Banthology: Short stories from the nations Trump wants silenced

A year on from Trump’s ill-famed travel ban, Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations (Comma Press) brings together short stories from the original seven affected countries.

If this blurb conjures a collection of reactionary and moralising tales rallying against what we all already know is a bullshit policy – think again. In true Comma Press style, Banthology is replete with ambiguities, oddities and surprises, exploring issues as diverse as madness, friendship and loss.

Throughout the collection, separation from home manifests itself in no end of dark and mysterious ways. Almost without exception, displaced characters populate liminal spaces: airports, Indian takeaways, families away from family. In one story, a dismembered body part seems to find life again across the globe. In another, memories are overwritten through force of trauma. 

In Zaher Omareen’s Beginner’s Guide to Smuggling, an ever-jaunty asylum seeker sets his sights on Sweden. Unfalteringly spirited in the face of all manner of obstacles, the whole story is told in what sounds like manic mutters to himself. He is exuberant and eloquent, and marvellously irreverent (“Oh god of mobile phones, master of the luminous dawn”). This is, to an extent, uplifting and light-hearted relief, but latent shadowy undertones hint of something deep and dark present even here.

Most compelling of all, though, is Najwa Binshatwan’s Return Ticket, set in the mythical floating nation of Schrodinger. The nation hovers above a map of states ruled by all manner of arbitrary dogma. Divinity is measured in bellies and triangles, emotions are outlawed, and – in the US – the walls rise higher and higher until all that can be seen is “the  bird-shit-splattered crown” of the Statue of Liberty. Profoundly, spine-shiveringly trippy, this is finely spun magical realism to rival the likes of Borges and García-Márquez. Efforts towards similar epicness made in the closing story, The Slow Man by Yemeni author Wajdi al-Adhal, can unfortunately only pale in comparison.

Banthology can be bought from Comma Press’s website.