Black Foam by Eritrean novelist Haji Jabir is finally going to be available in English. The novel, which explores the experiences of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in Israel, is set for a 2021 release through Amazon Publishing.
Arabic translator Sawad Hussain shared the news on Twitter:
Sooooooo delighted to share that @AmazonPub has bought the rights to Haji Jabir’s novel, BLACK FOAM. A very timely Eritrean novel 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 #Eritrea #Africalit @arablit @jamesmurua @brittlepaper @AfricainWords @Afbkcollective @africasacountry @royafrisoc https://t.co/FZ9shapNKG
— Sawad Hussain (@sawadhussain) November 3, 2020
Eritrean-born Jabir is the author of four novels. Black Foam, which is being translated in English, was published in 2018 and longlisted for the International Prize for Arab Fiction, one of the most prestigious prizes for fiction in Arabic.
Black Foam explores race and belonging and centers on a community of Ethiopian Jews who move to Isreal. Read the description of the story:
“Black Foam follows a group of Ethiopian Jews, the “Falash Mura”, who driven by poverty and desperation, emigrate to Israel in search of a better life. Amongst the group is “Dawit”. Although not a Jew, he invents a new identity, changing his name and history, so that he can travel to Israel alongside the Falash Jews. However, on arrival, he faces the trials and suffering experienced by dark-skinned immigrants in the country.”
You can also read a short excerpt of Black Foam, translated in English by Nancy Roberts and published by The Short Story Project.
He placed the suitcase lightly into the tray, and then took off to meet it on the other side. However, the soldier across from him waved him back as he scrutinized the screen in front of him. The conveyer belt moved backwards, and as the suitcase emerged from the screener, everyone looked suspiciously at it and its owner. It moved again and disappeared inside the baggage screener. The man crossed over for a second time to wait for it on the other side, but once more the soldier sent it back to where it had come from. The owner of the suitcase wanted to ask what was going on, but by this time the soldier was busy talking to a coworker. He stepped forward slightly, only to receive a stern gesture to stay where he was. Looking in his wife’s direction, he saw that she had finished going through inspection and was anxiously waiting for him.
The line behind him had grown quite long by this time, and impatient grumbles were getting steadily louder. Faced with no other choice, the soldier instructed the man to step aside for his suitcase to be searched by hand, and gestured to those behind him to pass through. Once again, the man looked over to where his wife was standing. She was witness to what was happening, observing his public humiliation as two soldiers gingerly spread out the contents of his bag for all to see, eyeing him warily the entire time.
“Ok. Go ahead.”
After being engrossed in what was happening to the Arab man in the neighboring line, Dawit snapped to attention at the sound of a soldier’s voice. Fearful of meeting the same fate, he placed his suitcase hesitantly onto the conveyor belt, then straightened up in anticipation. He waited for the bag as it passed slowly through the baggage screener, his eyes fixed on the security officer’s facial expression, which registered no reaction. He picked up his suitcase and turned to the officer, awaiting his decision, and saw him wave another traveler through.
He looked back at the Arab, who was still in the same spot, nervously chewing his nails as he watched his belongings being strewn about. When at last he got the signal to gather them up, his fellow travelers were passing through one after another without being stopped by either the machine or the security official.
Dawit felt sympathy toward the man, perhaps because he himself was all too familiar with the taste of humiliation. He had experienced it first in his home country. From there he had fled from the Blue Nile Valley to Northern Ethiopia. When he first reached Ethiopia’s Endabaguna Camp, he had jumped for joy despite his exhaustion after the lengthy, grueling escape. Yet, despite his initial relief and elation, he had grown wearily accustomed to being humiliated anew in his place of refuge.
It was a voyage of desperation that could have had only one of two outcomes: either arrival at the final destination, or death at the hands of border guards. Nevertheless, his existence in the forced conscription camp had become so meaningless that it made no difference to Daoud whether he lived or died. So, when he crossed the border amid scores of others, he was different from all the rest. Unlike them, he paused to look back. He wanted to take in the full reality of deliverance. He wanted to experience what it really felt like to be leaving humiliation and degradation behind once and for all. There, beyond the distant mountains that had drained his strength to the last drop as he had climbed some and skirted others, lay Eritrea. He felt no nostalgia at all. With every step he took on his journey of escape, nostalgic longing had fallen away from his spirit. He’d been purged by his growing distance from the Blue Nile Valley, emptying out his store of pain and distress in the attempt to come home to his spirit before it was caked with scars.