Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Concerto Al-Quds by Adonis

Concerto Al-Quds by Adonis
First published in Arabic as Kunshirtu alQuds in Lebanon by Dar al Saqi in 2012. English language translation by Khaled Mattawa published in America by Yale University Press today, the 28th November 2017 (UK publication, 3rd January 2018).

One of my WorldReads from Syria

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cri de coeur or fully imagined poem on the myth and history of Jerusalem/Al-Quds from the author revered as the greatest living Arabic poet. At the age of eighty-six, Adonis, a Syrian poet, critic, essayist, and devoted secularist, has come out of retirement to pen an extended, innovative poem on Jerusalem/Al-Quds. It is a hymn to a troubled city embattled by the conflicting demands of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Adonis's city, as a coveted land, ought to suggest the universal love of humanity; as a land of tragedy, a place of contending history and beliefs, and a locus of bitterness, conflict, hatred, rivalry, and blood. Wrapping multiple voices, historical references, and political viewpoints within his ecstatic lyricism, Adonis has created a provocative work of unique beauty and profound wisdom, beautifully rendered in English by award-winning poet Khaled Mattawa.

I admit that I struggled with this long poem. It's translation into English by Khaled Mattawa is beautifully done so I could appreciate some of the rhythms and emotions of the Arabic original. At times Adonis feels to be justifiably furious at the continued violence and destruction across Jerusalem. This focal city for three of the world's mist followed religions ought to be a tranquil, serene haven yet perpetual squabbling over religious supremacy has meant it more frequently resembles a war zone. I love the shocking and powerful imagery used to great effect in short 'machine gun' bursts. It contrasts well with softer world-weary verses.

Where I came unstuck though was in my lack of knowledge of Jewish, Muslim and Christian history and of their respective books. I made good use of the comprehensive notes section, included in the English edition at the end of the poem. This is an excellent resource which allowed me to add an extra layer of understanding to my reading. However I feel as though to fully appreciate this great work I need to sit with an expert and discuss Concerto al-Quds line by line.

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