BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

Updated 17 July 2018
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BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

  • “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut

CHICAGO: A novel born in extraordinary circumstances, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut that was commissioned by Peirene Press.

The authors, ranging from the ages of 20 to 43, captivate the reader by painting a picture of muddied walkways, crumbling walls and desperate faces.

From beginning to end, the phenomenal words of Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbaqi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb take the reader on a powerful journey. 

“Shatila Stories” begins with the character of Reham, who is leaving Damascus for Beirut. She and her family look to Shatila as a refuge from the strife at the Yarmouk camp in Syria. Reham’s story is embedded in spirituality and faith, a strength that drives many of the book’s characters. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. 

Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp — children are exploited, disease is rampant and the methods used to safeguard residents are sometimes more harmful than helpful.

The writers have done a brilliant job of conveying the constricted yet vibrant lives led by many in the camp, as they wander alleyways that are “narrow yet wide enough to hold a thousand stories.”

The effort to publish nine refugee writers began with Mieke Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, who journeyed from London to Beirut with editor Suhir Helal after getting in contact with an NGO that runs a community center in the camp. 

After handpicking the writers during a three-day workshop, the manuscripts were received and translator Nasha Gowanlock got to work. It was a Herculean effort that reminds us that storytelling may be an art, but everyone has a story to tell.


What We Are Reading Today: Art as History Calligraphy and Painting as One

Updated 21 August 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Art as History Calligraphy and Painting as One

This richly illustrated book provides an anthology and summation of the work of one of the world’s leading historians of Chinese painting and calligraphy. Wen C. Fong helped create the field of East Asian art history during a distinguished five-decade career at Princeton University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Few if any writers in English have such a broad knowledge of the history and practice of Chinese painting and calligraphy. In this collection of some of his most recent essays, Fong gives a sweeping tour through the history of Chinese painting and calligraphy as he offers new and revised views on a broad range of important subjects.
The topics addressed include “art as history,” in which each art object preserves a moment in art’s own significant history; the museum as a place of serious study and education; the close historical relationship between calligraphy and painting and their primacy among Chinese fine arts; the parallel development of representational painting and sculpture in early painting history; the greater significance of brushwork, seen abstractly as a means of personal expression by the artist, in later painting history; the paradigmatic importance of the master-to-follower lineage as a social force in shaping the continuity and directing the subtle changes in Chinese painting history.