Yemen through its literature: A nation besieged

Nahrain Al-Mousawi writes: The recent Saudi-led bombing campaign against Yemen has been reduced to a simplistic narrative of a Sunni-Shia divide driving national conflict – reminiscent of an essentialist “clash of civilizations” trope. This sectarian paradigm attributes all conflict to the notion of cultural boundaries developed over centuries-old divides. Although limited in publication and certainly by translation, Yemeni literature (and lack thereof) functions, on the other hand, as a prism of a nation riven by years of occupation, civil war, corruption, and poverty – issues that far transcend the simplistic sectarian narrative willingly peddled by the media. While the isolated, impoverished nation struggles to negotiate a fraught economic and political terrain, poetry and verse have never ceased to dominate the country’s cultural landscape.

Despite the sparse landscape of Yemeni publishing, a hopeful assessment emerged earlier this year in the Yemen Times – that is, before the Saudi intervention: “Despite ongoing political and economic turmoil, national literature [in Yemen] saw an unexpected surge in 2014. Twenty novels were published by Yemeni authors last year, and while that figure may seem insignificant in a regional or global context, it is considerably more than the eight books produced the previous year. Indeed, it is about ten percent of all the books ever published by Yemeni writers, and considering the hardships facing the country today it is an extraordinary achievement.”

As in other Arab countries, the 20th century signalled the popularity of short stories and novels alongside poetry. Yemeni literature in translation has been less available, and literary works translated to English are a mere handful. However, they serve as a prism reflecting a complex history of authoritarianism, resistance, transnational ties, and a critique of gender conventions. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email