few days old when Muzafar was captured. Upon his release, Muzafar begins a frantic search, only to learn that Saryas was one of three identical boys who became enmeshed in each other’s lives as war mutilated the region. An inlet to the recesses of a terrifying historical moment, and a philosophical journey of formidable depths, “The Last Pomegranate Tree” interrogates the origins and reverberations of atrocity. It also probes, with a graceful intelligence, unforgettable acts of mercy.
Set in an age of ecological catastrophe, Icelight eloquently accepts transience yet asserts the robustness of hope. “Icelight,” Ranjit Hoskote's eighth collection of poems, enacts the experience of standing at the edge—of a life, a landscape, a world assuming new contours or going up in flames. Yet, the protagonists of these poems also stand at the edge of epiphany. In the title poem, we meet the Neolithic cave-dweller who, dazzled by a shapeshifting nature, crafts the first icon. The 'I' of these poems is not a sovereign 'I'. A questing, questioning voice, it locates itself in the web of life, in relation to the cosmos. In 'Tacet', the speaker asks: "What if I had/ no skin/ Of what/ am I the barometer?" Long committed to the Japanese mono no aware aesthetic, Hoskote embraces talismans, premonitions, fossils: active residues from the previous lives of people and places. Icelight is a book about transitions and departures, eloquent in its acceptance of transience in the face of mortality.
for the journey, look up, look through
the doors at trees shedding their leaves
too soon, a track on which silk shoes
would be wasted, a moon
still dangling above a boat.
The evening "LOST COUNTRIES," is a book launch of two books that will feature three 2023 Cheuse Center Visiting Writers: Ranjit Hoskote’s “Icelight;” and Bachtyar Ali’s “The Last Pomegranate Tree” with Kareem Abdulrahman, his English translator. Copies of the books will be available for purchase during and after the event, and the authors will be signing following the program.
This event is free and open to all. Our program begins at 6:00 pm, and will be followed by an audience Q&A. Copies will be available for purchase before and after the event. Please note that this event is IN PERSON and will NOT be livestreamed.
We ask that guests RSVP in order to receive direct updates about the event from Busboys and Poets Books
The Featured Writers (in alphabetical order)
Kareem Abdulrahman is a translator and Kurdish affairs analyst. From 2006 to 2014, he worked as a Kurdish media and political analyst for the BBC, where translation was part of his job. In 2013, he was awarded a place in the British Centre for Literary Translation’s prestigious mentorship programme. He translated prominent Iraqi Kurdish novelist Bachtyar Ali's “I Stared at the Night of the City,” into English (UK; Periscope; 2016), making it the first Kurdish novel to be translated into English. In 2018, the Cheuse Center welcomed Abdulrahman to Washington to launch this book, and in 2017 he was part of the Cheuse Center’s “Day of Translation.” More recently, he translated “The Last Pomegranate Tree,” also by Ali (USA; Archipelago Books; 2023). He is also the Head of Editorial at Insight, a political analysis service focusing on Iraq and Kurdish affairs. He lives in London.
Bachtyar Ali is a prominent Kurdish intellectual from Iraqi Kurdistan. He is one of the leading novelists of his generation and by far the most-read Kurdish novelist. He has written over 40 books, including more than 12 novels. His work is partly rooted in recent Kurdish history; they are often a meditation on the themes of revolution, the relationship between politics and arts, friendship, and often seek to give a voice to those who are on the margins of the society. He has been living in Germany since the mid-1990s where he has been awarded the prestigious Nelly Sachs Prize, joining past recipients such as Milan Kundera, Margaret Atwood and Javier Marías. His novels have been translated into seven languages, including English.
Ali was born in 1966 in Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq. In 1983, he was injured during student protests against Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, and he abruptly ended his studies in geology. He devoted himself to poetry instead and received that same year his first prize, for his poem "Nishtiman" (“Homeland”). After the revolt of 1991, writers and intellectuals in the Kurdish region of Iraq experienced a surge of creative autonomy. In his criticism, he is well known for employing Western philosophical concepts to interpret an issue in Kurdish society, modifying or adapting them to the context. His novels similarly synthesize literary traditions, drawing from contemporary Kurdish events as well as fantastical elements. In Kurdistan, he is celebrated for his non-partisanship and open criticism toward the political and social relationships in his homeland.
Bachtyar Ali has lived in Cologne since 1998.
Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, essayist and curator based in Bombay. “Icelight” (Wesleyan Press, 2023) is his eighth collection. His translation of a celebrated 14th-century Kashmiri woman saint’s poetry has appeared as “I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded” (Penguin Classics, 2011). Hoskote has been a Fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP), University of Iowa; writer-in-residence at Villa Waldberta, Munich, Theater der Welt, Essen-Mülheim, and the Polish Institute, Berlin; and researcher-in-residence at BAK/ basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. His poems have been translated into German, Hindi, Bangla, Irish, Marathi, Swedish, Spanish, and Arabic. Hoskote curated India’s first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2011) and was co-curator, with Okwui Enwezor and Hyunjin Kim, of the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008).
For many years Hoskote has been decoding his family’s linguistic legacy, and his Kashmiri ancestry, putting a spotlight on the complex unpredictability of the Indian writer’s habitat and multilingual heritage. In ‘The Vacant Seats of History,’ an essay in “Scroll” by Sumana Roy, she writes, “arguably one of India’s finest poets writing in English today, this in his extremely well-researched introduction to the recent “I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded,” translation of the verses of the medieval Kashmiri saint poet.”
Hoskote says of this translation, “History rarely mentions grandmothers. And yet grandmothers are usually the first historians we encounter. I will refer to this mystic-poet by her most celebrated and non-sectarian appellation, 'Lal Ded'. In the colloquial, this means 'Grandmother Lal'; more literally, it means 'Lal the Womb', a designation that connects her to the mother goddesses whose cults of fecundity and abundance form the deep substratum of Indic religious life.”
Read more here from the Goethe Institute: https://www.goethe.de/ins/in/lp/prj/ptp/mag/en15810403.htm
The Alan Cheuse International Writers Center: Founded in 2016, the Cheuse Center helps international writers and translators gain broader American audiences and provides fellowships to George Mason University students for international travel. With dozens of free public programs each year, across Virginia, Washington and Maryland, the Center focuses on enriching the private, civic and public lives of students, community and artists.