My Grandfather and the Bookseller

Literary, Translations, Uncategorized

Written by Abdullah Al-Bayyari and originally published in Romman Magazine

Translated from the Arabic by Dima Masri, published with permission from the author

Free picture (Old books) from

My maternal grandfather was a multilingual reader, and his library, as the tale of loss passed on to me goes, held a large number of diverse books in French, Arabic and English. I did not know the man well. He passed away before I could really know him, when I was still a child. But in my journey to discover myself, my roots and my identities — in which he, with or without approval, has a share — I was destined to meet him at several stations; for I lived enchanted by his shadow in the tale, in the thickness of his silence.

After his passing, my grandfather’s library ended up being sold, most of it given to roaming junk sellers, stuffed into plastic bags and sold by the kilo for a paltry sum— or, more probably, in exchange for other “junk”. I learned of the books’ fate when my relationship with books and writing began to grow as a manifestation of my solitude as a medical student with (almost) nothing in common with my classmates who were amazed by my skill and dexterity as a dentist, despite my loathing of medicine. That solitude praised by Tarkovsky as the source of richness, originality and intellect and which I must have repeated to myself quite often by way of consolation, is the reason I loved Tarkovsky and his films so much. I always thought one day I’ll find a book from that library of his I lost, that I would find a paper written in his unfamiliar script, or perhaps a note on the margin of some page. That has not happened yet, but I have not lost hope.

Cairo had its share of that solitude, and of that relationship and tale, and of that loss. Cairo, that massive city, with all the stories it carries, never ceases to defy my imagination. And imagination is solitude’s best friend. So, my relationship with it was exhausting for both of us, or at least mostly for me. I would wander through Cairo’s neighborhoods searching for the sellers of old books, antiques and used items ranging from appliances to furniture known as roba bika (these roaming traders on donkey-drawn carts are no longer as common a sight as they used to be). And while I did know many of them in neighborhoods like Ma’adi and Masr El-Gedida, Downtown, Masr Al Qadima, Al-Sayidah, Al-Bahr Al-Aazam, Al-Hussein and others, I also know that I only knew but a small portion of them. And this is where my relationship with Cairo grew exhausting: It was as if it were challenging me, first, with the loss of the library, and second, with the lure of the possibility of finding just one of its lost books.

I searched for any sign in any book, scouring without a single clue to help me trace back my grandfather. I did not know my grandfather nor anything about his taste in books. All I know about the tale of loss is that he read widely and in multiple languages. And even this piece of information has been taken hostage by the imagination, conspiring with memory in drawing pain. I do not know if, nor do I think, this confrontation is necessary- at least for now.

I have found many inscriptions in many books on a variety of subjects. Then, I began to feel that I was no longer simply searching for traces of my grandfather through his inscriptions to bring him back. I became certain that my search was not for signs that would give me directions on where to go but rather that these inscriptions were a conversation with him, without even having to use my history as a guide. There was something different about this epiphany that took me back to Carlos Zafón’s first novel, The Shadow of the Wind, from his famous quartet The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, in which he writes:

“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”

In Paris, more than 15 years after my grandfather’s death, I walked the boulevard Saint-Michel on the banks of the Seine contemplating the stalls selling old books that lined the sidewalk. I thought to myself, After all that searching in Cairo, could I possibly find a book from my grandfather’s library here? I knew perfectly well that it was almost impossible. There was no chance of that happening, and even if there really was a book from his library here, there was no way I would be able to identify it. But the idea was tempting. Something took hold of me and I responded. I slid my big leather bag off my shoulder, placed it between my feet and started searching through the books. I was possessed by something, something with no sense in it or to it, an inner voice calling out, alone, in that space inside me: Search, you’ll find something. 

I was searching for my grandfather within me, trying to piece him together like a puzzle made of a thousand little pieces. I searched within myself, in the tale of loss, in my memories of him from childhood and of his room overlooking a garden in the Cairo neighborhood of Masr El-Gedida. The temptation of knowing and searching took hold of me and I started gathering every little detail I knew about him. I remembered the photo of Sadat in the living room, his rosewood ebony closet. I recalled the scene of books and the recorder on top of them, his walks through the neighborhood and his friends, even the name of his cigarettes. 

Memories crowded in on me, and I made room for them as my eyes passed over the old books, searching every page in every book, carefully examining them, despite my proficiency in the French language being no match for the subjects of the books I searched through. The quest went on for days and days, long enough to arouse the bookseller’s curiosity. He asked me, ”Are you looking for something specific?” So I told him my grandfather’s story. He laughed and said, “In that case, I don’t think I can help you on your journey but I wish you the best of luck.” This incident was enough for my relationship with the man to develop to the point where he would hand over the responsibility of selling to me while he crossed over to the other bank to smoke a cigarette with a friend.

The same thing happened in every city I passed through: In Berlin, in Frankfurt, in Dijon, in Beirut, in Damascus. In every city and every book, there was something of my grandfather’s spirit. I remember that I even found some books with Arabic inscriptions on their pages. But I have not yet found my grandfather.

Today, and after 10 years of returning from Paris and leaving medicine, I am now a bookseller in a bookstore in Amman. Amman is not Cairo nor is it Paris, but still, I am enchanted by that same magic. Now, though, the magic is not just found on one bank of the book but on both. Here, I am the seller of the books and not just the buyer. True, the bookstore I currently work at sells new, unused books, but I still look at the faces of the people who buy the books, searching for myself, or for a similar story, in them. I wonder, Who is this man or that girl searching for? What soul has touched them, and why? Then I look down at the book in my hand before handing it to the buyer and that same Parisian thought comes to mind: Could this book by Farah Anton I hold in my hand be a new edition of the same book my grandfather may have one day read?

Articles, Translations, Uncategorized

Blind researchers no longer have to be accompanied when looking through references and books to complete their scientific papers or just when reading. Within weeks, they’ll be able to do all that on their own as a large number of books and references in Braille become available at the Egyptian National Library. Even more significant is the fact that they can request specific references to be translated to Braille using a printer at the Library.

Dr. Ahmad Shawky, head of the library, said to Al-Hayat, “The Library is following a methodical plan to make its resources available to all groups, including the visually impaired. Their section is being developed to include a library of the most well-known books and references, whether written in Braille or audio materials, as part of a greater plan to digitize the different contents of the library, including books, references, scripts,  documents, regular publications, as well as music and audio materials.”

The Hall of the Visually Impaired is one of the halls within the Special Groups Department of the Library (established in 1870). There is also a section for art and another for music but they weren’t very active. The Library is working to change that by not just limiting the services to reading and instead, extending them to include courses and workshops for the visually impaired. This direction is reminiscent of another undertaken by the national media organization Akhbar El Yom when it released the first general publication in Braille directed toward the visually impaired. It is also worth noting that the content writers of Akhbar Braille are visually impaired. The first issue was released last March.


This is a translation of an Arabic article by Rihab ‘Ulaiwah and was published on Al-Hayat Newspaper on 8 July, 2017.

Sudan map with flag

Facts on Sudan

Translations, Uncategorized

تقع جمهورية السودان شمالي شرقي القارة الأفريقية، وتبلغ مساحتها مليونا و881 ألف كيلومتر مربع، وفقدت 25% من مساحتها بعد انفصال الجنوب لتتراجع بذلك من المرتبة الأولى في أفريقيا إلى المرتبة الثانية بعد الجزائر، وإلى المرتبة الثالثة عربيا بعد الجزائر والسعودية.

ويبلغ إجمالي المساحة الصالحة للزراعة في السودان 200 مليون فدان، في حين تبلغ مساحة البر مليونا و752 ألفا و187 كيلومترا مربعا، والبحر 129 ألفا 813 كيلومترا مربعا.

تجاور السودان سبع دول هي جنوب السودان (انفصلت عن السودان في يوليو/تموز 2011)، وإريتريا وإثيوبيا وأفريقيا الوسطى وتشاد وليبيا ومصر. ويبلغ طول الشريط الحدودي بين السودان وإثيوبيا 725 كيلومترا، ومع أفريقيا الوسطى 380 كيلومترا.‏

The Republic of Sudan is located in northeastern Africa. It is 1,881,000 square kilometers and lost 25% of its land after the separation of the South, moving down to second place after Algeria in terms of size in the African continent and to third place in the Arab world following Saudi Arabia and Algeria.

The total area suitable for agriculture in Sudan is 200 million acres and the land area is 1,752,187 square kilometers, while the sea is 129, 813 square kilometers.

Sudan neighbors seven countries: South Sudan (separated from Sudan in July 2011), Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, and Egypt. The border between Sudan and Ethiopia is 752 kilometers and 380 kilometers with the Central African Republic.

Read the full Arabic report on Al Jazeera.



Poem Translation: Incomprhensible by Deek al-Jin

Translations, Uncategorized

عصيّ على الفهم..

بغرغرة الحوت يشعر بالموت يجري مع الدم..
وتمنعه سنوات من العنفوان العظيم بأن يستحيل طعاما ..
وأن يغدو منهشة لصغار السمك..
فيجنح في كبرياء مهيب..
نحو شطّ غريب ..
يموت عليه وحيدا..

ببؤس الحمامة حين يختطف القط روح زغاليلها في الظلام..
ويقعدها الجبن عن أن تحاول إنقاذ تلك العيون الصغيرة ..
تلك الضلوع الكسيرة..
فتجلس رابضة فوق غصن قريب..
تراقب هذا العشاء الأخير بقلب محطم..

بكل الأسى الذي يسكن صدر حصان أصيل..
ألقت به الريح ..
بعد سنين الفحولة..
بعد عصور البطولة..
في يد سائس بائس يعرضه في مهرجان ملون..
ليصبح تسلية للصغار ..

بحزن الفدائي يجلس فوق حطام ربوع صباه..
يعانق بارودة باردة..
يعض على الشفة الجامدة..
يحاول أن يتذكر ما كان قبل الطغاة وقبل الغزاة وقبل انهيار سماء الوطن..
يفكر فيها وفي أمه العاجزة..
أما زالتا حيتين؟
أما زال في العمر متسع للأمل؟
يحدق نحو السماء ..
فيدرك أن قد لا يعود ..
وإن عاد قد لا يراها..
وقد لا يرى أمه..
يعانق بارودة باردة..
ويعض على الشفة الجامدة..

بحزن عصي على الفهم.. آتي إليك..
بقلب عصي على الفرح .. آتي إليك..
بنفس تمور كما الطير في لحظات النزاع الأخيرة.. آتي إليك..
فلا تتركيني..


Gargling, the whale senses death running through his blood

Memories of his heyday forbid him from turning into food,

Into a feeding ground for little fish

So he flees with majestic pride

Toward an unknown shore

And dies there, alone



With the misery of a pigeon whose babies’ souls a cat kidnaps in the darkness

and whom cowardice forces into surrender instead of trying to save those small eyes,

those broken ribs

So she sits idly on a nearby branch

And watches this last supper with a broken heart


With all the woefulness in a thoroughbred’s heart

Whom the winds threw

After years of strength

And eras of heroism

in the hands of a miserable manager

who puts him on display in a colorful festival

as entertainment for children


In sorrow, the freedom fighter sits on the debris of his youth

hugging a cold rifle

biting a frozen lip

Trying to remember what he was before the tyrants and invaders, and before the sky of the homeland collapsed

He thinks of it and his powerless mother

Are they still alive?

Is there still room in the years left of his life for hope?

He gazes toward the sky

And realizes he might never go back

And if he does, he might not see her

nor his mother

He hugs the cold rifle

and bites the frozen lip


With incomprehensible sadness, I come to you

With a heart incapable of happiness, I come to you

With a soul heaving, like a bird in its final moments, I come to you

So don’t leave me.


This poem was originally posted on Deek al-Jin’s Facebook page on 30 March, 2017.








Stuttgart: Exotic Animals and Plants

Articles, Translations, Uncategorized

Wilhelma is more than just a zoo. The heritage-protected park is home to exotic animals as well as plants; therefore it is the only zoo-botanical garden in Germany. There are terraces with roses, old sequoia trees, a small forest of magnolias, and historic green houses, where the climate is optimal for tropical flowers. More than 10,000 animals also live on the 30 hectares. Especially popular in Wilhelma are the aquarium and the primates. The kindergarten of gorilla babies is great.

Read the original German article on deutsch perfekt.


The Physical Benefits of Fasting

Articles, Translations, Uncategorized

It protects the body from tumors.

Fasting provides protection against cancerous tumors. Similar to the surgeon’s scalpel, it removes cancerous tumors and damaged or dead cells. The hunger imposed on the body invokes the internal systems to regenerate weak cells in order to adapt to hunger. This presents the body with a golden opportunity to regain its energy and health. Fasting also protects the body from the harm of stones, calcium deposits, adenoids, cysts, and tumors in their early formations.

It protects the body from sugar.

Fasting lowers blood sugar, giving the pancreas a break. Decreasing food intake for ten hours or more means less food in the body, which means less need for insulin released by the pancreas. Thus, the pancreas relaxes, sugar levels balance, and the body regains its health.

It protects against joint pain.

Although joint pain is considered incurable, studies have proven that fasting for at least three consecutive weeks is an effective treatment for joint pain because it rids the body of poisons.


This is an excerpt of an Arabic article by Duha Isma’il published on

Syrian Cuisine and the Strange Names of its Dishes

Articles, Translations, Uncategorized

Syrians take pride in their cuisine among Arab countries as it is very rich and has not become a commercial and touristic exporte like the Moroccan or Lebanese cuisines, for example. It remained a hidden gem that you’ll only taste if you visit Syria or a Syrian home.

Syrians have dispersed because of the war and carried their cuisine with them to the countries of refuge.

Forget the dishes that first come to mind when thinking of Syrian cusine — Shawerma, Hummus, and Kubbeh. These are typical dishes and ones the Syrian kitchen shares with the rest of the Arab world.

We are talking about local dishes sung by the locals while many wonder whether they are really names of dishes or television competitions: Shish Barak, Al- Basha wa ‘Asakro, Ash Shakriyeh, Haraq Usaba’o, Sheikh al-Mahshi, Kishk al-Fuqara’, and others with strange names.

“These dishes cannot be older than the 17th century,” says Rita Barish, Syrian cuisine expert currently living in Berlin. She explains that in recent centuries, nutrition has turned into more of a luxury in terms of the ingredients with the development of factors that led to an increase in production and abundance, in addition to the world’s introduction to potatoes and tomatoes following the discovery of the two Americas, which changed the world’s cuisines.”


This is an excerpt of an article by Islam al-Kalhi. Read the full original Arabic article on Raseef 22.