March 20, 2010


Egyptian singer Oum Koulsoum was, in the Arab world, bigger than Elvis, the Beatles, and the Stones rolled together. This was her favorite song, from a poem by Ibrahim Nagi. "Al-Atlal" might translate as "The Ruins." It refers to a trope from the pre-Islamic qasida form, in which a desert traveler comes across the campsite of a former lover and uses the objects as steppingstones for his memory. Lines from the song are sprinkled throughout The Book on Fire.

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