There is a line in Volker Braun’s great poem ‘Property’ that has been on my mind for the past few years. ‘Hope lay across the path like a trap.’ Stuck in an intractable political situation, can hope really turn out to be just that – a trap, something that keeps us tied to old ideas? Or is it the great motivator? And anyway, how do we keep hoping when things look bleak?
In this issue of PEN Transmissions, we asked four writers what happens after a revolution, after a political crisis or transformation, once the cameras have moved on, when it’s just you and the aftermath of whatever happened. What happens to hope then?
We spoke to Olga Tokarczuk, author of the Man Booker shortlisted Flights, about propaganda,and how she responds to the political climate in Poland with her writing. Basma Abdel Aziz, author of The Queue, writes to us from Egypt, seven years after the Arab Spring. The Egyptian regime lives on, she says, ‘because of those who prefer to stay safe and secure, no matter the price’. Rowan Hisayo Buchanan tells us about Go Home!, an anthology of Asian and Asian American writers for work on the topic of home – a book that was conceived of before Trump and Brexit, but which ‘joins its voice to those opposing the hatred that has come to feature all too often in our public discourse’. Finally, poet and writer Haile Bizen reports on his sudden departure from Asmara, his hometown in Eritrea, and the effect exile had on his writing and his life.
Olga, Basma, Rowan and Haile remind us that every crisis has an afterlife, that every political upheaval changes lives forever, that the repercussions are felt for a long time. All the more important, then, that we continue to pay attention.
As for my hopes? I hope you find this issue of PEN Transmissions inspiring. I hope it makes you think. I hope it makes you feel closer to the four writers we feature here. And I hope you come back next month for the next issue.
– Theodora Danek, Writers in Translation Programme Manager, English PEN