3 out of 4 stars
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Divided World is a collection of plays that Arab playwrights wrote and Kenneth Pickering from York St John’s University published. Pickering also authored the first play.
Is it looking to blame someone? This is what results from Exploring the Boundaries -A Sykes-Picot duologue devised by Kenneth Pickering. It is the first play in the collection. It presents, in a satirical mode, the negotiation between Sir Mark Sykes and François Picot in 1916 to share the sphere of influence of Great Britain and France on the Middle East. Similar scenes must have happened when other parts of the world were negotiated over by war-winning powers.
The other plays are like cries for help, scenes in the lives of co-nationals of the authors. A Very Short Play for Syria by Hannah Khalil is about a missing coat, a generous husband, and refugees. Jump, by Kate Al Hadid, is a longer play about a young sportsman trying to take part in the Olympic games in Greece.
The fourth and last author is Hassan Abdulrazzak, who signs the following four plays.
In The Several Beheadings of Ashraf Fayadh – in the good tradition of the theatre of the absurd, the action takes place in a restaurant where a poet is accused of writing and distributing infamous poems, and the same scene repeats, with variations, several times. What is the truth? Even if the poems did express awkward truth, the poet did not deserve to be beheaded.
In The Ship No One Wanted (A Monologue), the reader learns of the sad faith of a shipful of Jews fleeing the Nazis during WW2. No country wanted to offer them asylum. It is one of the Syrian refugees left to their sort by greedy guides and ignoring authorities who recalls the Jews' story.
Corner of a Foreign Field brings another unfair situation to the front: Indian subjects of the British Crown are welcome to give their lives for the Commonwealth but, for their dead bodies, it is hard to find a decent piece of land to rest in, in the country they had died for.
In the last play, American Nightmare, the Americans are the target; the envisaged situation finds them at the beck and call of an exponent of the Arab world, at least in a senator's son's dream.
The readers will feel divided between compassion towards fellow humans and guilt for not being under the same predicament or even for belonging to systems that caused the suffering, and, on the other hand, some discontent for being served some not enough art distilled pieces of truth. Also, in the present context, when the attention is towards this deadly virus, the political struggle and misfortunes tend to lose intensity. Does anyone worry about the migrants’ camps when states have closed their frontiers and all economic life is paralyzed? I sincerely hope they do.
Finally, here is a word for democracy; all the sorrow and bitterness contained in the plays is expressed in English, the playwrights learned how to write at a British university, the book has been published in the Anglo-Saxon world, what better proof of democracy can there be?
Most of the readers will be Arabs or people related to Arabs or having Arab friends. For them, the book would be like ”preaching to the choir". Then, there are those interested in history and in the Middle East. Also, passionates of the theatrical art will be interested as the plays are experimental and shocking, and have a chance to be successful with the right cast. I do not recommend them to prudes, because of strong sex references, at least in some of the plays.
As to the editing, I have found some mistakes that I am not sure are because the characters are non-native speakers and so expected to make, or because the proofreading is just less than perfect.
Therefore, I grant the book three out of four stars, mostly for the power it has to impress an audience. I hope it will reach many readers, for whom it should be beneficial for the greater good of fostering peace in the world.
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