Four stories of walls and borders

5 minute read
Author: SarahWHQ

Humans are bang into walls – building them, tearing them down, defining ourselves by which side of it we’re on, constructing them for real or on maps or in our own minds. And despite whatever progress we think we’ve made since early humans stood up (and then modern humans sat back down again because it’s probably time for a nice cup of tea), there’s an inescapable plus ca change-iness about our obsession with drawing lines.

“The oldest written story of a border dates back to 2,400 BC, carved in cuneiform into a half-meter-tall pillar of crystalline limestone,” says James Crawford in The Edge of the Plain: How Borders Make and Break Our World. “It tells of an argument between two cities over a stretch of Mesopotamian barley fields…it was drawn by the father of all the gods, at the very beginning of time. Territory, it said, was eternal.”

Plus ca change, indeed.

The problem with walls and borders and lines and here and there and us and them is that, as Naomi Klein says in her astounding book Doppelgänger: A Trip Into The Mirror World, we are all this and that.

We all exist on the spectrum of good and bad, right and wrong, give and take. The idea of the binary us and them simply doesn’t exist. We are all both assholes and righteous, strong and vulnerable. We can pretend otherwise, but it breaks down the second you start to examine these things closely.

So let’s do just that! Here are four short story-based close examinations of borders, of walls, and of how the crumbling pieces of our perceived selves are so quick to fall through our fingers just when we thought we had a handle on it. Grab a cuppa and get stuck in. Mind your heart as you go. 

Let us know what you think of these, and add your own relevant stories on the forum right here.

Letters from the Sea
By Liana Badr
Translated by Aida Bamia & Omnia Amin

Read Letters from the Sea on World Literature Today >>

A speculative story written by the Palestinian novelist and short story writer, Liana Barr, in which a young man living after the “Great Tsunami” tries to understand the concept of love, and hits up against historical divisions, wars and weapons.

“Their oppressors were mainly concerned with selling arms and building walls on demand, anywhere in the world. Most of them wanted to remain superior over the poor people imprisoned behind the walls.”

See the Anatomy of a Story writing exercise based on Letters from the Sea. Read it here >>

The Terrorist Upstairs
By Emrah Serbes
Translated by Abigail Bowman

Read The Terrorist Upstairs on Words Without Borders >>

In this story, Turkish author Emrah Serbes writes about a 12 year old Turkish nationalist finding the unexpected with a radical student and his Kurdish friends. A story of the journey out of indoctrination, rage and fear.

“My brother became a martyr for this country when he was twenty years old. I was seven then. On the day of the funeral they put a handsome commando uniform on me, one with a blue beret. They said the terrorists would win if I cried, so I held it in, I didn’t cry once.”

By Ubah Cristina Ali Farah
Translated by Hope Campbell Gustafson

Read Jujube on Europe Now Journal >>

A nightmarish story of loss and confusion as a family is split up fleeing Somalia. Culture shock, bureaucracy and a desperate grief make this a claustrophobic, fevered story from  Italian writer of Somali and Italian origin Ubah Cristina Ali Farah.

“I watch as the cart carrying Mama and my little sister disappears behind the dunes. Mama turns her head back every few minutes, waving frantically until she is out of sight. The horizon is bathed in blood red; black lines sharp as knives radiate from the last slice of sun. It gets dark quickly, the neighbour looks out from the doorway and invites me to join her, but I tell her I can’t leave, I have to watch over the house while Mama is away.”

By György Dragomán
Translated by Paul Olchváry

Read Haul on Words Without Borders >>

It’s not just women picking the bear. So, too, will those desperately trying to make their way to safety. This short story by Hungarian author György Dragomán follows a couple trying to cross an unknown border, only to find they have to travel with bears to survive.

“Brown bears are a protected species in the Union, the border guards can’t go shooting at them, no way. Those Greenpeace folks would let them have it if they even tried. Bears can go wherever they damn please. Heck, the border guards are even happy to see them crossing over—it’s a welcome increase in their own bear population, after all.”

Gold star members get a deep-dive analysis and writing exercise exploring Letters from the Sea By Liana Badr

Explore what makes it so great and how we might apply these lessons to our own stories.

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