Before the COVID19 pandemic hit, I had a nice plan to finally visit Jordan. It was on my bucket list for ages, and cheap flights from Malta would have enabled me to go there even on a short break. But life took a different turn – already in early March it started becoming clear that the trip will not happen. Instead, I took a literary trip to Jordan, having picked up Snow in Amman – a collection of short stories translated and edited by Ibtihal Mahmood and Alexander Haddad.
Published by Faraxa, a small Maltese publishing house, this short book starts with an introduction to the genre’s development in Jordan. The origins are traced to early 20th century, but the genre was born as such in the 1950s and boomed in the 1970s. The book did not indicate when the translated stories were originally published, and some of them made me wonder to what extent the situations would sound realistic in Jordan today. It seemed to be typical that the voice fluctuates between third-person narration and lengthy direct accounts of characters’ thoughts.
My favourite stories were The backyard by Magdalene Abu el-Rub, and Eyes confused by Khalid Yousef Abu Tamaa. The first one is a powerful portrayal of a domestic violence victim pondering whether and how to flee. The second one appears pretentiously philosophical, but manages to keep the flow lively. ‘Some people, many people, think that happiness is something to be bought and sold, with money perhaps. But look at me! I’ve got plenty of money and I still couldn’t tell you which of the market-stalls would best furnish you with happiness,’ is a quote from its character, Wafa, that I will memorise. Not exactly a novel idea, but such a lovely, relatable expression of it!
There were multiple stories that dealt with socially deviant sexuality, and it seemed that the authors latched on the subject too much and forgot to flesh out the characters. I did not find any of them relatable or memorable. Yet overall, I found it interesting to experience a new storytelling tradition.
After finishing this book, I downloaded a collection of short Icelandic stories. Iceland was another country I was dreaming to visit this year, a dream that will probably stay in the world of literature as well. Stay safe, and stay home until it’s over!