Always Here, Never Alone

El Ghourabaa

A review of El Ghourabaa by Samia Marshy and Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch

Published on July 4, 2024

With contributing writers from both the local and international community, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch and Samia Marshy share their co-edited anthology, El Ghourabaa. The foreword is written by Sherine Elbanhawy, founder of the literary magazine Rowayat. Both Elbanhawy’s foreword and the introduction from the editors give us some cultural and historical context behind Arab anthologies, as well as the general importance of anthologies in the literary world. El Bechelany-Lynch and Marshy walk us through some of their process: deciding which questions are more meaningful to ask, what it takes to birth an anthology, and the joy of discovering your favourite authors within them.

El Ghourabaa
A Queer and Trans Collection of Oddities

Samia Marshy and Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch

Metonymy Press
$21.95
paper
176pp
9781998898022

El Ghourabaa offers a glimpse of the generational lived experiences of queer and trans Arabs/SWANA (Southwest Asians and North Africans) with a selection of poems, short stories, and non-fiction. From navigating the locker room in a trans body, to lessons on remembering and on making love, to tender and heartbreaking childhood memories, the anthology is all at once wholesome, delicious, dark, and unpredictable.

It starts off with an excerpt from the prominent lesbian Lebanese writer Etel Adnan’s poetry book, Shifting the Silence (2020). The late writer’s seasoned pen confronts death and humanness in a way that is aching, fluid, and authentic. George Abraham’s poetry follows, and is raw, melancholic, and jarring – invoking a sense of dis/connection between land and body – while Olivia Tapiero conjures a haunting mythology steeped in ancestral knowledge. There are many more notable poems full of hair-raising imagery, painting complex portraits of the human experience that may leave readers stunned and out of breath.

There are stories that ease us in and quickly become disorienting, absorbing, and uncomfortable, like Karim Kattan’s “Night Work,” which brings to life the all too familiar upheaval and stress that nearby construction causes. In Naja Sahar’s psychedelic “Sun of my heart,” Sun, descended from a line of textile merchants skilled in the craft of communicating with fabrics, grieves the loss of a loved one while coming of age as a trans person. It illustrates the radical act of self-acceptance as returning to one’s self, and is one of the few short stories shared in the collection that displays the art of storytelling as an archival practice, passed down through generations.

Poems like Nofel’s “To Love Each Other in Arabic” and El Bechelany-Lynch’s “Nancy Ajram made me gay” are just two of many pieces that emphasize the limits of expression in colonial languages and culture, and their inability to convey and embody the intricacies that exist outside of the Western lens. 

Sarah O’Neal’s personal essay, “The Oldest Language I Know,” is a vulnerable narration of the complexities of growing up navigating faith and community while being a queer Muslim. The collection comes to a satisfying close with “The July War,” a short story from Rabih Alameddine of boyhood getting cut short, encountering new personalities in the people you thought you knew, and indecent role models – all while his protagonist copes with a war-torn, crumbling city around him.

A bold and thoughtfully curated anthology, El Ghourabaa is prolific and piercing in its beauty and stays true to El Bechelany-Lynch and Marshy’s queer, trans, anti-colonial, anti-imperial, anti-Zionist vision. A book born of love and necessity, it is an unforgiving and compassionate offering during times of heightened global violence. Each piece, while separate and unique to each author, is interconnected and speaks to one another, building onto the next – demonstrating the reality that while our experiences are personal and private, they are also shared, collective, and political.mRb

Val Rwigema (they/he) is a Rwandan-Filipino writer and vocalist who grew up in the Alberta prairies, currently based in Montreal.

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