Mazen Maarouf
Book image

Mazen Maarouf (1978) is a writer, poet, translator and journalist. Born in Beirut to a family of Palestinian refugees who had to flee Tal El-Zaatar in the beginning of Lebanese civil war, Maarouf holds a bachelor degree in General Chemistry from the Lebanese University (Faculty of Sciences). He worked for several years as a Chemistry and Physics teacher before drifting into the literary field in 2008. After JOKES FOR THE GUNMEN he has published a second very successful collection called RATS THAT LICKED THE KARATE CHAMPION'S EAR and he is currently at work on a novel.

He has also published three collections of poetry: “The Camera Doesn’t Capture Birds” (1st edition Ed. Al-Anwar 2004, 2nd edition Ed. Al-Kamel 2010), “Our Grief Resembles Bread” (Ed. Al-Farabi 2000), and “An Angel Suspended On a Clothesline” (Ed. Riad El-Rayyes 2012), which has been translated into several languages including French under the title “Un Ange Sur une Corde à Linge“(L’Amandier Poésie, 2013, translated by Samira Negrouche) and Icelandic under the title “Ekkert Nema Strokleður” (Dimma, 2013, translated by Aðalsteinn Ásberg, Sjón and Kári Tulinius). A selection of his poems was translated into several languages including German, Spanish, Swedish, Chinese, Maltese, Urdo and Malay. His work is currently being translated into English by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and Nathalie Handal. In 2014 he won the Literaturlana Poetry Prize.

Maarouf has read in festivals, universities, museums and cultural centers in Europe, United States, China and the Middle East. He has written for various Arabic magazines and newspapers namely Al-Hayat (Beirut, London) An-Nahar, Assafir, Al-Mustaqbal, Kalimat Cultural Supplement (Beirut), Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed (London), Al-Ayyam (West Bank), Al-Quds-el-Arabi (London), Kika (London), Jasad Magazine (Beirut) and Qantara (Paris).
He has translated into Arabic a selection of short stories by international writers, as well as number of Icelandic poets and the following novels: “The Blue Fox“ (Sjón), “Hands of my Father“ (Myron Uhlberg), “The Story of the Blue Planet“ (Andri Snær Magnason), “Dwarfstone“ (Aðalsteinn Ásberg), “Flowers on the Roof“ (Ingibjörg Sigurðardóttir) and “Fido" (Brian Pilkington).
His story BOXES was included in Beirut Noir published by Akashic Books USA
He currently lives between Reykjavik and Beirut.

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نكات للمسلحين

Jokes for the Gunmen UK cover


Winner of the Almultaqa Prize

'Mazen Maarouf’s stories in Jokes for the Gunmen are a powerful reminder that it is only through the imagination we can hope to make sense of the brute senselessness of reality.' Sjon

'In this pitch-perfect collection Maarouf skilfully blends the mundane and the bizarre to explore the dark times we live in with grace and lightness of touch. He is a maestro.' Fadia Faqir, author of Willow Trees Don't Weep 

'Maarouf’s unplaceable cities serve the same purpose as the locations of many of Mohsin Hamid’s novels: the reader can imagine these dark and violent places as San Salvador or Sana’a, as Ciudad Juárez or Bangui… Maarouf’s stories are deeply peculiar, occasionally touching and often very funny.' The Guardian

'Jokes for the Gunmen returns over and over again to the subject of humour as its characters try to make sense of life in a Lebanese warzone. [The] stories offer a surreal look at the impact of war on the civilian population. By mixing the domestic with the horrific, the irreality of war comes through as we watch his characters live through unimaginable violence... There are overtones of writers like Etgar Keret in Maarouf’s stories, or the dark tales of Roald Dahl whose twisted logic and embattled child protagonists take on new resonance in wartime. The child narrators in Jokes are an intriguing blend of innocence, optimism and vengeance. In the face of so much senseless death, they accept the absurd predicaments of their family members.' The Irish Times

'Small, explosive and powerful, Jokes for the Gunmen is a bullet of a debut.' The Spectator

'Unsettlingly good' The Sunday Times

‘Maarouf’s wry chuckle infiltrates the childlike voices of his narrators, who tell their sentences in simple sentences and muddled narratives. Jonathan Wright captures the tone of Maarouf’s original Arabic in a translation which was deservedly longlisted for this year’s Man Booker International Prize… When violence does occur, Maarouf deals with it quickly and almost casually – dispatching fatal bombing raids and life-altering accidents with a few efficient words – but its effects reverberate. The narrators’ fruitless attempts to cope supply much of the book’s delightfully dark, absurdist humour.' Times Literary Supplement

A powerful collection of interlinked stories from a highly praised young Palestinian Icelandic. Several stories are told from a child's point of view, the father-son relationship is a recurring them. The place is rarely mentioned but many of them have a Beirut-like city as the background. There is almost always a slightly surreal element, or a blurring of the lines between reality and imagination.

After my brother died, my mother no longer ate any food. She started smoking heavily and arguing noisily with my father, who continued to go to work in the laundry and as usual got beaten up by the gunmen. When he came back from work, he went into the bathroom, sat on the rim of the bathtub and drooled, even more than previously, but he never cried. In the meantime I looked at him and gritted my teeth. The reality is that I wasn't much affected by the loss of my brother, because the idea that there were two 'my brothers' and that only one of them was gone prevented me from feeling the shock. For me it was a half loss, or even a quarter loss if we take into account the fact that I still had my brother's sense of hearing. I was still determined to press on with my project – buying a glass eye for my father. But I did resume going to school. My brother's death had saved me by restoring respect for me among the schoolkids. They stopped making fun of me, because it would have been improper to laugh at a colleague who had lost his deaf brother in a shelling incident.

But things didn't improve for my father in the same way. The fact that he had lost his child made the gunmen realise that he was not only weak but also sad. Now, after giving him a thorough thrashing, instead of saying as usual, “We're here to protect you”, they started asking him to tell them jokes. “Come on, tell us a joke before you go. Take your time,” they would say. So my father would have to think of a joke. Of course, in front of a bunch of gunmen you have to be a good storyteller to win your freedom. Your story has to be convincing, enjoyable and very short, and it has to make people laugh. Not like this story, for example.

'Maarouf's style takes from nightmare its sense of panic, from surrealism its depth and paradoxes, and from satire its merriment and playfulness, as when one plays a game with snakes. This is what raises the book to become an important achievement in the history of the Arabic short story.' Al Jazeera

'Mazen Maarouf is remarkably faithful to the short story as an artistic genre. He does not write with an adult's consciousness. His imagination is unleashed like the hands of an impatient child spilling colour over the face of the world. The narrator, the child, speaks with detachment about sad and contradictory events as if they lie on the edges of his life and do not concern him. As if reality is merely a purgative theatrical exercise, invented to release the terror of war inside us... "Jokes for the Gunmen" is not just a collection of fourteen short stories placed between the covers of a book, but an intelligent literary game.' Assafir newspaper

'These stories describe an illogical reality from the point of view of a child living his daily life in the shadow of a war which is not apparently the main subject of the stories. Rather, it appears to be a fantasy experienced by him. Through the child, the author conveys visions of humanity, using paradox and satirical playfulness.' Reuters

'These stories are a struggle between being and the impossibility of being, potency and nothingness. They are violent without being bloody, loaded with explosives without producing a massacre. The writer makes fun of laughter, but there is no grief-stricken wailing. Reading the stories, you feel the tingling and stinging of the images. There´s a continuous search for a stable, unthreatened existence and identity. These are insomniac, rude, hallucinatory stories which hover around the human being living in wartime as a crow hovers about its prey before finally seizing upon it.' Annahar

'In his beautiful collection, Mazen Maarouf delivers us stories that were written with great eloquence, mastery, stories that are steeped in magical realism but also blend fantasy with reality and emotions.' AnnaharKuwait

'These are stories that breed one from the other, as the characters generate one another. They inherit physical and psychological impairments and are motivated by an Oedipus complex. The unchanging background is the war, which is not located in a specific time or place and no reasons are given for it. It is presented in a highly abstract way, featureless, since wars are the same, even though their history and geography may differ. As the reader moves from one story to the next, he feels as though he is visiting the "gallery of absurdities" of Samuel Beckett.' Alhayat


Ed. Riad El-Rayyes, Arabic

Granta World English

Gyldendal Norsk Norway

Editions Flammarion France

Forlagid Iceland

Modernista Sweden

Cumartesi Kitapligi Turkey

Alianza Editorial World Spanish

Sellerio Editore Italian

Navona Editorial Catalan

Unions Verlag German

Title story published in Neue Rundschau Germany

Epilog (Claus Clausen) Denmark

Uitgeverij de Harmonie Netherlands

Haramada Publications Greece

Vydavnytstvo Ukraine

Material available: Arabic edition. Full english translation available.