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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Uneven Modernities: A Postcolonial Analysis of Setting, Power Relations, and Cultural Identity in Al-Gharbi Emran’s Yael’s Darkness


Hatem Al-Shamea

Assistant Professor of English Literature,

University of Reading, UK.


The novel Yael’s Darkness written by Yemeni author Al-Gharbi Emran, translated by Hatem Al-Shamea, offers a vivid window into the urban environment of Sana’a through the observations of the narrator. Applying concepts from postcolonial literary theory brings into sharper focus the representations of uneven modernization, power hierarchies, and fragmented cultural identity that characterize the postcolonial condition. Emran deftly depicts nuances of setting, social institutions, and artifacts to explore tensions between tradition and modernity stemming from Yemen’s colonial history. The novel is divided into three parts, Sana’a, Yael’s Darkness, and the Journey.

Uneven Modernities: Setting as Postcolonial Juxtaposition 

The imagery of the lively dockyards and streets establishes Sana’a as a modernized urban setting, contrasted with details about the “narrow streets” and “ancient mosque” that juxtapose the contemporary cityscape with its traditional roots and architecture (Emran 15). As Elleke Boehmer notes, settings in postcolonial literature frequently serve to explore “cultural, political and individual identity in the wake of imperialism” by conveying complex blends of the modern and traditional (Boehmer 12).

By interspersing symbolic imagery of Yemen’s historical past amidst descriptions of modernized public spaces and infrastructure, Emran creates a microcosm of what Homi Bhabha has termed the “uneven” nature of modernity in postcolonial societies (Bhabha 248). For Bhabha, the contemporary postcolonial world is characterized by the fractured, incomplete modernization undertaken by colonial powers, which disrupts and fragments indigenous cultures and locales (248). Emran’s setting mirrors this unevenness – the docks and streets signify modern commerce and industry, while the ancient architecture represents lingering traditions and histories.

This unevenness takes on architectural dimensions as well in the depiction of the bureaucratic institution, which contains both modern offices as well as relics of the past. The “well-lit hall with neon lights” conveys a contemporary setting, yet it also houses artifacts from Yemen’s history, such as the “antique wooden door” (Emran). The office space serves as a microcosm of the postcolonial city, exhibiting what Bhabha calls “the jarring of times and spaces” (247). Through these vivid spatial juxtapositions, Emran explores the hybridity of postcolonial urban environments shaped by both colonial modernization efforts and enduring traditional designs and lifeways.

Power Relations as Colonial Legacy

The bureaucracy and officialdom encountered by the narrator also reflect enduring power disparities stemming from colonial rule. When the narrator arrives at the institution seeking a meeting, his interactions with the guards and staff reveal the layers of authority and preferential treatment given to elites. Postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon argues that colonial social hierarchies often persist even after independence, as local political and social structures replicate their colonial predecessors (Fanon 5-7). 

The brusque soldier who initially blocks the narrator’s entry embodies the base level of this hierarchy. However, upon learning the narrator has credentials from the Ministry of Culture, the soldier’s “features changed, and his voice softened” as he rushes to accommodate the seemingly influential guest (Emran). This differential treatment for individuals with government ties echoes Fanon’s observation that national bourgeois elites who inherit postcolonial states operate similar systems of access and privilege (Fanon 7).

Moreover, the director’s reverence for the national leader, “an old friend of mine,” underscores patrimonialism, which scholar Mahmood Mamdani argues was exacerbated by indirect rule systems that empowered local strongmen (Mamdani 21). The director’s paternalistic language further conveys his standing. By depicting the layers of gatekeeping and preferential treatment, Emran reveals how colonial social structures are reproduced in modern institutions.

Cultural Identity Fragmentation in Postcolonial Artifacts 

The discovery of the medieval manuscript “Yael’s Darkness” highlights imperialism’s rupturing of cultural identity by contrasting modern institutions with the artifact’s representation of traditional knowledge forms. Its lyrical Islamic philosophizing signifies Yemen’s pre-colonial culture and learning. Postcolonial theorist Leela Gandhi explains that colonized societies had rich indigenous cultures and intellectual heritage prior to imperialism’s “violent rupture” (Gandhi 7). 

The manuscript evokes what Gandhi terms the “indigenous dispensation” that colonial modernity often sought to override and erase (7). Its presence in the contemporary setting signifies the remnants of identity that persist despite colonial efforts to install Western modernity. Yet the division between the manuscript’s setting and the modern institution points to the fragmentation between Yemen’s layers of tradition and modernized identities.

Literary scholar Simon Gikandi builds on this notion of fragmented identity in the postcolonial era, arguing that writers like Emran “try to stitch together disparate histories and experiences to make a whole” national culture, yet the ruptures and fractures remain (Gikandi 639). The unearthed manuscript provides a metaphor for this cultural fragmentation, as a relic of traditional identity now intersecting with the institutions of modernity. Emran’s depiction of its discovery begins to bridge these fragments into a tapestry of Yemen’s layered histories and identities.

Conclusion: Spatializing the Postcolonial Condition

In his novel, Yael’s Darkness, Al-Gharbi Emran deftly employs setting, institutions, and artifacts to convey defining features of the postcolonial condition. The urban environment spatializes uneven modernity through juxtapositions of tradition and modernity. Bureaucratic hierarchies depict the endurance of colonial power relations in modern institutions. The rediscovered manuscript emblematizes the rupturing of cultural identity under colonialism. By rendering tangible environments and objects that encapsulate postcolonial theory concepts, Emran provides an immersive window into the nuances of postcolonial society. The vividness of his fictional world opens possibilities for reshaping identity and society unconstrained by colonial legacies.


Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. Routledge, 2004.

Boehmer, Elleke. Colonial and Postcolonial Literature. Oxford University Press, 2005. 

Emran, Al-Gharbi. Yael’s Darkness. Anaween Books.2021.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press, 1963.

Gandhi, Leela. Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. Columbia University Press, 2019.

Gikandi, Simon. “Globalization and the Claims of Postcoloniality.” The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 100, no. 3, 2001, pp. 627-658.

Mamdani, Mahmood. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton University Press, 1996.

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