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Listen: I Stared at the Night of the City

  • By Sophie Freeman
  • 28th March 2017
Bakhtiyar Ali discusses his novel I Stared at the Night of the City with Kareem Abdulrahman, Hassan Abdulrazzak and Alexandra Büchler. Listen to readings in Kurdish and English and a discussion of this haunting epic.

“You can never tell with translation where the journey will take you.” Kareem Abdulrahman

A winner of PEN Promotes, I Stared at the Night of the City is a trip. This haunting, passionate novel is told by a series of unreliable narrators in a kaleidoscope of fragments that come together seamlessly. It is a lyrical portrait of contemporary Kurdistan – so much in the news nowadays, yet so little understood.

Author Bakhtiyar Ali was joined by Kareem Abdulrahman, translator of the English version of the book and Hassan Abdulrazzak, an Iraqi playwright and essayist. Alexandra Büchler, Director of Literature Across Frontiers chaired the discussion.

Hear readings from the novel in English and Kurdish followed by a discussion of the book and the issues it presents. The panel explore the differences for Kurdish authors writing for Kurdish people within the region and for those writing for the Kurdish diaspora.

Kareem also explains the challenges of translating from Kurdish into English in particular the intricate choices he makes when translating proverbs. And finally Bakhtiyar explains the roots of his magical realism influences which include a family of storytellers and the “surreal situation for Kurdish people living in the Middle East”.

Listen again to this fascinating discussion of I Stared at the Night of the City as we explore the role imagination plays in both the book and contemporary Kurdistan.


Listen now


Speakers at this event

Bakhtiyar Ali was born in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, in 1966, and currently resides in Cologne, Germany. A novelist as well as a literary critic, essayist and poet, he is widely considered one of the most prominent Kurdish writers by readers in Kurdistan as well as in the Kurdish diaspora; he is one of few contemporary Kurdish writers to be translated into English.

Kareem Abdulrahman is a translator and journalist who lives in London. He obtained his MA in Journalism from the University of Westminster and worked for over eight years with the BBC, where he translated from Kurdish. In 2013, he was awarded a place on the British Centre for Literary Translation’s prestigious mentorship programme.

Hassan Abdulrazzak is of Iraqi origin, born in Prague and living in London. He holds a PhD in molecular biology and has worked at Harvard and Imperial College. Hassan’s first play Baghdad Wedding, was staged at Soho Theatre in 2007 to great acclaim and went on to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3. He is currently working on a number of theatre, TV and film projects.

Alexandra Büchler (chair) is Director of Literature Across Frontiers. A translator and editor of numerous publications including twenty-five books of fiction and poetry as well as publications on visual arts and architecture. She is the editor of the New Voices from Europe and Beyond series of contemporary poetry anthologies from Arc Publications.


About Wanderlust

On the second Monday of each month, meet writers from around the world and hear them talk about their work. We also focus on their translators who help these books travel and open up discussions that cross the globe. Free Word provides a friendly space for you to ask questions of writers and translators as they share an exclusive insight into the creative process of storytelling.

Click here to explore the Wanderlust events we’ve held so far and read about the books we’ve featured.

You can also visit Free Word’s Wanderlust playlist on SoundCloud; we record each event so that you never have to miss out.


This event took place on 13 March 2017 at Free Word Centre and you can view the original listing here.

Presented by Periscope in partnership with Free Word.

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