Literature has the power to connect us across geographies, cultures, and languages, and the seven short stories collected in “Banthology” do just that. From the horrors of war to the challenges of beginning a new life abroad, each of these stories quickly (and sometimes playfully) confronts a different truth about the exile experience. And while the stories are powerful on their own, read together they form a moving chorus that is too great — and too beautiful, frankly — to be ignored.
First published by Comma Press in the UK, Banthology has recently been released in the United States through Deep Vellum Press. The themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement guide the collection, but the authors address these topics in various ways. In “Return Ticket” author Najwa Binshatwan takes an absurdist approach, as the main character is subjected to one preposterous travel requirement after another when she attempts to leave Schrodinger, a floating village that moves “through time and space, changing its orbit spontaneously as if it were the sun rising in one place and setting in another.” Read full review.
Sofija Stefanovic’s brilliant debut memoir, “Miss Ex-Yugoslavia,” begins with the author lined up in the back of a smoky Australian nightclub, competing against other immigrants and refugees from the now non-existent country for the title of “Miss Ex-Yugoslavia.”
“It’s a weird idea for a competition — bringing young women from a war-torn country together to be objectified for their looks, but in our little diaspora, we’re used to contradictions.”
Tongue planted firmly in cheek, Stefanovic’s memoir is equal parts raucous coming-of-age story, heartbreaking family drama, and quest for identity — topped with generous handfuls of political and historical introspection. That isn’t to say “Miss Ex-Yugoslavia” is disjointed — far from it. In fact, Stefanovic is such a gifted, natural storyteller that all these elements blend together seamlessly, sometimes in the same paragraph, resulting in an authentic glimpse into a life filled with love and fear; hope and despair. It’s a marvel. Read full review
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Written by great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour, “Moon Brow” is a powerfully imaginative novel about war and its long-lasting repercussions.
Here is the story of Amir Yamini, a young playboy who willed away his days drinking, reading poetry, and chasing women until, after a particularly spectacular bit of drinking, he attacked his father. This event, coupled with the changing political climate, set Amir’s life off on a very different trajectory: he served in the Iran-Iraq war and spent years in a mental hospital before being found by his mother and sister.
Now back at home with an amputated arm, Amir is celebrated as a living martyr but also feared because of his delicate mental state. Amir claims to not be mentally ill — he says he was hiding in the hospital — but his family believe differently and hire guards to keep him confined to the walled garden. Read full review.
When the civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, teacher, director and story collector Najla Jraissaty Khoury founded a traveling theater company in the hopes of preserving oral folk tales of older generations.
Performing on stage as well as in air raid shelters, refugee camps and isolated villages, Khoury collected stories from women in urban and rural centers across Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. This was no easy task. Many of the narrators were women over 60 who were distrustful of strangers — particularly during wartime.
But Khoury’s patience paid off, and as she collected more tales she began to notice themes emerging, as she explains in the introduction: “Certain stories told by women were for women only. In these tales, women play the lead roles to the disadvantage of men, especially husbands. Was this revenge for their situation in life? In a society where men dominate, women use 1,001 wiles to assert themselves.”
One hundred of the stories were published in Arabic in 2014, and Khoury whittled the collection to 30 tales, which are collected in Pearls on a Branch, the first English translation. Read full review