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Nothing More to Lose by Najwan Darwish (trans Kareem James Abu-Zeid)

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Nothing More To Lose is the first collection of poems by Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish to appear in English. Hailed across the Arab world and beyond, Darwish’s poetry walks the razor’s edge between despair and resistance, between dark humour and harsh political realities. With incisive imagery and passionate lyricism, Darwish confronts themes of equality and justice while offering a radical, more inclusive, rewriting of what it means to be both Arab and Palestinian living in Jerusalem, his birthplace.
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Between Amal El-Mohtar and Liz Bourke, I suppose it was inevitable I was going to read Darwish’s collection. So, I did…

Nothing More To Lose is simultaneously nothing to do with speculative fiction, and also completely dystopian. But then, the world Darwish is writing about is dystopian; and that is brought across tremendously, painfully well by his poetry. It’s not soft-edged, it’s not polite, it’s blunt and brutal, it calls out Zionists, it names genocide as genocide, it rages against injustice and discrimination. This isn’t a collection for people looking for a polite Palestinian talking about idyllic themes; it’s a collection for those wanting to look at the rage, the disenfranchisement, the horror that is the Palestinian condition in the modern world.

Something that really stands out is the historical engagement and literacy of Darwish’s poems. In an early poem in Nothing More To Lose, ‘Identity Card’ (p8-9), Darwish references Byzantium, the Armenian genocide (a recurring topic), the Kurds, the Algerians, the expulsion of the Jews from Andalucia – and explicitly states a connection and an empathy with all of them. That sense of global parallels, of connections across different communities and cultures, of a shared humanity across persecuted people, really gives depth and something unique to Darwish’s poetry, and that it is on display in so much of Nothing More To Lose is really fascinating.

This isn’t a simple collection though; Darwish has all kinds of different poems in here, all undoubtedly influenced by the dystopic situation of Palestinians, but focusing on different aspects of that. Nothing More To Lose has elegies, laments, love poetry, a certain amount of humour (albeit largely dark), anger, despair, and a certain sort of peace at times; it’s a dense, varied, fluid collection of poetry in that regard, and a really beautiful slim volume that encapsulates so much of the human condition – but specifically the Palestinian condition.

Darwish has really given us poetry that reveals one person’s experience of the Palestinian condition; Nothing More To Lose is a beautiful, painful collection that should be given to everyone who wants to talk about the Middle East before they say another word.


1 Comment

  1. Nice non-review review. You might be interested in this piece by William Weaver, a friend of Calvino’s and the English language translator of Invisible Cities, which has some interesting tidbits about both the book and the man:
    http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/calvino/calweaver.html

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