Adieu… Great Novelist Ibrahim Ishaq

Adieu… Great Novelist Ibrahim Ishaq

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Renowned Sudanese novelist, short story writer, Ibrahim Ishaq died early Saturday while on medication in the United States, aged 75.

Writer Ishaq is seen as a land mark in Sudanese modern literature. In an eulogy, the Sudanese Writers Union, said: The late Ishaq, God rest his noble soul in peace, had built a wide literary reputation with distinct, innovative novels new to Sudan, and in which he presented new technical images from Western Sudan. Ishaq had dug deep into his local environment of Western Sudan. In addition, Ishaq’s narrative had touched the Sudanese conscience with a language quite unique and special.”

Ishaq’s first novel “Happened in the Village” was published in 1969. Then he published a number of other novels that include “The Festival of the Old School”, “Works of the Night and the Village”. “News of the Girl Mayakaya”, ”Scandal of the Norain Family”. He had also published the short story collections: “People From Kafka”, “Tales From the Villages,” and Kabbashiyya’s Petitions”.

The late Ishaq had also published the studies “Migrations of the Hilali’s from Arabia to North Africa and Sudan”, "The Folktale in Africa” and “Achievement of Dr. Mohammad Abdalla Diraz”.

He had also published hundreds of articles and studies in literary criticism and heritage in  Sudanese and Arab newspapers, periodicals and magazines. 

The late Ishaq had won the encouraging prize in arts during  the Culture, Arts and Literature Festival 1979. He was also awarded honorary doctorate from the Alfashir University in 2004.     

Ishaq was born in Wada’a Village in East Darfur in 1946. He received his primary education in the cities of Alfahir and Omdurman. He graduated from the Higher Teachers Training Institute in 1969. He served as teacher of English in the secondary schools. He obtained an M.A in folklore from the University of Khartoum’s Afro –Asian Institute in which he served as a researcher for sometime. Then he travelled to the Riyadh City, Saudi Arabia, where he taught English since the 1980s until he returned to Sudan in 2006.

In 2009, writer Ishaq assumed the office of chairman of the Sudanese Writers Union. He was also member of the council for the promotion and development of national languages in Sudan.

He was arbiter in several literary awards in Sudan, such as Al- Tayeb Salih Prize for Creative Writing organized by Abdel Karim Merghani Cultural Centre and Tayeb Salih International Award for Creative Writing under the sponsorship of telecom provider Zain Company.

The Sudanese-International Novelist Tayeb Salih said about him: "Ibrahim Ishaq is a really great writer with novels that presented majestic technical images from Western Sudan, seen for the first time in Sudanese literature. It is a world nearly unknown to the people of central and northern Sudan. I met him in Saudi Arabia to find in him a tactful, kind human being like all his fellow western Sudanese. It is clear from his novel “Evil in Kalamendo” that he was not idle, but thinking and writing throughout all his long period of silence. When I read Ibrahim Ishaq’s novels and the beautiful short stories of Zaha’a Altahir, I feel sorry not to have known that remote, amazing world."

Meanwhile the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Culture had announced obituaries for the late Ishaq.

Sudanow magazine had conducted a lengthy interview with Ishaq in August 2017 followed by a forum in which experts had discussed his literary experiment and the role of translation in informing the world about his literary production. The event was attended by senior literary critics, writers and translators.

For the benefit of the reader Sudanow is hereby republishing the interview:


Novelist, Storywriter Ibrahim Ishaq Speaks On His Experience, Current Cultural Status

Novelist, Storywriter Ibrahim Ishaq Speaks On His Experience,  Current Cultural Status

By: Mohamed Najeeb Mohamed Ali



-I began by writing novels, writing short stories was a challenge-

-The prizes largely contributed to the rise of new novelists

-The foreign translator seeks suspenseful topics that excite the readers in his country

-The narration technique of Al-Tayeb Salih is not yet emulated by any Arab novelist

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Ibrahim Ishaq is considered an outstanding fiction writer in Sudan. He published his first novel "What Happened in the Village" in the same year in which Al-Tayeb Salih published his novel "The Season of Migration to the North" in 1969. Ishaq has until now published six novels and three collections of stories besides two studies on the folklore tale in Africa and the Hilalieen Migration. He has numerous studies and articles published in newspapers cultural supplements.

Several critics tackled his work and the usage of the Darfurian slang in his novelistic dialogues has aroused wide disagreements to the point that some critics regarded it a reason for not achieving a worthy circulation of his writings.

The works of Novelist Ishaq are chosen as topics by university graduates for master and doctorate theses in different subjects.

I had with him a lengthy interview that covered his experience and the current cultural status in Sudan. The interview was followed by testimonies and statements from prominent critics and novelists on his experience, his innovative value and his writing vision.

Translation of the Arabic text of the interview follows:-

Q- The Darfurian language you have used in your novels has raised a lot of controversy to the extent that some persons considered it as the reason behind failure of your works to reach the people. But now the language you have used in your recent novels has become an Arabic language that is comprehensible to everyone. How do you take this?

A- My beginnings were in the High Teachers' Institute in Omdurman in 1968 when I decided to respond to the challenge of James Joyce book Ullysses, a novel of 600 pages, in one day. And I decided to write "what Happened in the Village" to take one day. I had to solve the technical problem pertinent to the credibility of the character and decided that the solution, in my opinion, would be to make the characters talk in the local language of eastern Darfur and this, coupled with the oddity of the environment I was writing about, made a feeling among my readers that I was an enigma. There was no other option and I thought that the problem would be solved by more writing. And one year later, I wrote my second novel "The Night's Deeds & The Village" in the same style. The style which I applied a year later in "The Old School Festival" and the fourth year later I wrote "The Norains Scandal" in the same local language. Despite the fact that the printing of those works was delayed, the successive publishing of short stories in the newspapers made the serious 1970s readers feel that there was no alternative other than accepting my writing as it was. This has affected the volume of the readership but the technical value was maintained. The dialogue language of the works which were issued 10 years later was changed on the field and therefore there was no problem. Why? This was because the civilized communication between the people of the village in which I write and the vast world changed the language of our people, making it nearly similar to the language of Omdurman. So, there was no problem except the oddity of the way of life on which I write. And it is left to the serious reader to solve this problem by himself.

My latest novel "Turmoil in Klymendo" that was issued for the first time in 1998, faced no language problem, but the names of the plants, animals and social habits may remain an obstacle for a person who would not bother to identify. I was glad that Syrian writer Nabil Suleiman read this novel in 1999, expressed his admiration and wrote about it. Late Al-Tayeb Salih also extolled my short stories which he read on the newspapers. He also voiced his admiration of my novel "Turmoil in Klymendo".


Some of his published books


Q- You have written stories and novels. Why does the writer shift from one field to another? What are the essential differences? Why have you moved to writing short stories, although you have started by writing novels?

A- Yes. I began with the novels and started writing short stories only after it was rumored in the Sudanese cultural circles that I could not write good short stories. So, it was a challenge for me. I do not know what other writers believe but as for myself, I think a big, long-lasting incident with many characters requires a novel form which takes me three to four weeks to write, while the short story is a limited incident with few characters and events, although the drama in both kinds may be of the same importance, but they are of different casts. I have written six novels and three collections of short stories in these forms. To me, it is as if there is a wide plain full of trees, including tall ones, like the Tabaldy (baobab tree) neighboring the smaller ones, but all present integrated scenery. The small trees are the short stories while the Tabaldy are the novels. And so as long as the critics say that this world is integral with its novels and short stories, I believe the integrated scenery is based on something big.

Q- Referring to your studies on the folklore and the folkloric tales in Africa, what is the relationship between the African tales and the modern story? How much have you benefited from this?

Q- I think I have read a great deal of the folkloric tales and anecdotes in both Arabic and English since my studies in the intermediate and secondary schools and in the university. I believe I did not understand then the folklore as a modern science but my readings were similar to the understanding of the folklorist of the folkloric tales. I wrote four series on folkloric tales for the monthly Khartoum Magazine in 1975 in response to a request by late Jaily Ahmed Omar. The late poet Mohamed Abdul Hay asked me to collect and present to him those series which he published among the publications of the Sudanese Culture Department in 1976. Sayyed Hamid Hiraiz, Mohamed Omar Beshir and Ahmed Abdul Rahim Nasr got interested in my African folklore writings and asked the council of the teachers of the Institute for African and Asian studies to waver the regulations and register me for studying the Master degree in folklore. This was in 1978.  I believe my imaginative narration in the novel and the short story has merged with the folkloric narration and they moved together.

Q- Referring to your study on the Hilaliyah Narrative in Sudan (Abu Zaid Al-Hilaly), could you make a comparison between this and the same account in Egypt, Tunisia, the Arab Maghreb and other countries?

A- When I had to find a dissertation for PhD, I had two choices: studying the Hilaliyah Account as a piece of literature or as a historic traditional folklore. The first was proposed by Sayyed Hamid Hiraiz and the other I picked from a book by Professor Yusuf Fadul titled "The Arabs and Sudan". In northern Sudan the Hilaly narrative is related for entertainment and education, but in western Sudan, Chad and North Africa they mostly narrate the story of Abu Zaid Al-Hilaly as their ancestor, because they believe they were successors of the Hilaly tribes that entered Sudan after the 11th century AD. For this reason, I decided that my study would be based on the historic popular tradition. I took up the subject from the Southern Arabian Peninsula, moving along with the Hilaly tribe across Najd, the Syrian desert, Sinai, Upper Egypt, across the Arab Maghreb until the appearance of the Arabs who came east with the Hilaly tribes to the northern borders of the Burno Kingdom according to a historic document mentioned by Al-Gugushundy in the 14th century AD. The Arabs arrived then in North Chad, South Chad and North Darfur, and therefrom the bedouin vanguards reached Central Africa. For this reason, I named the book "The Migration of the Hilaly tribes from the Arab Peninsula to North Africa and The Sudan" I do not want to praise this book, but I think I traced most of the literature of the Hilaly tribes in this vast area and, an evidence of the acceptance of this work was the exaltation of it particularity by the external examiner late Abdul Majeed Abdin. Another evidence of its acceptance came from the King Faisal Society that published and distributed it in 1996.  The Sudanese also got interested in the book and printed a second edition of it. I was very glad that the book spread out to the point it was lauded, even if verbally, by Al-Munsif Al-Marzouqy, the former Tunisian President.

Q- We notice that sometimes you engage yourself in pure scientific studies, like the Hilaliyah Account and the humanistic researches, is it that you are exploring new horizons for your novels, or is it a different effort?

A- It is not extraordinary for a fiction writer to shift, at a certain stage in his life, to research writings, and there are several examples to that. I think, staying away from the village affects and weakens the sources of fiction narration, but this is overcome by the wide readings, particularly if the writer becomes qualified in writing in both fields. And therefore he gets himself engaged in the two fields. Since the 1970s I began to write articles in three fields: folklore, the humanist issues and theoretical views on fiction. These articles can make up one or two books on each field.

Residence in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for 23 years provided me with an opportunity of going through a lot of Islamic readings and this helped me in writing two books on Islamic topics: a study on the works of Abdul Razzaq Noufal, plus a book on the standards of the general Muslim consensus about Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. I intend, God willing, to continue writing in every one of those fields, including fiction.

Q- Now that a decade has elapsed since the demise of the renowned novelist Al-Tayeb Salih, what addition did he offer the Arab and Sudanese novel?

A- To be fair we must say that the narrative technique Tayeb Salih possessed has not yet been equaled by any Arab novelist. It is enough to indicate that his novel "The season of Migration to the North" was the only Arab novel that was chosen among the best 100 novels worldwide.

Salih left a fingerprint in fiction writing and equally in the critical writings he managed for his page in the Saudi Almajallah Magazine and in all the Arab cultural activity with his interviews and participation in the cultural seasons and his job as under-secretary for the ministry of culture in Qatar as well as an expert with the UNESCO. While the peoples of the world acclaim the accomplishments of Al-Tayeb Salih, we, as Sudanese, should be proud of the lofty position he accorded us.

Q- What results has the Council for Development of the Sudanese Languages attained after years of a continued research?

A- The Council has, in eight years, experienced several problems, including its limited budget and weak administration. Yet, it has managed to acquaint the Sudanese public, through more than 30 monthly symposiums, with the Sudanese languages as sounds, grammar and literature. We believe that the Council has largely mitigated the feeling of marginalization felt by the communities of unwritten languages and has made them feel that their language heritage is a basic part of the Sudanese identity. The Council has issued nine books on the Sudanese languages in the north, east and west of the country as well as the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region. We wish the Sudanese policy-makers would not abandon this Council and exert efforts with UNESCO and other international cultural institutions and to assure the United Nations organizations that we are pledged not to allow any language go into oblivion.


Critical Remarks on the Innovative Project of Ibrahim Ishaq

 The Great Fiction Writer:

 Critic Dr. Hashim Mirghani: “In my opinion, the project of the great fiction writer, Ibrahim Ishaq, is one of the important narrative projects in the entire world, not only in Sudan. Yet, the question to be logically posed is: Why shouldn't this project occupy the international position it deserves? I believe there are three reasons for this:


The international standard is not as honest as it should be, in light of the changes that have occurred in publishing, marketing, writing production, sociology, technological explosion and globalization hegemony on the local production to integrate it in the market economy. This standard makes the local writer ignore the conditions of the international literature.

In his valuable study "The Arab Novel and The international Scene", renowned critic Mohamed Buradah says: "New conditions have altered the concept of the international art and international novel and linked the global legitimacy of the text with complicated factors related to the strategy of writing, publishing, distribution, awards and marketing. The concept of the international novel is no longer universal but a controversial issue and the international novel which carries new human values is faced with a sort of fiction that is based on profit-making, technology and entertainment."  

This means that, if it is not published and marketed in Arab countries and the international markets, the amazing locality of Ibrahim Ishaq will not alone be a bridge for universality. As far as I know, most of the works of Ibrahim Ishaq have been published, distributed and read locally, but no Arab or foreign publishing company has published and marketed them in the Arab or international markets, i.e. not like numerous Sudanese works which have recently been published world-wide.



The Arab criticism is of limited vision and is one-sided, taking a long-trodden course which misses new innovative works such as the great narrative project of Ibrahim Ishaq that completely diverts from the obsolete methods which ignore the works that have not occupied a place in the Arab and international scene, such as those of Hassan Dawood, Rabe'i Jabir, Abdu Wazin and others.



The third reason is connected with the common accusation of the difficulty of the language used by Ibrahim Ishaq which is a weak accusation because this language forms the bricks of the literary world that is built by Ishaq, although it is different than ordinary language.

Ishaq has previously said he is committed to the credibility by sticking to the language of the people and is not concerned with the standard Arabic, its grammar and other rules. As critic, Mahdi Bushra, has once remarked, the rebellion against the classic Arabic is a main feature of his narrative accomplishments. Ishaq aligned with the multiplicity of the language which is a strengthening, rather than, a weakening factor of the Arabic Language, Bushra noted.

 The different language with which Ibrahim Ishaq has built his narrative world requires a broader criticism that goes beyond this brief testimony but we may sum up the features of this language as follows:

**Transforming the solid linguistic rules into Arabic so as to match the curves of the narration, its inner worlds, its interlocked characters and the numerous complications of this work which the common school language cannot catch up with.

** Opening the frontiers between the slang and the classic language by removing the imaginative borders between the spoken language and the language of the dictionary, and so the two languages exchange their vocabularies.

**The rich, multiple sources of the narrative world.

**The premeditated diversion from the common Arabic formulation, particularly the form that has settled down since Najeeb Mahfouz.

**Exploitation of the sounds of the colloquial vocabulary and the onomatopoeia of the words.

**Concentration on construction of a unitary world to maintain the unity of the narrative project and to cement the center of the Kabbashy worldview as the narrators of all his fictional texts.


Of course there still remains a lot to be said about this great project and these are brief indications that we wish to be followed by a plenary critical conference that discusses the works of Ibrahim Ishaq and present them to the world to coincide with an extensive activity of introduction, publication and translation to introduce him to the world.


Reality & Myth:

Novelist Mohamed Khalafallah: "I draw a moving picture of what I absorb from my contemporary life, wishing that this picture would be connected, rather than scattered. I created a family of narrators I called them the Kabbashys, and I agreed to play the role of their speaker to record what they narrate," said novelist Ibrahim Ishaq, describing the way he writes his novels.

In writing fiction, Ishaq is influenced by James Joyce, William Faukner and Mikhail Sholokhov besides a wide-range of the human legacy that helped him formulate his own peculiar innovative scheme. He invented varied methods of narration, employing the rich heritage of his environment and mentioning the smallest details of what he calls the (Dekkah) town, the narration platform, through his knowledge of the relations among the members of the Kabbashy family.

Our novelist has transformed the Dekkah from a local to a universal narration platform, employing his coexistence and observations of the reality to extract a deep-rooted philosophical wisdom. The epigrap which come at the beginning of each story or novel of his works illuminate the text by merging with it.

The writer depends on a number of narrators like Osman who relates this story: "Ashoshah, my heart's babe, has become the blossom of their hamlet, the smooth, moistened Balaween brown color descends from her vertex to her toes, straight trunk and succulent as if she is anointed with oil of the (laloab) tree nut, every morning and every night. Ashoshah has now become a song on the lips of all people of the Dekkah, the villages, the valleys, the hamlets, the farms, the gardens, the roads, everywhere as if no other girls exist”.

This passionate outspread love to Ashoshah has led to the murder of her husband Shamsain by Hamoudah, Wad Basoos and the Gura'an thieves.


Kultoumah swore and said she heard with her ears that Hamoudah told Um Hamoudah (his mother): Mother, there is no need to weep, it is normal that men kill men for women, like Cain and Abel.

This text mates between the reality and Homer's mythology (Helen of the Iliad). We can notice the Homer analogy and usage of the symbolic construction of the eternal struggle along with usage of the rebounding methods which correspond to the mythological style. The works of Ibrahim Ishaq are mythological drama that addresses the social and human struggle that is shaped between sensing the ethical responsibilities of the instinctive human nature and the non-ethics of the opposite nature.

In his novel "The Norain Scandal", the Scandal becomes a threshold of the text. The writer starts with the reader pursuing the narration game and accompanies him for uncovering the unknown territories of this scandal from which the reader predicts numerous speculations. Pupil Osman who returns from the town to his village finds echoes of the scandal but does not recognize the details. He seeks assistance from his peers and from members of his family but finds nothing that satisfies his curiosity. Thus, the reader (the recipient) gets deep into the tale and because, socially, the scandal, especially if it is connected with sex, is something that is unspeakable.  The writer, therefore, does not give details of the scandal, which spreads widely, but gives ambiguous signals, arousing a question on whether the scandal is of the Norains alone or is it of the Dekkah or the entire community.

The vocabulary of Ibrahim Ishaq is not used at random, particularly the slang of West Sudan which denotes historic, social, virtuous and cognizant dimensions. He always seeks to embroil, excite and involve the reader.

The slang of the people of Darfur ascribes depth to the writings of Ibrahim Ishaq and adds knowledge with their wisdom and poses no obstacle to the recipient.


Ahead of His Generation:

Novelist, Critic Eissa al-Hilo: “The modern Sudanese literature suffers a problem that is difficult to solve, as we read texts in an erroneous way because we are not aware that the texts are adjacent, something which modern criticism define as the inter-text. Each perfectly-written new text is the offshoot of an old text and everything that occurs now is a continuation of history, a linkage between the past and the present; as all of us know that history does not repeat itself.  And succession in art and literature is a false concept and there cannot be a novelist successor of Najeeib Mahfouz, Tayeb Salih, Ali al-Mek or Al-Majzoub as each innovator has his distinguished innovation. Even if two innovators engage in one phenomenon, each one will demonstrate it in his own unique style; and no one repeats the other. The problem of the Sudanese cultural criticism is that the critic does not read the narrative texts as continuous and correlated. He reads those texts as isolated and disconnected. But in reality, those texts are correlated in some way. They are the product of a specific period of time and peculiar aesthetic environments. When we study those narrative texts we have to determine all the variations and in this way the critic can illuminate the new texts and unveil the rules which have not existed before.

Ibrahim Ishaq, Tayeb Salih and all other prominent Sudanese novelists are assessed by two yardsticks: the experience of existence (life) and the ability to identify the theory of the novel, and these are the two factors that augment the talents. Ibrahim Ishaq is distinguished by the two qualities and his ability of identifying the theory of the novel is influenced by the classical aesthetic features of the European 19th Century novel and at the same time he does not abstain from experimentation. This is clear in his novel "The Traditions of Dame Miyakaya" in which he chose a circular citation, starting from the end and ending at the start. And this style is found in the Alexandria Quatrain novel of Laurence Dariel and also in in Meramar novel of Najeeb Mahfouz. Ibrahim Ishaq also used a new recounting style, placing in his story “the Gap in Kultouma’s” vis- a –vis, each one looking inside the other, a sort of confrontation between the ego and the other, a position that can be similar to a confrontation between the cultures of the periphery and the culture of the center. And this is the favorite subject of Ibrahim Ishaq and is the main pillar of his style of narration. Ishaq is read only by a person who possesses a well-trained aesthetic sense; he is difficult for the youngsters, whether readers or critics. The question which puzzles me is that: Has this novelist come prematurely or is it that we are lagging behind his time?

It seems to me that the problem with the text of Ishaq is caused by the language in which he writes; his sentence is long because he expresses ideas, rather than passing sentiments. I may be right or wrong in this judgment. It appears to me that his language was influenced by the old traditional texts written in the Arab Maghreb countries and transferred to West Sudan. This was deepened by his readings of the Arabic classical Islamic jurisprudence and rhetoric books, although he is well-versed in the English Language. It seems to me, as I have indicated, the barrier between Ishaq and the reader in the era of the consumer novel which addresses urgent youth problems, their emotional crises, and their astonishment with the contemporary historic developments. The novel that is written by the youths today differs in construction, language and subject, from the classic Sudanese and global novels.

There are many novelists who prefer important, weighty subjects but the new novelists, according to the dean of Arabic literature Taha Hussein, run away with the subjects. They prefer the easy presentation and marketable texts because the consumer of the narrative text is one of the founders of the consumer culture. In fact we need critics who are thinkers, not poets.”


Novelist Ishaq is Unlucky:

Critic Izz al-Dinn Mirghani: “Novelist Ibrahim Ishaq is one of the vanguards of the Sudanese novel but it was his absence from the Sudan that separated him from the Sudanese reader, not the colloquial language, because the Darfurian, who comprehends the slang, did not help circulate his works. Personally, I believe that the colloquial language is a requirement of the place; it is a proper expression of the character, it is enjoyable and besides, it contains classical Arabic vocabulary which is forgotten in Sudan. If we trace the language of the narrating character in the novel we can see that it is the true language of the writer, a language with a unique style, unrepeated and unduplicated but was not subjected to scrutiny.

E  N  D




Q- You have written about west Sudan while Al-Tayeb Salih has written about the north and center of the country. Is it expected that other Sudanese novelists would produce works about the remaining regions of Sudan?

A- I have always thought that the novelists from the Sudan's different regions should introduce their localities to the Sudanese and international readers. We have to follow suit of the American writers who have introduced their different regions to the world, like Hemingway, from the Lakes region, Faulkner from the South, Truman Cabot from the Center and Steinbeck from the far West.

I wish the Sudanese novel and short-story writers would contribute to the different localities of Sudan by presenting bright regional pictures that contest and even excel the works of Al-Tayeb Salih and Ibrahim Ishaq.

Q- You have received your higher education in Khartoum and you resided in the Sudanese capital for nearly half a century. Now you keep making Darfur a venue for your novels and never mentioning the center of the Sudan. Can you explain this?

A- I think I spoke about Omdurman and Khartoum in eight stories and also in "Turmoil in Klymendo" novel, while "The Traditions of Dame Miyakaya" was focused on the White Nile region. Yet your observation is correct because the novelist and the story-writer is obliged to his own people where he originated. For instance Mikhail Sholokhov lived most of his life in Moscow and other big cities of Russia, yet all his writings, even the short stories, centered on the Don River Valley. William Faulkner strolled through Europe and lived in Hollywood but the American South was his favorite place that he portrayed. If I have to write better about Omdurman and Khartoum, I must bring the third generation of the Kabbashy family, my narrators, to the forefront as they are now studying and working in Khartoum. If their modern concerns were linked to their environmental backgrounds, we might one day write some work that links characters from west Sudan with others in central Sudan, in the capital or elsewhere.

A book published in USA containing translated stories including Ishaq's one 


Q- Some critics believe that you are borrowing Faulkner's technique and the circuitous style in your writings. How about that?

A- I don't deny this. I don't deny that I have derived my vision of my environment from the integral world that was created by James Joyce, William Faulkner and Mikhail Sholokhov who are, to me, the world's best writers of fiction and their production has enriched our knowledge of Man. Al-Tayeb Salih confines all his works within the circle of moving out of and revisting the world of Wad Hamid in north Sudan. There are writers who write in a scattered way- a character from here and a reality from there, according to the choice of their topics. While there are other writers who are concerned with presenting an enigmatic world with its most precise components. But even though we should not blame anyone of them or transgress their freedom of innovation.

Q- Is there an existential story in Sudan?

A- I believe there is no one who has made an effort on the existential story more than Eissa al-Hilo. But there are a lot of short stories that can be classified in this connection.

Q- What do you think of the Arab novel forums and the contests in which professional novelists and young ones compete, except the international Al-Tayeb Salih competition in which no professionals participate?

A -First, I think the prizes have largely contributed to the rise of new novelists and the emergence of a good writer out of those contests is likely as was the case of Ali al-Rufae from north Sudan. The professionals may not take part in those competitions because they do not want the arbitrators to judge their works. There are two kinds of prizes: the appreciative and the encouraging ones. The latter encourage the beginners to come up with good novels. We wish the professionals are better considered in the appreciative prizes so that their works would get what they deserve.

Q- Why there are no forums other than those of the novels?

A- Al-Sharqah Emirate has established six or seven platforms for poetry in the Arab countries. Those platforms provide distinguishing poets with opportunities to issue collections of their works. But the novel gains more importance because it discusses humanitarian issues, uses a poetic language and competes against the camera. I do not think poetry can compete against the novel in those aspects, and therefore I think the future will be for the short novel which is not monotonous. This is the age of the intensive novel that touches the emotions and the illusions of the reader and offers him a service that is similar to the camera.

Q- How do you view the works of the new writers?

A- I cannot claim that I closely follow the works of the new writers because reading a great deal makes a writer like me to reach a stage at which he cannot bear the techniques of the beginners. We may say: he is almost saturated. However, I followed the works of the good writers of short stories in the past three decades and I praised what I admired.

Some readers might still remember an article I wrote on Alwan daily newspaper about a novel by Omar al-Saym titled "Mar Khader". My advice to the new writers is to perfectly learn the language in which they write, absorb the techniques they try to employ and to possess an imagination that serves much of the reality and address its problems. We do not ask them to stop introducing fantasia and oddities but let their texts address the humanitarian reality they experience.

Q- Some people believe that non-translation of your works into other languages was behind the failure of your work to reach foreign readers. Do you agree?

A- I cannot ask people to translate my works into foreign languages, but this can be done through two ways: one of them is that the state may translate the works of prominent writers, as late Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nassir was doing. The second way is for foreign translators to do that if they recognize the technical and moral value of the work, such as Denis Johnson did with the works of al-Tayeb Salih. It is true that the translation into other languages is beneficial to the writer because he will be read worldwide. But at the present time only insignificant works are translated into other languages and, as Sudanese writer Amir Taj al-Sir once remarked that many translated Sudanese works were weak and were translated only because they discussed contemporary hot issues. I wish there are translators who would find an interest in translating my works, but I can't ask them to do so, and, at the same time, I feel sad that the state is not doing any effort in this respect.

Q- Can we say that non-translation of your works is a reason that hinders you from reaching the position you deserve?

A- Could be. But I can't also judge my works as excellent and that the non-translation is the obstacle. Why? Because you cannot determine the people's tastes. The taste common to many readers, at the present time, is directed towards unspoken political, religious or sexual issues.

Q- Is there any difference between the Western and local tastes?

A- Yes, but I think a work deserves to be translated if the translator appreciates its technical element and considers its humanitarian background. But I would not say this is the reason that prevents the translation of some works, and as I have previously noted that the reason lies in the fact that the environment and the environmental components I write about is difficult to understand even for the Sudanese in central Sudan. But any person who is interested can simply understand by asking local people or by consulting dictionaries of colloquial languages to pick up the meaning of any difficult word, and this person can enjoy the work if he skips that word while he is reading like what al-Tayeb Salih and Nabil Suleiman and others have done in reading my fiction.

Q- The remark you have just attributed to Amir Taj al-Sir, does it indicate corruption of the translation?

A- We do not say it is corruption of the translation as much as we can say that the foreign translator looks for a topic for exciting the readers in his country. And the wide circulation of issues in the international media makes some works highly acceptable; take for instance "The Messiah of Darfur" novel which was met with a great demand by the readers in Europe, regardless of its content. In contrast, "Turmoil in Klymendo" means nothing to those readers.

I believe that the choice of the work by the translator is the reason behind its wide circulation or poor circulation and, as Amir Taj al-Sir has stated, many novels were translated for political, rather than technical reasons.

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  1. Niama Benhallam

    Thank you Mr Mohamed Najeeb Mohamed Ali. The enterviews you conduct are a window through which we, non Sudanese people, can discover the deep and rich Sudanese literary experience.

  2. Asha Musa Elsaid

    Asha Musa: To Sudanow I read very comprehensive comments about various aspects concerning Dr Ibrahim Ishaq, writing, ideas, etc. And I am pleased that our critics are paying attention to the works of Ishaq which are an astounding contribution to the spacious horizons of literary writing, namely, the short story and novel. Works that I am not furnished with relevant tools of literary criticism to delve into details and yet as a member of the vast auditory of literary platforms I cannot waste an opportunity to visit. Ishaq has adopted for his interesting narration the local language,( slang, dialect, or whatever critics might call), to depths and profundity that haven’t been tapped before. His style has been described as too difficult and obscure, among other things, to be translated or even read beyond his community! He did not invent a new language or even cloned some of its vocabularies to furnish his writing project. He drew the life of a community to the inner core of its pulsing heart. He was, and stayed, aware of and adamant to his project and what he found at hand and planned to use it so skilfully as an easy to reach tool capable of branding his project with this unique authentic taste. He is greatly admired and respected. I do not feel comfortable to compare him to the African Writers of the Negritude movement as their reasons for the use of local languages were different. Darfurians like other parts of Sudan cling to their dialects, languages and varieties with no clear plans of competition...or so it used to be. Using this local tongue Ishaq opened a grand window to a culture so rich and inveterate. He is also a good landmark to the new writers who are trying to touch gently, sometimes successfully, on use of colloquial language and slang expressions. They lack the daring dip that Ishaq has started with. Poets might have found it easier but it is a method too thorny for novelists and story narrators. He also illuminated the life and existence of marginalized citizens in spite of the historical, cultural and economic importance of their region. Ibrahim Ishaq does not need to be advertised to widen his readership; it is the sores of our media that need to be cured and be able to use its tools and wipe its mirrors to reflect such works to the public. Publishing and marketing such works, fostering such writers and recognizing them and availing platforms to present them to the world are some of the necessary remedies. Critics also should mark their presence by discussing analyzing and drawing attention to treasures capable of attention. Readers need to be guided and educated before we expect a reaction from them that would be effective to the life or death of a literary work. Translation is the sole work of a writer! One of the drawbacks of translation is that it is affected by the pride or even haughtiness of poets and writers. A writer should draw his passage to globalization. When a writer is so popular and well known among his immediate readership, he or she should step further beyond his boundaries. The ideal arrangement is that a translator should be invited or approached by the writer or his sponsors to discuss the work and carry on the translation. It could also be done the other way round, but in all cases it is a stage not any less complicated than the stages of writing and publishing. It is unrealistic that a writer condemns his work to results through expectations. So, trial is the best tester for success in this case. Translating works like Tayeb Salih, Ibrahim Ishaq, Bushra Al Fadil and many others is deemed to succeed!


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Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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