‘1920 to 1930’: Anti-Prohibition and the Arabic Short Story in New York City, 1920

The role that Arabic writers who emigrated to America played in the development of twentieth   century literature is well known. If you swear to keep it secret I will let you taste some delicious, prohibited food.”
So, I swore with my best oath that I would keep his secret and Jack took a key out of his pocket and opened up a cupboard. Congress thought it best to issue a decree banning its production.”
I was about to go quite mad and hunger was still gnawing away at my core so, finally, I said. In the first issue, Raphael set out the mission of his new journal. These events been circling restlessly around my mind. I left the hall and my heart was filled with joy, sensing triumph. Despite the difficulty finding out about his life, parts of the journal that he edited are freely available. “That,” he declared, “is wheat from the 1920 vintage – real wheat.”
He took some of it and started to chew. Don’t you remember how rested you always felt when drinking a cool glass of milk and then, after two hours, you would be tired again. Jibran, Rihani and Naimy all lived in the area and, round the corner on Washington Street, the old Syrian church still stands (although it is now a bar and Chinese restaurant). I had resigned myself to inescapable death and submitted myself to fate. It had its headquarters in 94 ½ Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan, a building that is now a small Korean business called Café de Novo. William Jennings Bryan and his followers used to drink the stuff until it was abolished in the United States in 1921 when doctors discovered that it had 0.1% alcohol (so someone only has to drink 846 gallons of it to get drunk).”
“Right, I’ll just have a slice of bread then, please.”
“Bread?? They eat grass, which gets turned into milk and that is then distilled for us. I was in an aeroplane, crossing America and then Mexico, finding myself, eventually, in Patagonia in South America, where I am now. However, these well-known figures were only the tip of the iceberg of Arabic publishing in the USA. “Go on, eat. But when they removed the masks from their faces, I realised my mistake. I remember it all so well. It is also an early example of modern Arabic speculative fiction. But it did not. Then their leader stepped forward and spoke to me: “We are the kind of guys who, when they say they will do something, they do it. Me or You? Yes. At this time, many other writers and publishers were trying to make a living and promote their message from the New World, using whatever resources they had. Tea is a deadly poison. And seeds.”
“What do you live on here?” I asked. I am a man who is very concerned about his standing. It would also be “historical” so that people who liked to know about the past could find something useful in it too. “What’s that?” I said. My slogan, my rallying cry, that I resolved to enter the White House on was this: “Outlaw every kind of drink, except milk”. You haven’t been able to find coffee in America for eight years.”
“Just give me a cup of tea, then,” I said. I remember everything that happened before I left. “1920 to 1930”
Translated by Raphael Cormack
Am I awake or am I dreaming? Be my guest.”
I looked down and saw a small blade of grass poking out. It is less than two pages and tells the story of a pro-Prohibition politician who gets beaten up in 1920 and flees to South America. 1930
When I got to American, I went straight to my cousin Jack’s house. The Government of the United States has issued a decree banning all alcoholic drinks, beverages, …”
Raphael Cormack is a PhD student at Edinburgh University working on 19th and 20th Century Egyptian Literature. How can you have got rid of the cows and their milk, the sick man’s source of life?”
“Cows are nothing more than worms spreading germs and microbes.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Cows are just stills with legs that produce milk. “But we have to boil it first and a doctor needs to test it before we can drink it. And eating meat. These people were even more extreme than the others. Reading through the first year online, I came across a short, entertaining story in the May 1920 issue called “1920 to 1930.” The writer is not mentioned in the text, so I would like to suggest that it was written by the editor (Mr Raphael). Most of all, it is a fun little story and glimpse into Jacob Raphael’s 1920s Arabic publishing venture.   They tied my hands and feet, put a hood over my head and dragged me into the woods. An Arabic short story about Prohibition in the US, published in May 1920:
By Raphael Cormack
The Syrian church, still standing. It would feature fiction and creative writing for those who wanted to keep up with the latest trends, pictures and photographs for the aesthetically discerning readers and jokes to stop it from getting too weighty or serious. The journal had an impressively long run for an Arabic cultural journal of the time (1920 to 1932) and the first year featured contributions from important writers like Louis Sabunji, Tanyus Abduh, Mikhail Rustum and Naoum Moukarzel. Instead, I suddenly felt myself flying through the air. From 1920 to 1932 he was editor of al-Akhlaq. “Careful,” he warned me “someone might hear you say that word. We know that he was born in Mount Lebanon on 5th March 1891. Those bastards – I think we can call them that – dragged me to a raised clearing in the woods. I haven’t seen tea in America for eight years either.”
“OK, OK,” I said, “how about a cup of grape juice?”
“Are you mad?” Jack stared at me in disbelief. In a 1940 census in New York he still identified himself as a publisher and he wife, Rose, apparently worked as a publisher with him. He then returns in 1930 to find out what has happened to the country, only to see that, under Prohibition, it had become a parody, banning almost everything edible and drinkable. My feet had barely touched the ground before an angry group of men, wearing disguises surrounded me. I remember that on the first of March 1920 I put myself forward for the presidency – the presidency of the United States. There is no guarantee that this was the same person (Raphael was not an uncommon surname) but it seems quite likely that it was. What has happened there during my long absence? Then, in 1946, someone called J G Raphael, born around 1892, died in New York City. Those microbes were doing all that to your body. And we have come here to kill you and rid ourselves of your evil. One example of the lesser-known figures working in early 20th–century New York was the writer and editor Jacob George Raphael (Yaqoub Rufail). They were, in fact, from a different party: the party that wanted to ban all drinks including milk, anything that could have alcohol put in it. I have no doubt that someone passing by here must have heard us talking and will tell everyone what is going on. We have fewer illnesses now and there are no more cows left in the country.”
I let out a scream and started to yell at him “Who’s crazy here? So, I have resolved to return to America and investigate what has become of the place. On my arrival, I was worn out and weak from cold and hunger. Don’t forget that milk also ferments and becomes kefir or leben, which are intoxicants, in a way. How could I forget my tour of the country, the rousing speeches that I gave to crowds of thousands? Despite the magazine’s long run, its famous contributors and innovative new look (modelled on contemporary American journals), it is now difficult to find out much information about its editor Jacob Raphael. Thank God the government took care of it. I still think about the last speech I gave, on 1st April 1920 in St Joseph, Missouri. Has it really been ten years since I left my country? In 1920, though, it was in the heart of the Syrian district of New York. Immediately, I had guessed that they were part of some group that was opposed to my party’s ban on drinks. “That filth that used to be the drink of the scum and the rabble until the government eradicated it. Don’t you know that grape juice is an intoxicant? Literary stars such as Mikhail Naimy, Khalil Jubran, Farah Antun, Elia Abu Madi and Ameen Rihani all spent significant and productive periods living in New York City. “Have you come all the way here to sully my reputation in the neighbourhood? You are an enemy of humanity, peddling your evil products across the world. “Can you give me a glass of milk? It’s full of Tannic Acid. So I asked him “Where can I get a cup of coffee, Jack?”
“What are you doing asking for coffee?” He replied. Prepare to meet your end!”
He said this and then signalled to a man behind me, who was holding an axe. It would be “literary” so that the “lovers of literature” would be welcome. In 1914 he sailed from Liverpool to New York and in the passenger manifest he was described as an “editor”. He blogs at https://onpaper.blog. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ On Bringing ‘Firebelly’ into Arabic: A Discussion With Author, Translator, and PublisherCategories: short stories I blacked out and woke up in the hospital, repeating these words: “It is done. Yale University library also carries a long run of the magazine (though it is often hard to find elsewhere). I got in my car and, not far outside the city, my tyre burst so I got out to fix it. For God’s sake, stop talking about drinks.”
I said to him, “milk is hardly a ‘drink’ and there is certainly no alcohol in it.”
“I know that,” he said “but it has millions of little microbes inside it. So, the government have forbidden drinking milk. I only want plain milk – nothing funny.”
Jack hit his face in despair. And Vegetables. The entire first year has been put online here. It hardly feels like it. “Or just some kind of drunk? My victory was certain and every new day smiled upon me; only a few steps separated me from the presidency now. You live your whole lives on straw and water?”
“Yes,” said Jack, “but some people secretly eat forbidden food. That has alcohol in it too. It shows this Arabic cultural journal (marketed outside the US as much as within it) taking an interest in the American issues of the day – Prohibition had been brought in at the beginning of 1920. And we eat straw: boiled straw, not green straw or dried straw.”
My head started to spin “Has the United States really come to this? I was convince that his axe was about come down on me and break my skull. Alixa Naff has argued that Raphael was particularly keen to promote female writers and Afifa Karam and Victoria Tanous both contributed frequently to al-Akhlaq’s early issues. I want to know how my friends are and who the president is now. “What do you eat and drink?”
“We drink water,” he said. The story is interesting for several reasons. In January 1920 he started a magazine called al-Akhlaq (“Character” as he called it in English).