I recently read Tablet & Pen for a review and interview with Publishers Weekly, and it’s a very impressive achievement. The book is essentially an anthology of 20th-century prose and poetry from the Middle East, Turkey, the subcontinent, and North Africa (somewhat derivatively summed up as an “Arabic anthology”), but it’s that rare anthology that actually works like an anthology should. What I mean by that is the book is extremely well laid-out, so it can be read straight though (which is impossible with most anthologies), and so that the individual pieces therein create a genuine dialogue between regions, languages, religions, traditions, etc. The book is also very well contextualized, which is important in and of itself, and which also helps the two points I Just explained.
One of the novels excerpted in Tablet & Pen is the novel The Blind Owl (widely described at the greatest Persian novel of the 20th century), and I think it might be the single best thing in that 700-page book. It’s this kind of magical realist story of love, eroticism, and nostalgia set in the middle of the Iranian desert, and it held me captivated.
So I was extremely pleased to just discover that Grove is re-releasing their old translation of The Blind Owl with an introduction by Porochista Khakpour (which can be read here). With translation finally getting some serious attention, and with people interested to read fiction from the Middle East, perhaps this book will get the attention the excerpt I read would imply it merits.