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This review is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

TWO HOUSES MOURID BARGHOUTI, Midnight and Other Poems (Arc Publications) £15.99 hb, £12.99 pb
ADINA HOFFMAN, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness (Yale University Press, 2009) £17.99

Exiled Palestinian Mourid Barghouti’s autobiographical prose-work I Saw Ramallah has been widely, and justly, acclaimed. Midnight & Other Poems is the first sizable collection of his poetry to appear in this country and it has been lucidly translated by his wife, Radwa Ashour; the fact that English is not her first language makes her achievement all the more remarkable. Arc is to be congratulated for presenting the poems also in their original language - would that bigger publishers followed suit. The title-poem takes up well over half the book’s volume and is alone worth the price. Of the shorter poems, the results are somewhat variable. The problem, I suspect, lies with the Arabic originals. ‘A Night Unlike Others’ has as its subject matter a young boy who was murdered by the Israeli Defence Forces - the shocking images of the boy’s father trying to shield him from sniper fire were broadcast worldwide - and in his poem Barghouti has the boy’s ghost revisit his parents’ house. It might sound hard-hearted to say this but say it I will: the memory of Mohammad al-Durra, if it is to survive beyond the applause readings of this poem doubtless provoke, requires a sturdier vehicle than the one it is given here, which regrettably lapses into sentimentality. Violence is, after all, the obverse of sentiment. (What can be meant, I wonder, by Guy Mannes-Abbott’s assertion, in an otherwise informative Introduction, that the killing of an innocent boy has become ‘an icon of injustice’? ...


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