The Arabist

Bulaq Podcast

BULAQ is a podcast about contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa. It looks at the Arab region through the lens of literature and at literature through the lens of current events. BULAQ is co-hosted by Ursula Lindsey and M Lynx Qualey and produced by Issandr El Amrani. 

 View of Bulaq quarter, Cairo. HAY, Robert, Esq. Illustrations of Cairo, London, Tilt and Bogue, 1840.

View of Bulaq quarter, Cairo. HAY, Robert, Esq. Illustrations of Cairo, London, Tilt and Bogue, 1840.

BULAQ: The Arab world in books

BULAQ is a podcast about contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa. It looks at the Arab region through the lens of literature and at literature through the lens of current events.

BULAQ is co-hosted by Ursula Lindsey and M Lynx Qualey and produced by Issandr El Amrani. 

BULAQ is named after a neighborhood of Cairo that hosted the first active printing press in the region. Established in 1820, the Bulaq Press put out its first publication, an Italian-Arabic dictionary, in 1822.  

MLQ is a book critic, editor, ghostwriter, and literary consultant with a focus on Arab and Arabic literatures, particularly as they intersect with translation. She runs the blog ArabLit.

Ursula is a journalist and book critic who writes about education, literature, and politics in the Arab world. She contributes to The Nation, the New York TimesThe Point and The Arabist blog.   

Both Ursula and MLQ spent many years living in Cairo and are now based in Rabat, Morocco. 

You can subscribe to this podcast using this RSS feed or on iTunes.


20: Stolen in Translation

We talk about looking down on dialect; passing literary theft off as “salvation”; the beginning of awards season; a book that is a fragmented portrait of Jerusalem; and our fellow podcasters in the region.

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19: Back To School

We talk about the relationships between education and literature; about a devastating entry in the prison memoir genre, from Syria; about the legacy of V.S. Naipaul; and about why Kuwait is the worst offender in the region for censoring books.

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18: Is It a Beach Book?

In our last episode before a summer hiatus, we discuss a graphic novel about the life and art of the stars of Arab music and cinema; Egyptian writer Radwa Ashour’s memoir of studying at university in the United States in the 1970s; and the Moroccan writer Ahmed Bouanani’s novel The Hospital, out in English (alongside a new poetry collection, The Shutters) after nearly falling into oblivion.  

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16: Pick Your Team

In which Ursula and Marcia discuss how much innocence American can claim when abroad, and the urge to write expatriate diaries in one’s twenties; they also talk about the new collection Marrakech Noir; and about the never-ending debate over Classical versus Colloquial Arabic. 

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15: Alexandria When?

Inspired by a fiery essay by an Egyptian professor, Ursula and MLQ discuss cosmopolitanism, nostalgia, and literary representations of the city of Alexandria. Marcia also talks about three new books – from Iraq, Southern Sudan and Lebanon/London. She loved two of them.

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14: Less Cute and Safe

We discuss Marcia’s recent interviews with professors teaching Arabic literature in translation; an essay by Lebanese novelist Rabih Alameddine’s in which he picks apart “world literature” and foreign writers – such as himself – who act as “tour guides”; and a book that is an ambitious overview of modern art in the Arab world. 

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13: Cancel Everything

Ursula and Marcia talk about the novel Tales of Yusuf Tadros – about a Coptic Christian and aspiring artist living in the provinces -- and the playful, genre-bending Kayfa Ta (“How To”) series. They also discuss sexism in literature and whether we can do without the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

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12: All Over The Map

In this episode, we talk about debates surrounding Western military intervention in Syria; about Arab American writer Randa Jarrar and her Twitter rant against the late Barbara Bush; and about whether there is any alternative to the term “Arab world.” Also Ursula has a squeaky chair. 

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11: Stillborn in Egypt, Fractured in Palestine

We spend most of this episode talking about two books: the late Arwa Salih’s Stillborn, a memoir of and reckoning with her time as a Leftist student militant in Egypt in the 1970s; and Rabai al-Madhoun’s novel Fractured Destinies -- about lives constrained, conflicted and divided in Palestine.

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9: On Good Bad Reviews

In which we discuss the validity and necessity of the negative review (or what we like to simply call critical engagement); how rare it is to find negative reviews these days; and the shift that has seen Western reviewers of Arabic literature move from one extreme to another. But is it more condescending to dismiss outright or to offer all-around encouragement? 

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8: Escape Acts

Ursula and MLQ discuss a moving new book documenting the suffering and the resourcefulness of Yazidi women taken captive by Daesh, and the efforts to help them escape; and the perversely dull newspaper columns of the great Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz.

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7: Soft Power

We discussed our recent readings. This includes some early foreign reporting on Morocco, which is both vivid and prejudiced; a moving account of the way Moroccan political prisoners clung to their memories and their words and refused to be fully “disappeared” during the country’s decades of repression; and a collection of beautifully translate and unusual folktales, shared by Lebanese women with each other. We also discussed the Cairo Book Fair, whose official theme this year is “Soft Power…How?”

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6: Court Jesters and Black Mirrors

In this episode we discuss Moroccan literature about the country’s “years of lead” and its formidable and ruthless former king Hassan II; and about the relationship between humour, fear and power. We look at literary awards and what they are good for, and why Arablit has decided to create a new award. And we ask: how much contemporary Arabic literature is “dystopian”?

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5: Sacred Cows

In this episode of BULAQ we highlight several new and forthcoming translations from Arabic to English. We also discuss the newly translated Concerto Al Quds by the renowned Syrian poet Adonis, as well as Adonis’ own status as an artist and public intellectual, and his stance on religion and revolution.

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4: No Happy Endings

In this episode, we look back at 2017 about talk books published in the past year: notable books, favorite books, books we felt were overlooked, books we don't quite agree on, and books we can't wait to read. We also discuss how not to write about "discovering" Arabic and the Arab world.

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3: Palestinian literature: regrets, tough choices and teen adventures

President Trump just recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a move that acknowledges only a single Israeli narrative. We discuss Palestinian writers and how they write about their relationships with Israelis; about living with trauma and danger; about coming of age under occupation. We also look at the emerging field of children’s and young adult literature in Arabic.

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2: Know Your Audience

In which we discuss the fictional underworlds of Rabee Jaber and other Lebanese novelists; and explore Saudi poetry, from a new translation of a famous pre-Islamic collection to the satirical poems of “a grumpy old man” in the Najd in the 18th century. At this time when women are denouncing male abuses of power the world over, we look at two Moroccan female writers who are critical of their societies and who face the question of how their work is received and represented at home and abroad. Asma Lamrabet proposes a progressive feminist re-reading of the Koran; Leila Slimani is an award-winning novelist who has written a book on “sexual misery” in Morocco.  

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1: Belonging to Oneself

In the midst of crackdown on gay men in Egypt, we discuss Mohammed Abdel Nabi’s novel about being gay in Cairo, In The Spider’s Room. Also: a portrait of a love-hate relationship with a Cairo neighborhood, an award for Arabic Young Adult and children’s literature, a Saudi novelist under attack online, and a Palestinian poet whose trial hinges on translation. 

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