- Jorge Ahmad
A writer whose works have been translated into forty-nine languages journeys through world literature along different trajectories. The roads traveled by his works, however, do not lead to any one capital of a supposed republic of letters. Indeed, when such a writer belongs to a tradition marginal to the purviews of North American and Western European metropolises, he proves that "world literature" is no republic. Just as the real world of "world literature" comprises diverse kinds of uneven, nonfederated, though interconnected polities, so too its literatures form many different and overlapping networks of relations that are unbounded by any one system.
Jorge Amado's work illustrates this through his participation in at least one network in which Europe and the United States do not play a primary role: the relations between Arabic and Latin American literatures. An example of what may be described as South-South relations, the Arab-Latin American connection is manifested in Amado's depiction of Arab characters in many of his novels and in the reception of Arabic translations of his works. These two aspects are related, but given the scope of the topic, I focus here on the first one. I would like, first, briefly to situate Amado within the larger context of Latin American-Arab literary and cultural relations.
There are at least four kinds of relations between Arabic and Latin American literatures that current paradigms of world literature obscure. First, Muslim rule in Iberia had a direct and lasting impact on the cultures of Spain and Portugal, and through them on Latin America, with important implications for literature—from Borges's writings on Averroes and The Thousand and One Nights to the flying carpets in García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and the crucial element of the fantastic in magical realism more generally. Second, the mahjar (immigrant) writers in the Americas in the early twentieth century who wrote in Arabic, in [End Page 395] turn, had a major influence on modern Arabic literature, but the role of the immigrant experience and of the specific social and cultural contexts of immigrant destinations on the formation of their projects remains to be studied. Third, the writings of Arab immigrants and their descendants in the languages of the Americas—English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish—remains a vast and fertile field for comparative study, both within the emerging field of American hemispheric studies and between it and Arabic literature. There are now several studies of U.S. Arab American and Arab Canadian literatures, but very little has been written on its Latin American counterparts.1 Fourth, there are prominent Latin American writers with no Arab ancestry who have taken interest either in Arab culture or in Arab immigrants or both and who can, therefore, be studied in this context. I have already mentioned Borges and García Márquez; we can add to them the names of Amado, Ana Miranda, Malba Tahan (Júlio César de Mello e Souza), Angela Dutra de Menezes, and Alberto Ruy-Sánchez. Those four types of relations between the Arab world and Latin America represent a South-South dimension of world literature that I would like to illustrate with the example of Amado.
The title of this article is, of course, a joke. Paloma Amado reports that while she was living in Brasilia, her father once asked her to contact at the embassy of an unspecified Arab country regarding one of his novels that had just been translated there. When she identified herself to the cultural attaché as the daughter of Jorge Amado, the reaction was immediate: "Amado não, minha senhora, o nome dele é Jorge Ahmad, pois ele é árabe e nós temos muito orgulho disso" ("Not Amado, madam. His name is Jorge Ahmad, for he is an Arab and we are very proud of this").2 Like all sophisticated jokes, this one works on more than one level. First of all, it is the diplomat's way of signaling his appreciation of the Brazilian author's highly positive portrayal of Arab immigrants, humorously suggesting that he must himself be an Arab. Second (and this is not...