All Wound Up: Review of Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl”

Cover of "The Windup Girl"I was so inspired by yesterday’s Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy (QSF&F) Book Club meeting that I published a review of “The Windup Girl”! I’d love to read your comments about the review.

The Poem of Imru-ul-Quais (530 C.E.?)

I’m in love with this poem by Imru ul-Quais[1], one of the earliest Arabic language poems known as the Hanged Poems because apparently they were chosen as the seven best poems to hang in the Kabbah in Mecca:

Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved.
Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal.

The traces of her encampment are not wholly obliterated even now.
For when the South wind blows the sand over them the North wind sweeps it away.

The courtyards and enclosures of the old home have become desolate;
The dung of the wild deer lies there thick as the seeds of pepper.

On the morning of our separation it was as if I stood in the gardens of our tribe,
Amid the acacia-shrubs where my eyes were blinded with tears by the smart from the bursting pods of colocynth.

As I lament thus in the place made desolate, my friends stop their camels;
They cry to me “Do not die of grief; bear this sorrow patiently.”

Nay, the cure of my sorrow must come from gushing tears.
Yet, is there any hope that this desolation can bring me solace?

So before ever I met Unaizah, did I mourn for two others;
My fate had been the same with Ummul-Huwairith and her neighbor Ummul-Rahab in Masal.

Fair were they also, diffusing the odor of musk as they moved,
Like the soft zephyr bringing with it the scent of the clove.

Thus the tears flowed down on my breast, remembering days of love;
The tears wetted even my sword-belt, so tender was my love.

Behold how many pleasant days have I spent with fair women;
Especially do I remember the day at the pool of Darat-i-Juljul.[2]

On that day I killed my riding camel for food for the maidens:
How merry was their dividing my camel’s trappings to be carried on their camels.

It is a wonder, a riddle, that the camel being saddled was yet unsaddled!
A wonder also was the slaughterer, so heedless of self in his costly gift!

Then the maidens commenced throwing the camel’s flesh into the kettle;
The fat was woven with the lean like loose fringes of white twisted silk.

On that day I entered the howdah, the camel’s howdah of Unaizah!
And she protested, saying, “Woe to you, you will force me to travel on foot.”

She repulsed me, while the howdah was swaying with us;
She said, “You are galling my camel, Oh Imru-ul-Quais, so dismount.”

Then I said, “Drive him on! Let his reins go loose, while you turn to me.
Think not of the camel and our weight on him. Let us be happy.

“Many a beautiful woman like you, Oh Unaizah, have I visited at night;
I have won her thought to me, even from her children have I won her.”

There was another day when I walked with her behind the sandhills,
But she put aside my entreaties and swore an oath of virginity.

Oh, Unaizah, gently, put aside some of this coquetry.
If you have, indeed, made up your mind to cut off friendship with me, then do it kindly or gently.

Has anything deceived you about me, that your love is killing me,
And that verily as often as you order my heart, it will do what you order?

And if any one of my habits has caused you annoyance,
Then put away my heart from your heart, and it will be put away.

And your two eyes do not flow with tears, except to strike me with arrows in my broken heart.
Many a fair one, whose tent can not be sought by others, have I enjoyed playing with.

I passed by the sentries on watch near her, and a people desirous of killing me;
If they could conceal my murder, being unable to assail me openly.

I passed by these people at a time, when the Pleiades appeared in the heavens,
As the appearance of the gems in the spaces in the ornamented girdle, set with pearls and gems.

Then she said to me, “I swear by God, you have no excuse for your wild life;
I can not expect that your erring habits will ever be removed from your nature.”

I went out with her; she walking, and drawing behind us, over our footmarks,
The skirts of an embroidered woolen garment, to erase the footprints.

Then when we had crossed the enclosure of the tribe,
The middle of the open plain, with its sandy undulations and sandhills, we sought.

I drew the tow side-locks of her head toward me; and she leant toward me;
She was slender of waist, and full in the ankle.

Thin-waisted, white-skinned, slender of body,
Her breast shining polished like a mirror.

In complexion she is like the first egg of the ostrich—white, mixed with yellow.
Pure water, unsullied by the descent of many people in it, has nourished her.

She turns away, and shows her smooth cheek, forbidding with a glancing eye,
Like that of a wild animal, with young, in the desert of Wajrah.

And she shows a neck like the neck of a white deer;
It is neither disproportionate when she raises it, nor unornamented.

And a perfect head of hair which, when loosened, adorns her back
Black, very dark-colored, thick like a date-cluster on a heavily-laden date-tree.

Her curls creep upward to the top of her head;
And the plaits are lost in the twisted hair, and the hair falling loose.

And she meets me with a slender waist, thin as the twisted leathern nose-rein of a camel.
Her form is like the stem of a palm-tree bending over from the weight of its fruit.

In the morning, when she wakes, the particles of musk are lying over her bed.
She sleeps much in the morning; she does not need to gird her waist with a working dress.

She gives with thin fingers, not thick, as if they were the worms of the desert of Zabi,
In the evening she brightens the darkness, as if she were the light-tower of a monk.

Toward one like her, the wise man gazes incessantly, lovingly
She is well proportioned in height between the wearer of a long dress and of a short frock.

The follies of men cease with youth, but my heart does not cease to love you.
Many bitter counselors have warned me of the disaster of your love, but I turned away from them.

Many a night has let down its curtains around me amid deep grief,
It has whelmed me as a wave of the sea to try me with sorrow.

Then I said to the night, as slowly his huge bulk passed over me,
As his breast, his loins, his buttocks weighed on me and then passed afar,

“Oh long night, dawn will come, but will be no brighter without my love.
You are a wonder, with stars held up as by ropes of hemp to a solid rock.”

At other times, I have filled a leather water-bag of my people and entered the desert,
And trod its empty wastes while the wolf howled like a gambler whose family starves.

I said to the wolf, “You gather as little wealth, as little prosperity as I.
What either of us gains he gives away. So do we remain thin.”

Early in the morning, while the birds were still nesting, I mounted my steed.
Well-bred was he, long-bodied, outstripping the wild beasts in speed,

Swift to attack, to flee, to turn, yet firm as a rock swept down by the torrent,
Bay-colored, and so smooth the saddle slips from him, as the rain from a smooth stone,

Thin but full of life, fire boils within him like the snorting of a boiling kettle;
He continues at full gallop when other horses are dragging their feet in the dust for weariness.

A boy would be blown from his back, and even the strong rider loses his garments.
Fast is my steed as a top when a child has spun it well.

He has the flanks of a buck, the legs of an ostrich, and the gallop of a wolf.
From behind, his thick tail hides the space between his thighs, and almost sweeps the ground.

When he stands before the house, his back looks like the huge grinding-stone there.
The blood of many leaders of herds is in him, thick as the juice of henna in combed white hair.

As I rode him we saw a flock of wild sheep, the ewes like maidens in long-trailing robes;
They turned for flight, but already he had passed the leaders before they could scatter.

He outran a bull and a cow and killed them both, and they were made ready for cooking;
Yet he did not even sweat so as to need washing.

We returned at evening, and the eye could scarcely realize his beauty
For, when gazing at one part, the eye was drawn away by the perfection of another part.

He stood all night with his saddle and bridle on him,
He stood all night while I gazed at him admiring, and did not rest in his stable.

But come, my friends, as we stand here mourning, do you see the lightning?
See its glittering, like the flash of two moving hands, amid the thick gathering clouds.

Its glory shines like the lamps of a monk when he has dipped their wicks thick in oil.
I sat down with my companions and watched the lightning and the coming storm.

So wide-spread was the rain that its right end seemed over Quatan,
Yet we could see its left end pouring down on Satar, and beyond that over Yazbul.

So mighty was the storm that it hurled upon their faces the huge kanahbul trees,
The spray of it drove the wild goats down from the hills of Quanan.

In the gardens of Taimaa not a date-tree was left standing,
Nor a building, except those strengthened with heavy stones.

The mountain, at the first downpour of the rain, looked like a giant of our people draped in a striped cloak.
The peak of Mujaimir in the flood and rush of débris looked like a whirling spindle.

The clouds poured forth their gift on the desert of Ghabeet, till it blossomed
As though a Yemani merchant were spreading out all the rich clothes from his trunks,

As though the little birds of the valley of Jiwaa awakened in the morning
And burst forth in song after a morning draught of old, pure, spiced wine.

As though all the wild beasts had been covered with sand and mud, like the onion’s root-bulbs.
They were drowned and lost in the depths of the desert at evening.


Footnotes

1. This is supposed to be the oldest of the “hanged” poems. Like the others it shifts abruptly from theme to theme, and is full of poetic comparisons. Indeed, its author is said to have started this fashion, winning for himself the name of “The creator of images.”

2. The poet in this and the following lines refers to an incident which is thus told us: during his wooing of Unaizah he followed her and the other maidens when they rode on camels to the pool Darat-i-Juljul. The women bathed in the pool and he captured their clothes and would not surrender these until each one came out of the water in turn and asked for hers. They held back so long before they yielded to this, that afterward they complained of being faint with hunger. Thereon he lavishly slew his camel so they could have it immediately for food. When they had eaten, they would not leave him stranded in the desert, so divided the trappings of his camel, each carrying home a part upon her beast, while the carrying of the poet himself fell to Unaizah. She jestingly protested that the howdah on her camel’s back was too small for them both.

[From “The Hanged Poems,” translated by F. E. Johnson, with revisions {?} by Sheikh Faiz-ullah-bhai in The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, volume V, Ancient Arabia, ed. Charles F. Horne, Parke, Austin, and Lipscomb; New York and London, 1917.]

See also Imru’ al-Qais wikipedia entry.

Griot Convergence in Timbuktu

January 12, 2008, Hotel Boctou, Timbuktu, Mali

Boubakar Touré, Owner of Hotel Boctou, Timbuktu, Mali

Boubakar Touré, the owner of the Hotel Boctou, told me that there had been a conference in December 2007 on griots at the hotel here in Timbuktu. He mentioned that a fellow named Paul Raukin has been gathering stories in Timbuktu aided by a guide named Azima. He also mentioned Madame Touré Zalia-Maïga, at the University of Arizona at Tempe. And a fellow named Salem Ould el Hajh (tel. 9407926) has English translations of the transcripts of the griots who spoke in Songhaï (or Songhui or ???) and Tamchek languages at the conference.

Travelers Joshua and Heather Tallis, who I met on the route from Essakane to Timbuktu, recommended reading the books entitled Salt and Cod, as well as a book called Timbuktu by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle.

A Day in Timbuktu: Ahmed Baba Institute and Another Manuscript Library

The Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques – Ahmed Baba (IHERI-AB), formerly the Centre de Documentation et de Recherches Ahmed Baba (CEDRAB), commonly known in English as the Ahmed Baba Institute, houses an excellent collection of historical manuscripts in Timbuktu.

Sign for Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Bad Photo of Manuscript, Al Ahkam al Shar iyyat al Kubra, Copied in 1204, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Manuscript, Al Shifa bi ta arif huquq al Mustafa, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Photo of Manuscript, Al Shifa bi ta arif huquq al Mustafa, Illumination Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Manuscript, Mus haf Karim, Illuminated in Gold Leaf, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Manuscript, Mus haf Karim, Illuminated in Gold Leaf, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Koran Commentaries Copied in 1241, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Koran Commentaries Copied in 1241, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Risalat fil Basariyyat, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Risalat fil Basariyyat, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Letter From El Hadj Omar, Copied Around 1850, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Risalat ila Amir al Fullan Ahmad Ahmad, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Pharmaceutical Treatise, Written 17th Century, Copied 18th Century, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript Copied in Marrakesh in 1599 by Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Blurry Photo of Manuscript, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Blurry Photo of Manuscript, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Sudan, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Sudan, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Tarikh al Sudan, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Fattash fi akhbar al buldan wal juyush wa akabir, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Tarikh al Fattash fi akhbar al buldan wal juyush wa akabir, Detail, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Tarikh al Fattash fi akhbar al buldan wal juyush wa akabir, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Medical Treatise in Verse, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Illuminated Koran, Purchased in Fez for 40 Mithqual of Gold in 1817, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript, Two Pages of Parchment, Koranic Verses and Text About Arabic Alphabet, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Two Pages of Parchment, Koranic Verses and Text About Arabic Alphabet, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Manuscript, Biography of Sheik Sidi Al-Mukhtar Al-Kounti and His Wife, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

Koranic Prayer Art, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali Water-Damaged Family Tree, Ahmed Baba Institute, Institut des Hautes Etudes et de Recherches Islamiques, Timbuktu, Mali

We walked through Timbuktu from one manuscript library to another.

Donkey Cart, Town Square, Timbuktu, Mali View of Ostrich-Egg on Minaret of Mosque, Town Square, Timbuktu, Mali View of Ostrich-Egg on Minaret of Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali

View of Ostrich-Egg on Minaret and Layered Tower of Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali

The other library also had amazing historical manuscripts.

Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, Arabic Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, French Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, Illuminated Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Al Shifa Qadi Alyad, Illuminated Manuscript, Blurry Detail, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Albakhari, Volume III, French Label, Copied in 1277 H, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Albakhari, Volume III, Illuminated Manuscript, Copied in 1277 H, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Manuscript Cabinet, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Illuminated Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Ancient Manuscript Box, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Old Small Manuscript Tied in Leather Case, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Small Leather-Bound Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Small Leather-Bound Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Leafing Through Old Manuscript, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Arabic Label, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Need Transcription and Translation of Title, Marabout Magic Manuscript With Tables, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Man, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali Photo of Man, Manuscript Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Back in Bamako, Mali….

After Pays Dogon, I managed to get back to Bamako in reasonably good shape. I stayed a couple of nights at the marvelous Hotel Djenné, created by the former minister of tourism who had a great idea when she invited artists to decorate the place. On the bus ride there, I met a Dutch woman and her French traveling companion who was working on developing schools for young women in Mali. I met some other travelers over breakfast. O, and the first evening, I went to pick up the package I had left at Hotel Yamey and to try to visit Damien, the French guy working at his father’s restaurant, the Café du Fleuve. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around so I returned to the northern side of town to eat at the Restaurant San Toro, also owned by the former minister of tourism.

As a single person, I felt very conspicuous when I entered the restaurant, especially when they had no place for me, but after awhile of sitting and listening to a man playing the kora, I got into the spirit of the place and they eventually served me delicious juices and a vegetarian platter. I was craving good food after weeks in the “brousse? (countryside). Better nourished, and after a walk and a stop at the somewhat seedy cafe where I saw a transvestite, I returned to the hotel and slept well. I had tried to treat Samuel Sidibe and a professor friend of his to lunch, but he was busy, so I just stopped by to pick up the conference proceedings he had obtained for me. They included a griot’s account of the history of the Mali Empire, a crucial contribution to my book.

Monument to Palestinian Children, Bamako, Mali

I spent the rest of the day trying to get a flight in January from Timbuktu to Bamako and managed only to confirm my place on the waiting list. That evening I again tried meeting Damien at the Cafe du Fleuve and instead ended up sharing a delicious meal with a Dutch fellow Michiel and a female friend of his, also Dutch, Lisa Winnen. They were very kind of me and my spirits revived considerably in preparation for my trip to Accra.

Bamako, Mali