TWENTY YEARS AGO, the idea of a specific Afghan American literature was almost non-existent and Afghan culture appeared invisible to the general public in the United States. With 9/11 and the U.S. war in Afghanistan, this changed dramatically and first and second generation Afghan Americans consequently began to emerge and make their voices known.
THERE IS NO OTHER EXAMPLE in human history of the successful revival of an unspoken, semi-fossilized language such as was Hebrew with the rise of Zionism at the end of the 18th century and the return of Jews to the Land of Israel in the mid-20th century.
ARAB-AMERICAN WOMEN’S WRITING AND PERFORMANCE: Orientalism, Race and the Idea of the Arabian Nights by Somaya Sami Sabry is a complex, comprehensive and erudite study of the use of “Scheherazadian narrative” in Arab American women’s writing and performance to counter Western depictions and misrepresentations of Arabian culture and women in literature, film and media.
WHILE AMERICAN LITERATURE COVERS an abundance of ethnic literatures and a myriad of social and political issues, the unifying factor is the English language. On the other hand, Israeli literature is a bit more complex; while the literature is unified by religion, works classed as Israeli literature are written in five languages; with Hebrew as the dominant language, some Israeli authors write in Yiddish, English, Arabic and Russian.
SONGS OF LOVE AND WAR: AFGHAN WOMEN’S POETRY is a collection of two-line poems — called landays — improvised and sung by thousands of anonymous female voices. The poems stem from an oral tradition among Afghan women and it is only through the efforts of the editor, poet and visionary Sayd Bahodine Majrouh, and two diligent translators, André Velter and Marjolijn de Jager, that they have become accessible to us in Songs of Love and War. As Majrouh explains in his wonderfully succinct introduction, the landay (literally, the “short one”) is a form of Pashtun poetry centered on the invocations of women. With very specific rules of versification, the landay is comprised of two lines, nine and thirteen syllables, which enthrall the audience with brief and touching melodies.
WHORLED:POEMS IS A COURAGEOUS attempt to portray the intricate human workings at the heart of the dusty underbelly of the American dream. In Lee’s dark vision, everyone has undergone violent rituals of emigration and initiation to arrive at their present time and place: lost somewhere in the ruined urban American landscape. Ed Bok Lee’s collection features men who live in the shadow of the wars in Vietnam and Korea, “casualt[ies] of history and time,” and women who “come to America by way of rape/drugs, abandon.”
UTILIZING A REFRESHINGLY SATIRICAL and blunt tone throughout his first novel, Linh Dinh is as entertaining as he is unique. Though the novel is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, the refreshingly graphic use of descriptions and colorful expletives is a wildly entertaining read.
WARNING: When reading Sông I Sing by celebrated slam poet Bao Phi, be prepared to read out loud. The poems and their rhythmic repetitions beg to be spoken, not just read. Composed with rhythms that refuse to stay flat on the page, Sông I Sing is a relentless anthem that breaks the proverbial silence about racial prejudice and violence against people of Vietnamese origin living in the United States.
THE INFORMATION MONOPOLY by the mainstream media has been challenged in recent years by the proliferation of independently owned websites and blogs. The staying power of these news sources are no longer wholly dependent upon the dedication of journalists, but also that of “everyday people” who still value freedom of speech, honesty, and critical thought in a democracy.
SAYS ANNE WALDMAN IN THE OPENING of her book, Anew: “So poem is the song in spite of the will of Zeus. Blast him, and that willpower played out as it is doing now, twenty-first-century fix. I’ll be the gray-eyed Athena, clear-sighted through his fog of war.”