22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Shukri Mabkhout

Portrait Shukri Mabkhout
© Hartwig Klappert

Shukri Mabkhout was born in 1962 in Tunis, Tunisia. He holds a PhD in literature from the Arts College of Manouba, and is currently the university’s president. Mabkhout is the editor-in-chief of three Tunisian journals: »The Annals of the Tunisian University«, an academic journal, »Academia«, a bimonthly magazine focused on university life, and »New Thought«, a magazine with a cultural and literary focus. In addition to translating, he also writes research papers, literary criticism, and a weekly newspaper column.

His debut novel, »Al-Taliyani« (tr: The Italian) was published in 2014 and caused great controversy in Tunisian literary circles, despite Mabkhout’s reputation as a cultural leading light in the country. It’s the story of Abdel Nasser, who is called »the Italian« because of his good looks. It’s set during the political vacuum between the 30-year reign of the Republic of Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba and the presidency of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who ousted Bourguiba in a coup. In 1990, the title figure, a leader in the left-wing student movement, meets the beautiful and equally ambitious Zeina and a complicated relationship ensues, somewhere between love and a partnership of convenience. Mabkhout often draws parallels between fiction and reality, for instance by linking Zeina’s period as a loving and active wife with the propaganda Ben Ali used to try to win the sympathy of his compatriots, although he never did anything to improve their situation. In a review for the website quantara.de, Günther Orth also points out parallels to the modern day, saying the book makes »the debates and conflicts in the land that birthed the Arab rebellions of 2011 so understandable that the reader can positively feel the revolution coming.« The author himself has said he did not choose the subject, but rather it forced itself upon him, compelling him to write a novel that would portray an entire generation’s yearning for freedom, as well as uncovering contradictions in that society. Orth also said that Mabkhout’s Arabic was like »an expensive, well-matured wine, such as you find these days with very few writers but which, with words and phrases so typical of the region, never denies its North African location.« The Tunisian author’s first book won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction awarded in Abu Dhabi, which includes a translation into English, although the book had previously been banned, without official explanation, in all bookstores in the United Arab Emirates. He has also a short story collection in press entitled »Mrs. President« and a forthcoming novel »Baganda« (2016).