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Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Words Without Borders) [Paperback]

Reza Aslan
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

20 Jan 2012 Words Without Borders
A landmark literary event, this groundbreaking work spans a century of literature by the region's best writers - from the famed Arab poet Khalil Gibran to the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk - all of them bound together, not by borders and nationalities, but by a common experience of colonial domination and western imperialism. As best-selling author Reza Aslan writes, the mesmerising prose of the Middle East - Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu - has been virtually excluded from the canon available to English readers. Under the umbrella of Words Without Borders, Aslan has assembled this extraordinary collection of short stories, memoirs, essays and poems, featuring both contemporary and historical works, with many of the selections newly appearing in English.

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Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Words Without Borders) + How to Win a Cosmic War: Confronting Radical Religion + No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam
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Product details

  • Paperback: 658 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (20 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393340775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393340778
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.7 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 191,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"It's a physically beautiful book which is also compulsively readable...a treasure house; a worthwhile attempt at canonising 20th-century central-Islamicate writing." Robin Rassin-Kassab, Financial Times "...remarkable anthology...There is a wealth of wonders the pages of this rich and beautiful book." Erica Wagner, The Times "Poets can bring down governments, claimes Reza Aslan." The Daily Telegraph "This is an important book for an urgent time...Tablet and Pen is a rare anthology, for it is as acutely edited as it is well-timed." The Prague Post "These writings are an eye-opening read offering a mosaic of insights into a rich and dynamic culture..." --Cerise Press

...a rich and absorbing introduction to this turbulent region's more potent literature. --James Urquhart, Financial Times

About the Author

Reza Aslan teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. Words Without Borders opens doors to international exchange through translation, publication and promotion of the world's best writing. Author website: A Words Without Borders book (

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tablet & Pen 13 Feb 2012
By Ghulam
It is an excellent compilation and could be used as reference book for the works of the various writers of the Middle East and near East. Translation of prose is impressive. Unfortunately translation of poetry does not convey the intended feelings of the poet. It is disappointing that the author did not give his own comments on some of the works.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sumptuous, Beautiful, and Ingenious Mélange of Subaltern Literary Genius & A Significant Step In "Re-Humanizing" The Orient 19 Nov 2010
By ReaderWriter - Published on
Among his many great accomplishments, it is worth mentioning that Reza Aslan is a Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop; This is the same "Iowa Writers' Workshop" which brought us gems, like Marilynne Robinson and Sandra Cinseros, and whose writers have earned countless Pulitzer prizes.

I urge anyone reading this review to click the "Look Inside" feature above.
Just read the "Author Biographies"(starting on page 611) and you will come to understand the sheer magnitude and diversity of middle-eastern literature we have been missing out on- and the importance of such an anthology!

Reza Aslan is a sophisticated and charismatic advocate of cultural pluralism and an invaluable moderate voice in the twilight of religious and political reformation.

Watch him discuss this book (and provide some comic-relief) on this clip from The Colbert Report:
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read 2 Jan 2011
By Greg Taylor - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book really puts the reader into the Middle East. I have learned so much about what life was/is like there.
4.0 out of 5 stars I love exposing myself to the middle eastern mind and soul ... 3 Aug 2014
By Apryl A. Schwab - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I love exposing myself to the middle eastern mind and soul but feel more commentary should be given for the extraordinary subject matter so as not to confuse specific authors' experiences with a generalization of the culture. Also, would like more written about the incredibly short lives that seems to be prevalent by the chosen authors- suicide? murder? illness?
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb collection 16 Mar 2011
By Charles A. Kimball - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A superb collection. Kudos to Reza Aslan for helping open up the literary landscape of the modern Middle East to a wide audience. Dramatic changes in many lands where Muslims are the majority are helping break through the simplistic stereotypical images so often conveyed through mass media. This excellent resource adds to the much-needed educational process by illuminating the hopes, challenges and ambiguities people in the wider Middle East share with all of humanity.
27 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Effort 10 Nov 2010
By MasonEtAl. GetAnEforEffort :) - Published on
I know only a few of the poems from this book, mostly the Allama Iqbal ones. Um, I don't think the translation of Urdu poetry can be done well in any instance/book/volume, because the cultural references are somewhat lost/make no sense to those not familiar with the culture. And in the case of Urdu, there can be seven Urdu words for every one word there might be in English (especially adjectives, or emotional states).

The stories were interesting and odd, in the way Manto and Ismat's stories are wont to be. I always feel a bit confused whenever I watch a drama based on Manto's writing, he seems very abstract and unrelatable to the common person from that region. As much as I enjoy drama, as young as I am, and as much time as I've spent outside that region, his stories seem soooo far fetched to me, I can't get into them. But I found this story surprisingly well written, more relatable than I'd like it to be, and refreshingly honest (which is what I always FEEL like he's trying to be, but ends up NOT being to me... the complete opposite if anything).
This is one time I didn't end up thinking, "oh God, here he goes trying to be deep and weird again". I actually found the message to be an IMPORTANT one for people of that region itself, PARTICULARLY the theme of honesty/dishonesty to oneself about one's intentions/emotions and the "showmanship of fighting for freedom/living up to your principles" which is so common, and a weakness, of the South Asian culture.

But it was very VERY interesting to read how certain metaphors in the poems were attempted to be deciphered in English; this was the the reason I couldn't give it five stars. Poems that were meant to be very very deep ending up sounded two dimensional and almost silly/humorous. Two of his poems, that I LOVE, basically got butchered in translation, but honestly, I don't see how they could've been carried over intact.
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