Dry Season: talking points from the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club

Report by Jonathan Ruppin

In May we discussed the 2013 winner of the EU Literature Prize, Dry Season by Slovenian writer Gabriela Babnik. Gabriela herself was visiting London to appear at European Literature Night, so we were privileged to have her as our guest. The book is a double challenge for those wishing to expand the the scope of their reading, as the book sees 62-year-old Ana travelling to Burkina Faso (where Babnik’s own husband is from).

Gabriela was extremely generous with her revelations about her writing and her admission that the ending of Dry Season is ambiguous, even in her own mind, prompted debate.

This month’s discussion points:

#1. Gabriela herself said that the book is not a work of post-colonialism criticism but rather looks at the entitlement, or otherwise, of western women to create art. Does the death of Ana’s child reflect this intention?

#2. Gabriela mentioned – but the conversation went off at a tangent! – that the harmattan (‘dry season’) was the third character in the book. Running with this idea, what impact can we say that it made on the story of Ana and Ismael?

#3. Ana is an increasingly unreliable narrator, whose thoughts drift back and forth in time. But does the notion supported by some that Ismael himself is just another delusion convince?

#4: What are your recommendations for other books by Slovenian authors?

PEN Atlas: exclusive extract from new book by Svetlana Alexievich

An exclusive extract from Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich. The Nobel Prize winner is in conversation with James Meek at the Cambridge Union on Tuesday 31 May 2016 as part of the new PEN Atlas event series.

Read this week’s PEN Atlas

Find out more about Second-Hand Time, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, here.

Buy tickets to see Svetlana Alexievich in conversation with James Meek on Tuesday 31 May at the Cambridge Union.

Azerbaijan: Khadija Ismayilova released from prison

English PEN warmly welcomes the news that Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been released on probation. Ismayilova, who turns 40 on Friday, had been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on trumped-up financial charges in September 2015, having been detained since December 2014. The remainder of her sentence has been commuted to a three-year conditional sentence. She will be subject to a travel ban and other restrictions. PEN will continue to campaign for all restrictions against her to be lifted.

Global Action

This Friday, 27 May, English PEN will be joining a protest at the Embassy of Azerbaijan in London to celebrate Ismayilova’s release and her 40th birthday. More details here.

The event is part of a global action coordinated by the Sport for Rights campaign which will see events held in 40 cities around the world. As well as celebrating her release, supporters will be continuing to call for her full acquittal, and for the release of the country’s dozens of remaining political prisoners.

The planned protests span 23 countries: Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For more details of these protests please visit the PEN International website.


If you are unable to join the global protest in person you can still take action for Khadija and other writers at risk in Azerbaijan:

Send messages of solidarity

If you would like to send a message to Khadija Ismayilova please do so via cat@englishpen.org

Social media

On 27 May, Ismayilova’s supporters around the world will be tweeting using the hashtags #FreeKhadija and #HappyBirthdayKhadija – please join them. Protest participants will also be sharing their photos on a global Facebook event page, and the Sport for Rights campaign will be collating photos and information on its Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Write to the authorities:

Please write to the government of Azerbaijan calling for Khadija Ismayilova’s full acquittal and the immediate release of other writers who remain imprisoned in Azerbaijan.

Please send appeals:

  • Welcoming the release of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on probation;
  • Calling for a full acquittal and for all restrictions against her to be lifted;
  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all others held in Azerbaijan solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression ;
  • Calling on Azerbaijan to comply with its obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Azerbaijan is a state party) to protect the right to freedom of expression and cease its campaign of intimidation directed at opposition or critical voices.

Appeals to:

President Ilham Aliyev
Istiglaliyyat Street 19
1066 Baku
Republic of Azerbaijan
Fax +994124923543
Email: office@pa.gov.az
Salutation: Your Excellency

Prosecutor General Zakir Qaralov
Office of the Prosecutor General
7 Rafibeyli Street
Baku AZ1001, Azerbaijan
Email: info@prosecutor.gov.az
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General

Please also send copies your letters to the Embassy of Azerbaijan in London:

His Excellency Mr Tahir Taghizade

4 Kensington Court
W8 5DL
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7937 1783
Email: london@mission.mfa.gov.az

Myanmar: PEN Myanmar member Maung Saung Kha released

English PEN warmly welomes the news that poet and PEN Myanmar member Maung Saung Kha has been released from prison.

Maung Saung Kha was arrested on 5 November 2015 on charges of criminal insult (under Article 505 of the Penal Code and Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law) in connection with a verse he posted on social media suggesting that he had a tattoo of the president on his penis. In a verdict delivered on 24 May 2016, the judge sentenced Maung Saung Kha to six months in prison and released him for time served.

Following his release, the 23-year-old poet stated:

I’m glad I can go home freely, but I’m disappointed about the verdict… Even though we have a democratically elected government, the verdict was like from the old days.

Maung Saung Kha has been a key case of concern for English PEN and was among the international writers to be featured at the inaugural English PEN Modern Literature Festival for which he was paired with the poet Harry Man. Watch Harry’s performance here.

For further background information, please visit the PEN International website.

Thank you to our colleagues at PEN Myanmar for keeping us informed and to everyone that has taken action on behalf of Maung Saung Kha. If you would like to send him a message to welcome his release please do so via the comments box below or email cat@englishpen.org

Iran: take action for journalist Narges Mohammadi

English PEN joins PEN International in condemning the 16-year sentence handed down to Iranian journalist Narges Mohammadi by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Narges Mohammadi’s family were notified of the sentence on 17 May 2016. Mohammadi was sentenced to five years in prison for ‘gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security’, one year in prison for ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and 10 years for ‘founding and running an illegal organisation’ for her work with Legam, advocating against the death penalty. Under provisions within Iran’s 2013 penal code, a person sentenced to several jail terms is required to serve that with the most severe penalty meaning that, if the sentence is upheld on appeal, she will serve an additional 10 years in prison.

Mohammadi is already serving a further six-year prison sentence on similar charges. PEN is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohammadi, who is in poor health, as we believe her to be imprisoned for her peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression.

For further background information, please visit the PEN International website.


  • Read Narges Mohammadi’s moving letter to the PEN community;
  • Share details of Narges Mohammadi’s case and examples of her writing on Facebook, Twitter and other social media #FreeNarges;
  • Send messages of support via the comments box below or via email to cat@englishpen.org;
  • Write to the Iranian authorities calling for Narges Mohammadi’s release: more details and addresses below

Send Appeals:

  • Calling on the Iranian authorities to quash all the convictions of journalist Narges Mohammadi and release her immediately and unconditionally as she is imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression and association;
  • Expressing grave concern for the health and welfare of Narges Mohammadi, and demanding that she is given all necessary medical attention as a matter of urgency;
  • Urging the authorities to allow Mohammadi regular access to her family, including regular telephone calls to her children who are abroad;
  • Urging them to ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Iran is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is a state party.

Leader of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran
Salutation: Your Excellency
Email: info_leader@leader.ir
Twitter: @khamenei_i

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
c/o Public Relations Office Number 4,
Deadend of 1 Azizi Above Pasteur Intersection Vali Asr Street
Islamic Republic of Iran
Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:

Secretary General, High Council for Human Rights
Mohammed Javad Larijani c/o Office of the Head of the Judiciary
Pasteur St, Vali Asr Ave
South of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran,
Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: larijani@ipm.ir (Subject line: FAO Mohammad Javad Larijani)

It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals via the diplomatic representative for Iran in your country. Contact details for embassies can be found here