Friday Finds: An Excerpt from Maan Abu Taleb’s ‘All the Battles’



Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ ‘Limbo Beirut’: Anna Ziajka Stanton on Translating a CityCategories: Jordan Following the morning session Saed would drink a shake made of protein powder plus a banana or an orange, and then he and the captain would go out to a nearby restaurant that had agreed to provide them with a lunch of white rice or pasta with vegetables six days a week until they departed for Dubai. His muscles wouldn’t obey him and he convinced himself that the captain was far away, that pride was a matter of perspective. The captain raised his voice still louder and Saed failed again. From   somewhere, Saed managed to summon more energy and then his limbs started to go numb: he was like the fan that still turns after its plug has been pulled. It was to be a ten-round fight, and Saed had never fought for more than five. Boxing, perhaps more than any other sport, is made for the modern novel. He was on the side of the captain, fighting against his arms, his legs, the nausea in his stomach, and his cramped lungs. The captain raised him farther off the floor. Like Oates’s On Boxing, Abu Taleb’s book is not just about the thrills and anxieties of the sport. He paused for a moment and the captain went wild, grabbing his arms and forcing him to continue with the exercise. Taurus. He told him that he had thirty seconds to go and then he’d get some water. Ma’n Abu Taleb’s debut novel, All the Battles, is just such a book. As ArabLit’s editor wrote:
To read a great sports novel is to be transported to the match – grinding your teeth as you watch the action, muscles tensed while you cheer or shudder or scream advice at your team. But, for those who haven’t yet made up their minds about buying or borrowing a copy, I.B. The seconds lengthened, gaping wider and wider apart, unbearable; the pain growing rapidly sharper while the clock maintained its stubborn crawl. This was the only unit of time he’d know till the fight was over. The sport is pared down to the most essential conflict, and what’s at stake is much more than winning – there’s also the risk of injury, disability, and perhaps even death. Some boxers liked to take their opponents into the fifth and sixth rounds because they knew they’d turn into zombies. Saed began again. The story is built around Amman-based marketing strategy executive Saed Habjouqa, who realises at the age of 28 that he wants to be a boxer. It’s a page-turner that could easily make non-readers fall in love with fiction. Would he quit? Every round thereafter was uncharted territory; the further into the fight he went the further he was from home, and he had no idea what he might find there or how he would react. They would eat and sit staring out at the busy back street. Three minutes: skipping, punching, then working on his stomach and chest, then punching, then lifting his knees to his chest. Saed braced himself, finding ways to keep his body moving, choking back the breakfast that was surging up from his stomach toward his mouth. All while contemplating the nature of hierarchy, dominance, and competition. Keep reading over at I.B. The captain was well aware of the battle taking place in Saed’s mind and he intensified his assault, switching between encouragement and threats. Taurus has published an excerpt from Chapter 18. Saed broke before the session was over. Every time he pushed himself off the floor he asked himself the same question, with the captain screaming over him and his body screaming beneath him. Saed gave him everything, and as he did, the captain’s voice began to fade from his mind. Somehow he gritted his teeth   and kept going, and then the pain took hold. It’s about masculinity, social class, the contemporary media, movement, and choice. In the best sports novels, you’re not just a spectator, but also a player, and a loved one in the front row, and the coach who’s staked their livelihood on these players. It opens:
‘The captain screamed in Saed’s ear. His body was learning. All the Battles, published in Arabic in 2016 and now translated by Robin Moger, joins the tradition of muscular, exciting, and thoughtful books about boxing, in a line from Joyce Carol Oates’s On Boxing and Norman Mailer’s The Fight and the novels of F   X Toole. Saed thinks of one of his matches as the “latest performance of a timeless tale, told in a language that predated language itself”. He had a minute to take a gulp of water, pant, and wipe away his sweat, and then they started again. The pain overwhelmed him. Urged him to put in more effort, to be stronger, faster, more resilient. Over at the IB Taurus blog, they’ve posted an “exclusive” excerpt from Maan Abu Taleb’s debut novel,   All the Battles, sharply   translated by Robin Moger:
This novel, Abu Taleb’s first, is a fantastic read. It was a battle with his pride now. Absorbing the fact that he must exert himself to the maximum for these three minutes, followed by a minute’s rest and water, then back to work. Then the time was up. As a species, we have grown up around fist fighting. Bilhajj had won fights in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth rounds.