First, a superficial note: The Missing Slate is an undeniably good-looking literary magazine. As well as publishing its stories, poems, essays and features online, it also exists in the form of an “interactive digital edition”. This is essentially a glossy digital file which you can flip through like a book. If this review persuades you to drop by and have a read, I recommend at least glancing at this edition of the magazine, so as to fully appreciate its professional presentation. The illustrations work beautifully with the writing, and the whole thing is almost flawless in its preparation.
The Missing Slate aims to pay tribute to the diversity of its country of origin by, as the editors put it, opening up its “borders” to writers from other countries. To this end, in issue eleven we find a long feature on the work of several Lebanese writers. Their work is little known outside of their home country, and so these original translations are new and valuable exhibits. Most are extracts from novels, but there are short stories and poems too, most of them preceded by helpful contextualizing notes.
War and destruction are, it must be said, a strong presence in most of the stories. “June Rain” for example, is an excerpt from a novel by Jabbour Douaihy (translated by Paula Haydar) which tells the story of a shoot-out in a remote Lebanese church, and examines the aftermath thereof. The featured extract comes from the beginning of the novel, and takes the point of view of a schoolchild whose at-first-ordinary day is unexpectedly interrupted. It is a thoroughly effective piece in itself, and manages to inhabit with great credibility the mind of its young narrator. There is no obvious violence, but danger lurks below the surface, a constant presence.
The Lebanese poetry too is not short on allusions to war and conflict. “Less Than A Drop” by Bassam Hajjar (translated by Maged Zaher) for example contrasts the danger of stray bullets with the softness of the human body. “Bullets miss the head / That sleeps on your chest / Bullets miss the mouth and the nipple”.
The presence of war as a concern in Lebanese literature is acknowledged in an article that precedes the Lebanese feature – but so too is a new generation of Lebanese writers who have moved away from “the war-marked imagery of their predecessors”. These writers too are represented in The Missing Slate. Alexandra Chreiteh’s novel Always Coca-Cola is one good example. Set in contemporary Beirut, the novel explores the many conflicting forces which act upon a young woman named Abeer, as she tries to navigate the various social circles of her busy life. In the short extract (translated by Michelle Hartman) we see Abeer as she visits her family and is confided in by one of her cousins. The prose is witty and fresh, and Abeer herself an engaging narrator.
In the second half of the magazine we depart Lebanon, and turn an eye towards issue eleven’s chosen theme of “Sexual & Emotional Power Plays”. This is explored mostly through a series of features written by the editorial team. One of my favourites was “Cutting Through The Fat”, an astute enquiry into body image, and how much our physical traits govern our personalities. A close second was Mahnoor Yawar’s fascinating article “Losing My Fandom”, which is summarised neatly by its tagline: “On female geeks and their fight to stay visible”. Yawar examines instances of misogyny in geek culture, and comes away with some unsettling conclusions.
The Missing Slate is a pleasantly varied read. The two dominant parts of this particular issue might seem oddly unrelated at first, but the contrast between the two keeps what could have been a very heavy read fresh and engaging, and both seem to have a clear goal in mind – one of raising awareness and promoting the profile of issues and communities that are otherwise marginalized. The Missing Slate strikes me as a literary magazine with a purpose. In its own patient way it strives to do something, to make connections and prompt changes. The fact that it manages to be an interesting and stimulating read while doing so is a bonus. Issue twelve (due out mid-June) is set to feature an array of Caribbean writers – and best of all it’s free to read online. Just visit The Missing Slate’s website to take a look.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England. He works as a copywriter for a charity, and in his spare time writes book reviews.