After Gaddafi, the new dawn of literature

Website design By BotEap.comThe song of the desert is unleashed. With the defeat and death of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan writers hail a new era. For the first time in history, they can bare their souls without a dictator or occupying power hanging over their feathers. Until Gaddafi’s demise, exile was a necessary condition for novels, poems, or simply statements against the nation’s chronic problems such as women’s rights, poverty, tribal friction, and individual freedom.

Website design By BotEap.comAnguish has been the theme of Libyan writers since Adam was expelled from nearby Eden. When the land became a colony of Ancient Greece (around 300 BC), Callimachus recorded the excesses of imperialism in what is now Benghazi. Then came the Roman, Turkish, Italian, French and British invaders. The perpetrators in Libya have never been free.

Website design By BotEap.comIn the wake of the revolution that has now deposed and assassinated Gaddafi, the dream of literary freedom has finally arrived. It has been a long and cruel wait through the many torments of history.

Website design By BotEap.comColonel Gaddafi, when he was a young soldier, himself wrote poetry and stories that dreamed of civil liberty. After independence from Great Britain in 1951, he led a military coup against the autocratic monarchy of Libya, when King Idris was abroad for medical treatment. Gaddafi’s writings then turned to an illusory social theory, The Third Way, a middle ground between communism and capitalism. It was an inspired political vision, but in practice it degenerated into despotism. And Libyan literature kept its pain.

Website design By BotEap.comThe writers were censored. Dissent was not only discouraged but punished with jail, torture, and worse. In an infamous case in 2005, the author and journalist Daif Al Ghazal wrote articles that criticized Gaddafi’s system of government. He was tortured and then killed. and his body dumped in Benghazi. Many other writers lived in fear, careful in what or how they expressed their inner thoughts. Among them were several talented scribes such as Kahled Darwish, Wejdan Ali, Mohamed al-Asfar, Ramez Enwesri, Saleh Gaderboh, Wafa al-Buissa, and others. It seemed that being creative without fear was only possible living abroad. And this tended to limit his themes to the political.

Website design By BotEap.comA recent and outstanding novel, In The Country Of Men (Penguin) by Hisham Matar, was shortlisted, in translation, for the 2006 Booker Prize. In 2007 it won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and many other awards. It is about a 9-year-old boy who experiences the oppression of Gaddafi and begins like this: “I remember now last summer before they sent me. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay bright and still below.”

Website design By BotEap.comOn Gaddafi’s state television, young Suleiman watches the execution of his best friend’s father. The road to adulthood is fraught with despair. Killing’s second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was published this year, 2011, in March. He lives in London.

Website design By BotEap.comPrevious Libyan authors well known in English include (according to Wikipedia) Maryam Ahmed Salama (Dreams of a Captive Girl), Ibrahim Al-Kouni, Ahmad Al-Faqih and Sadeq al-Neihum. To which I would add Bashir al-Hashmi (Cries in our village), included in Libyan Stories (Kegan Paul International, 2000).

Website design By BotEap.comLiterature, like religion, thrives on slavery. It also echoes history. “It is a whole board of checks of nights and days where Fate plays with men for pieces” (Omar Khayyam). For the months and years to come, the Libyan revolution still has a long way to go. What will evolve as your new system of government? How will the fractional jealousy of tribes and religious sects merge?

Website design By BotEap.comThese are complex human issues that will give impetus to Libya’s writing. Yet with the authors finally unleashed, their novels and thought pieces are expected to emerge from tales of heartbreak and hope to literary bursts of joy.

Website design By BotEap.comHappy reading! From Cathy Macleod in Booktaste.

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