9 Short Stories by Syrian Women, in Translation

He adjusted his collar and cleared his throat, to make sure that his voice would be loud enough. “King of Cups” opens:

I shuffle the deck of tarot cards and deal three of them onto the table

More by Abbas, in Guthrie’s translation: “The Gist of It,”   “Statement of Absolute Hatred,”   and “Falling Down Politely, or How to Use Up All Six Bullets Instead of Playing Russian Roulette.”


“و,” by Colette Bahna, tr. ‘Here’s hoping that Ziad will be back by the next one’.”

It opens:

You are my prison, you are my prison and my freedom, you are the one I hate and the one I love. *

“Beheading the Cat,” by Ghada Samman, tr. As Layla AlAmmar explains in her essay ‘A Guardian for the Untamed,’ this maxim came to Samman’s story from Persian, Bengali, and Pakistani traditions, as in a Persian proverb that suggests, ‘One should kill the cat at the nuptial chamber.’ (But don’t worry: No cats are harmed either in Samman’s ‘Beheading the Cat,’ translated by Issa J. Elisabeth Jaquette

It was 2008 when the celebrated Rasha Abbas published her first short story collection,   Adam Hates the Television, which was awarded a prize for young writers during the Damascus Capital of Arab Culture festival. Basma Ghalayini for Adda magazine. Alice Guthrie, published in Words Without Borders

Dakerli is a Syrian writer, currently living in Lebanon. Here is the capital of… the capital of… excuse me… the capital of…”


“Fatima,” by Haifa` Bitar,” tr. Bahna writes short stories, novels, plays, television scripts, also works as a journalist; in an interview for The Common, she said of her story “Waw” that “I wrote this story based on an old memory that stuck with me from the 1980s when I worked at a media institution. This story, in al-Mahdi’s translation, opens:

He stood in front of the camera, holding the microphone. Both of her collections have a variety of short and short-short stories, which al-Jabr characterizes as “political, realistic…and sometimes satirical.” As her collection was released,   she spoke with Ahmed Salah al-Mahdi   about how she got her start writing, why she writes short stories, and the books that have formed the substrate of her fictional consciousness, which, she said, include works by Roland Barthes, Amin Maalouf, Edward Said, and Jacques Derrida. 9 Short Stories by Syrian Women, in Translation

As far as we know, there is not an anthology of work by Syrian women writers, in English translation:

There is the collection Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, ed. For most twentieth-century Syrian women writers (Colette Khoury, Nadiya Khust, Ulfat al-Idilbi, Najiya Thamir) their work seems to be available only in print anthologies, if at all. Malu Halasa, Nawara Mahfoud, and Zaher Omareen, and there is Timeless Tales, ed. Basma Ghalayini for Adda magazine. Her “He Put Me in a Bubble” was translated by Ghalayini, and is a story of multiple imprisonments: “He imprisoned me in a big bubble – not one of those soft, transparent bodies that changes colour with light and float, but a black encasement with flexible walls that smelled of exhaust fumes and rancid cooking oil.”


“Live Broadcast from Jerusalem,” by Ola al-Jaber, tr. Once, I drove out in front of the van; another time it overtook me. There are also key short-story writers, such as Widad al-Sakakini (who was born in Lebanon but spent most of her life, 1913-1986, in Syria) who don’t seem to have been translated. His short story collection   Al-Takhareef Kingdom   received the Sharjah Award for Arab Creativity in 2014, and his other writings have been published in magazines in print and online. Sawad Hussain, published in Bed for the King’s Daughter. In front of me was a white van that looked like an ambulance, but with a green light on the roof instead of a red one, and large windows making up most of the vehicle’s body. The last is because we would be remiss not to have a story by Ghada Samman. “Dead Man’s Hand” opens:

I was driving my steel-gray Honda Civic toward the free morning clinic where I work. *

“He Put Me in a Bubble,” by Marwa Melhem, tr. Then he said: “Three…two…one… Go. A handful of short-story collections by Syrian authors have been published in English translation, notably by Zakaria Tamer, Osama Alomar, Ghada Samman, and Shahla Ujayli. Zulaikha Abu Risha and tr. A full-length collection of Abbas’s work is forthcoming in Guthrie’s translation. “Here is Jerusalem, Al-Quds. But the van’s driver didn’t give me a chance to do so. Robin Moger, from Issue 17 of   The Common   magazine. “King of Cups,” by Rasha Abbas, tr. In 2014 she contributed, both as a writer and as a translator, to   Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline,   and her short story “How to Swim the Backstroke with a Shilka Missile” was also shortlisted for the ArabLit Story Prize, and there are a number of other Rasha Abbas stories available online, including “Statement of Absolute Hatred,” translated by Alice Guthrie. Serene Huleileh, an anthology that collects 21 folktales told by Syrian refugees (some of them women), available online in English and Arabic. The clinic is on the main road that goes from Na’ur to Um Al-Basateen village. Issa Boullata, published in Square Moon and republished with permission in the CATS issue of ArabLit Quarterly

As we wrote in the introduction to that issue: “Cats are even more disposable in Ghada Samman’s “Beheading the Cat,” where a man must behead a cat on his wedding night to prove he can dominate his wife. Boullata, or in Alammar’s ‘A Guardian for the Untamed.’)” Melhem studies civil engineering, writes short stories and poetry, and also translates. I wanted to edge out in front of it, free myself of the stench of death engulfing the road that morning, a morning that seemed otherwise serene. This story opens, in Guthrie’s translation:

“So does this mean I’ll leave this world without lying down on the dewy grass even once?”


“Dead Man’s Hand,” by Shahla Ujayli, tr. Her “Dance” was translated by Ghalayini and moves between hate and love, hope and regret: “A wish that becomes more of a burden with each passing year like a drowned corpse being dragged to the bottom of the sea. Here are nine short stories, all but one (at the end) online. Alas, I was rather accustomed, in spite of myself, to the sight of children begging, pestering passersby in alleyways and on streets, reminding me each time how vile the taste of life could be. From Ujayli’s Almultaqa Prize-winning collection, about which Hussain was told, in several rejections: “Too short.” “Too experimental.” “Not enough sense of place.” “Not Arab enough.”   Although the collection won a major prize, and   The Common   magazine published the opening story in the collection, “The Memoirs of Cinderella’s Slipper,” Hussain said she was told, again and again, that short-story collections were “just too hard to sell in today’s market.”

Eventually, however, Hussain’s persistence won out. Fayrouz sings as Suha scrolls through her friends’ posts on her Facebook page the day before, on her birthday. Taline Voskeritchian and by Tania Tamari Nasir, published in Words Without Borders

Bitar   was born in Lattakia and is a novelist and short-story writer; her collection The Fallen   (2000), received the Abi Al Qassem Al Shabbi prize in Tunisia. Although there are more recent anthologies about Syria and Syrians, there does not seem to be an anthology focused on literary work by Syrians — this, despite the country having some brilliant short-story writers. *

“Dance,” by Widyan Almasarani, tr. Almasarani   was born in 1982, studied veterinary medicine, and started writing children’s stories after the birth of her daughters Laila and Alma. The same words each year, over the past five years, carrying the same wish. Back then, I was aware that every time I picked up the phone, there were a “thousand ears” listening to me, which seemed obvious given the sensitive position of the media establishment.” It opens:

Once I’d been stripped and forced to stand naked before the gaze of the military medical examination board, for the purposes of identifying any defects that might prevent me receiving the honor of being conscripted, the examiner seated on the right-hand end of the bench rose, approached me, and circled me three times, inspecting every inch of the body before him, then turned back to his fellow board members and, stroking my ear with a disconcerting delicacy, said, “Sound. But something in Fatima, who could not have been more than ten years old, I thought, crippled my thinking and provoked my emotions, and each time I met her, or when she came to my office, I felt the eruption of a muted scream tear at my heart. Repeated words press on her neck like a noose. This story opens:

Fatima did not capture my attention simply because she was a beggar-child. However, there is a wider variety of work in translation by younger Syrian writers, particularly Rasha Abbas and Shahla Ujayli. Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi

Al-Jabr was born in Damascus in 1987, although her family is from the occupied Golan Heights. When it sidled up beside me at the traffic light, I turned and saw a coffin through the side glass panel. A wish that becomes more of a burden with each passing year like a drowned corpse being dragged to the bottom of the sea. Big ears.”  


“I Will Leave, without Lying Down on the Dewy Grass Even Once,” by Noor Dakerli, tr.