BOOK REVIEW: Tablet & Pen
JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE Reza Aslan is one of America’s leading scholars of Islam and Islamic history. He is the author of the international bestseller “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam” (2005), and “How to Win a Cosmic War” (2009), published in paperback as “Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization” (2010). Aslan was born in Iran, but raised in the United States and educated at Santa Clara University, Harvard University, the University of Iowa and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. Aslan is also member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor at “The Daily Beast”. Aslan is the editor of the elegant new anthology, “Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011). This project was supported by “Words Without Borders,” an organization devoted to international literary exchange and dialogue. “Tablet & Pen” is a showcase of a century of great literature (1910-2010), translated from Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu. Aslan and a team of three regional editors – Michael Beard, Sholeh Wolpe and Zeenut Ziad – selected nearly 200 literary masterpieces in prose and poetry to create “a new paradigm for viewing the mosaic that is the modern Middle East.” Their hope is that “Tablet & Pen” will open a window “to understand the struggles and aspirations of this restless and multifaceted part of the world”. “Tablet & Pen” opens with a noted essay by the famous Lebanese American poet, Khalil Gibran (1883-1931). “Language,” he wrote, “is but one manifestation of the power of invention in a nation’s totality or public self. But if this power slumbers, language will stop in its tracks, and to stop is to regress, and regression leads to death and extinction.” Many other Arab voices speak to us in this volume, such as Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988; Ali Ahmad Sa’id Asbar or Adonis (1930 - ), the Syrian-Lebanese writer, and Iraqi poet Nazik Al-Mala’ika (1922-2007). “Tablet & Pen” features haunting poems and powerful essays by Iranian writers, such as Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967) and Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1923-1969). Their words are searing meditations on a nation in political crisis, protest and revolution. Other nations in turmoil, such as India and Pakistan, also created the raw conditions for the development of Urdu literature. For example, Intizaar Hussein (1923 -) celebrated the “dawn of history” with the establishment of Pakistan in 1947 in his essay, “The First Morning.” But, Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) challenged the nationalist enthusiasm for Pakistan in his poem, “Bury Me Under Your Pavements.” “The world is slowly becoming borderless,” state the editors of this anthology. “Arabs read Orhan Pamuk in Arabic while Turks devour Naguib Mahfouz in Turkish.” This is a testament to our global age. “Tablet & Pen” is an essential library for global citizens. It is a literary landmark we can all celebrate.
Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East Reza Aslan (Editor) (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011)
– Saudi Gazette