A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I’d heard good things about this anthology before Vulpes Libris was offered a copy, so I grabbed it. It’s a miscellany from Saqi Books, consisting of dialogues, short stories, art works, poems, stand-up routines (I think), reportage and memoir, about being Islamic in a non-Islamic country, mostly the UK and the USA. There’s a Jewish memoir here too, showing that their experience of being Other could as well be a Muslim experience, so Othered do they feel.
There are many short and punchy pieces: Leila Aboulela’s ‘Majed’ (Egyptian student marries white Scottish Islamic convert because he loves her and her children, but finds life increasingly difficult when she is more devout than he is), Amrou Al-Kadi’s ‘How Islam taught me to be a drag queen’ (the drama of the Middle Eastern mother and her make-up), Carole-Ann Duffy’s ‘Comprehensive’ (inside the heads of six children in school in six devastating stanzas). There are fabulous travel stories from life, lightly appliquéd with fantasy: ‘Karl Sharro’s ‘The joys of applying for a US visa’ and Saleem Hadid’s ‘Do I understand that you’re homosexual, sir?’ Love the ‘sir’. This last one is my favourite, I think, because it brings so many voices and experiences within a simple coaching internal monologue as the Libyan man (wearing a carefully-chosen flowered sweatshirt) approaches the boarding gate for his flight to the US, and the waiting US official between him and the plane.
It’s an abrupt collection. The design is very aggressive, very modern, which sits clumsily with the intricacies and complexities of the prose. Perhaps it’s a contrast, or something intended to stop us simply enjoying the pieces, and be forced to feel unsettled and ruffled. I’d certainly hunt out more work by the authors named above who are unfamiliar to me. Much of the photography is stunning, and desperately effective: ‘Nikee Rider’ by Hassan Hajjaj, of three girls in pale blue satin burkas and Nike veils posing casually with a Harley, had me going back again and again looking for the details of satire and political commentary. Tammam Azzam’s series ‘From Syria with love’ shows the devastation of Syrian cities softened by surrealism: a floating partial tower block, shooting target Elvises in a battered street, a collapsed tower black with playing card suits painted or beamed onto random flat surfaces.
Most of the contributors are international artists and writers: this is a well-chosen collection, and flings its voices across the table in a challenge to not allow them to be forgotten.
Lynn Gaspard (ed.), Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic (Saqi Books, 2017), ISBN 978-0-86356-999-9, £12.99, $18.95