ترجمات أدبية

Ali Al-Kasimi: Breakfast

by Ali Al-Kasimi

Translated by Hassane Darir (Professor of Translation and Terminology, Cadi Ayyad University, Marrakech) and revised by Abdeladim Hinda (Professor of Literature and Related Fields, Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Tetouan-Morocco)


Come with me for breakfast. You're my guest today. Let's go to one of those cafés that are crowded with unemployed as well as employed people. They eat their breakfast, or rather sip  their coffee, leisurely all morning. Our city is a first-class tourist city. Its tourists are its young and old people. You and I, too, will spend the whole morning in a café.

To while away the time, let me read you a poem in French by Jacques Prévert called “Breakfast.” Its title is consistent with the place we are in, and the poet used to write his poems in Parisian cafés and public parks. If you are not fluent in French, I will read the same poem to you in Arabic. The poet Nizar Qabbani translated it into Arabic and gave it the title "Al-Jarida" (the newspaper). He did this out of compassion for people like you who did not master French because of the teacher's constant absence. Qabbani included it in his diwan, but he forgot to write the word "translation" on it. You must have heard it before in the voice of the singer Magda Al-Roumi.

If you don't like poetry and prefer English, let's read a short story by the American writer Ron Carlson called “Reading the Newspaper.” What did you say? You don't know English. Never mind, don't worry, because I am going to steal the subject of this story and translate it into Arabic now under the title "Breakfast". Just a change of title and you're a writer. However, newspapers do not pay copyright. You steal other people's ideas, and publishers steal your rights.

You didn't like my story? Why? It does not have the specifications of the story? It's okay, we'll call it "narration." It's a postmodern art, and the term "narration" covers everything that is not a story but you want it, nonetheless, to be a story, just like the term "figurative art" in painting. For example, you can become a painter if you put scribbles inside a stylish frame, display them in a fancy gallery, and say that they are "figurative art". If you have friends who are art critics, they will come up with analyses and interpretations of your scribbles that you never thought of.

What did you say? Do you not want to hear anything from French or English literature? Then, we will kill the time by reading Arabic newspapers. Don't think I'll buy the newspapers. Unemployment makes one genius in inventing unique methods. We will borrow all the newspapers from the seller for only half a dirham. After consulting them, we will return them to him, who in turn will return them to the distributor the following day as "unsold returns". They all do so, and so do we. Didn't I tell you that unemployment is the mother of invention?

You prefer to watch bystanders and comment on them, don't you? Luckily, this café overlooks the main street. However, I should warn you in advance. If you see a young man stopping a passing girl in the middle of the road, pointing a knife to  her face, and ordering her to hand him over her handbag and her fake jewelry,  stay put, because the girl will hand him the bag with a shaky hand and a pale smile, and the scene will pass peacefully. If you are curious and stick your nose into it , the unfortunate may happen. Do exactly as the policeman does as he passes the scene with his eyes closed. His excuse is that he had ended his shift moments earlier. It is wisdom itself. Or do as I do: Drink your coffee before it gets cold.

What did you say? The waiter brought cold coffee? Don't worry about it because it would get cold anyway; we're going to spend the whole morning in this café. Just put it in front of you pretending to enjoy it.  Don't drink your coffee too fast. In haste, regret, and in patience, safety. If you do not like this café, we will go to another café in the afternoon. The whole city is full of cafés: between every  two cafés, there is another café.

So, let's start by reading the front page headlines of this newspaper. Are you ready to hear the nation's news this morning? Then, trust in Allah:

"For the second time in two weeks, Prof. Marufis survives a bomb attack."

Don't know who Prof. Marufis is? He's the general who seized power in a military coup and sentenced the elected prime minister to death. The latter  poor man had won the election. But, with bribery and forgery.

Dozens of Lebanese killed when a Boeing plane crashed on its way to Beirut.” The reason? Very simple: the plane was overused. The money for maintenance missed its way and ended up in the pockets of some company officials.

"Israeli warplanes assassinate six Palestinians, including four children, by firing a missile at their car on a Gaza street, injuring twenty passers-by." This piece of news is normal and does not require any comment. We have become accustomed to it; there is nothing new about it. We've been hearing similar news every morning for three years.

The American occupation forces kill thirty Iraqis and arrest one hundred and sixty others north of Baghdad...” They are the masters of the world; they are the cowboys. They can go anywhere and do whatever they please. No inhibitions and no deterrents. The world is as if it were a small cosmic farm to fatten their cows. We all belong to them.

"New mass graves discovered in Iraq."

Learn the ways of good governance, my friend! You may be lucky enough to become the President of our Royal Republic in the near future. What are you saying? No, I'm not joking.

"International report: 351,000 Arab children infected with HIV/AIDS." This means that we have learned a wisdom that we have been repeating for a thousand years: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."

Do you want to hear more news? No. Let's change the subject then: Now how do we look for work?!


This short story is a translation of فطور   الصباح by Ali Al-Kasimi. It is the first in the short story collection Circles of Sorrow (دوائر الأحزان, under translation).  The Arabic version is also available following this link:


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