The Bride of Amman is finally out in English and I am more than happy and thankful for the endorsement of the following wonderful people. I am honoured for their words.
The book cover displays the cognitive dissonance and inner conflict experienced by all the major characters in “The Bride of Amman”. While the title would seem to signal happiness, the face of the woman pictured next to it is full of anxiety and pain. Marriage, and all the expectations attached to it, is just one of the societal norms which author Fadi Zaghmout problematises in his novel.
Hard-hitting prose quickly draws the reader into the lives of four young women and a man living in today’s Amman. They are close friends and share many things, not least, the risk of total devastation if they do not abide by the rules. Some refuse to be boxed in by social norms and consciously make defiant choices, while others are unwittingly set on a collision course with family and society through no fault of their own. All are seeking love and respect. They start off as irrepressible romantics, but events carve hard, cynical edges on their souls, as they discover that it is hard to remain true to their values and dreams amidst pervasive social pressure to conform.
Leila’s happiness at obtaining her degree is marred when she finds that this is not enough for her parents, relatives and neighbours, who consider it only a prelude to marriage. It is not that she rejects the idea of marriage, but she had hoped for more recognition of her academic achievement.
Salma, Leila’s older sister, suffers from remaining single, and is deeply wounded upon hearing her grandmother describe her as “an unplucked fruit left to rot”, as she nears her thirtieth birthday — her “expiry date”. (p. 22)
The story shows that judging women only by their marriageability can have catastrophic consequences.
Hayat loses her job when someone reports on her relationship with a married man, leaving her feeling vulnerable and terrified at the loss of social respect and of income she needs to finish university and contribute to her family’s upkeep. Her vulnerability is amplified by her father’s sexual abuse, which colours her self-esteem and relationships.
Rana has a more analytical view of society than her friends: “I’m rebellious by nature… very conscious of the contradictory messages I get from the world around me. Everyone seems to want to construct my moral framework for me, in a society that strikes me as schizophrenic and very masculine. Whereas I’m a female, a young woman trying to feed a craving for gender equality and personal freedom.” (p. 38)
But her awareness doesn’t protect her entirely from the dilemmas she faces after falling in love with a Muslim — a love she must keep secret from her conservative Christian family.
Ali is also under a lot of pressure to get married. In fact, he does want a family, but his preference for his own sex means that a traditional marriage would be living a lie.
By letting his characters tell their stories, Zaghmout delivers a radical critique of society from a feminist/outsider perspective, producing one of few books written by men that convincingly convey the women’s angle. Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours”, Amitov Ghosh’s “Sea of Poppies” and Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” come to mind.
Zaghmout’s book is not a literary novel like theirs; in fact, it verges on melodrama, but it is a story that needs to be told, a novel that obviously emerges from strong motivation to catalyse social change. Having originally written “The Bride of Amman” in Arabic testifies that his aim is to generate discussion, not simply to expose.
Transgressing taboos opens the characters up to new sides of their personalities and more positive ways of relating to others. “Are our ideas like clothes?” Leila queries. “They seem to fit initially, but they become too small for us as our awareness about our surroundings grows, and then it’s perhaps time to throw them off and replace them with new ways of thinking.” (p. 227)
While Zaghmout declares war on outdated social norms that complicate and sometimes destroy people’s lives, he does not declare war on society as such. The story points to a number of avenues for reconciliation if only people are open-minded and respectful of others’ individuality and dreams. “The Bride of Amman” is a brave intervention in a debate that is going on just below the radar. Let’s bring it out in the open, he seems to be saying.
I can’t believe that this is finally happening. The English translation of “Aroos Amman” is finally ready and up for pre-orders. It is already out there on Amazon.com (paperback)! and a publishing date is set on 21th July. I am so happy about the translation and so thankful for Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp who has done a great job in brining my written words into English. I am also very thankful for my publisher (signal8press) for the great work put into ensuring best quality of the English production. It was a long process but I enjoyed working with both of them and witnessed them shaping what I thought to be a good book even better.
When I first started blogging in 2006, I wanted to communicate issues of sexual and body rights that were not addressed by traditional media at the time. I could see how our cultural heritage and obsession in regulating sexuality is making an already tough life due to economical conditions even tougher. I wanted to open missed debates around these issues in hope of change. Few years down the road, I was able to collect my thoughts into a full story, a novel that came out in January 2012. At the time, I didn’t anticipate this success of Aroos Amman, and didn’t anticipate the huge amount I received. People seem to be fed up with the old doctrine that limits their body and sexual freedoms. They are happy to see someone bringing it up right front and are ready to fight for it themselves.
Today with the book coming out to English, I am hoping for a wider reach that could trigger even bigger change.
Thank you all for your love and support.
I dedicate this book to Arab young men and women: those who are struggling to conform, those who are fighting for autonomy over their own bodies, and those advocating for sexual rights.
Interviewed by Tala Abdulhadi, posted on OC Magazine
Name: Fadi Zaghmout
Date of Birth: June 15th, 1978
Degree: MA in Creative Writing and Critical Thinking
Job: Information and Communication Technology Advisor
Currently Residing in: Amman/Jordan
Languages Spoken: Arabic and English
OC: How has your Creative Writing degree helped you develop as a writer?
FZ: The course had a critical thinking side where we read lots of critical essays. We had four main modules. I would say that the psychoanalysis module was my favourite. There is much to learn from Freud in terms of creative writing; ambivalence, the double, the uncanny, mourning and dealing with loss are some techniques I have developed. I also learned to cut down unnecessary words, and to focus on showing rather than telling.
OC: What inspired you to write Aroos Amman (Bride of Amman)?
FZ: Our heavy legacy of social values that is making our lives harder than it should be, as well as the social obsession in marriage and its effect on the lives of youth in Jordan.
I understand that marriage is a means to regulate sexuality, yet and while exaggerated in importance, the institution of marriage in Jordan is pretty limited. We have no civil marriage that recognises inter-religious, non-religious or same sex relationships. Women are expected to be virgins, and preferred to be young, along with so many other silly constraints. It also reinforces patriarchal society where it is expected that the man to provide a home and cater for all of the wedding expenses and post wedding daily financial responsibilities.
OC: Each character in Aroos Amman seems to have its own identity, socially speaking. How would you describe each narrator in terms of identity?
FZ: Laila is the achiever; a woman who plays it right, does what society expects from her and excels in it. Salma represents women who struggle with the social obsession with marriage. Hayat is a social victim who is forced to break out the social boundaries, whereas Rana is the contrary of Laila. She follows her heart rather than playing it by the rules. Ali represents individuals with two sides; one that is highly appreciated by society (being a man) and one that is highly condoned (his homosexual desires).
OC: The works of authors are always reflective of the writers’ own lives. Which character is most reflective of you? How is that?
FZ: I think there are different parts in each character where I somehow reflect myself. For example, I’d like to think that I am visible in the positivity, determination and honesty of Hayat, the rebellious and adventurous nature of Rana, and the activist social sensitivity of Salma.
OC: Why do you choose to write your novels in Arabic, but blog in both English and Arabic?
FZ: My blog tackles issues of gender and sexuality, and therefore gained more support from English reading audiences. When I read Arabic newspapers, especially local ones, I rarely see liberal voices that call for individual and sexual freedom. That is why I started using Arabic on my blog. I also realized that my English language is in not good as my Arabic. I can express myself much better in Arabic. I don’t think that I am capable of writing an entire book in English.
OC: What is the basis of your decision regarding which language to use when writing your novels?
FZ: I think it has to do more with my level of proficiency in the language. I am a native Arabic speaker and can express myself much better in Arabic. In addition to that, I am writing for an Arabic audience and publishing in an Arabic market.
OC: How did you come up with your latest short story It Was Just A Kiss? What messages were you aiming to send while writing it?
FZ: I had to deliver both a critical essay and a creative piece for my dissertation. For the critical part, I did a psychoanalysis read for the father/son relationship in two prose; The Kite Runner by Khaled Al Husseni, and When We Were Orphans by Ishiguro Kazuo, studying how a father figure affects the death drive of the son. I tackled the subject from a gender identity perspective.
The creative part had to be related. I thought of reflecting the father/son relationship into a mother/daughter one. Instead of a dominant manly father as in The Kite Runner, I came up with the character of this mother who is overly feminine.
OC: When should we expect your next novel?
FZ: I am hoping for a release date in September or October of this year (fingers crossed).
OC: Could you give us a brief description of your upcoming new work? Is it similar to any of your previous works in any way?
FZ: Sure I can. I would say it is different than Arous Amman. It tries to read a future where science can control the aging process and prevent dying from old age. On one hand, we have this huge shift in the paradigm of death while on the other hand we still have the same other variables that make us human beings. It is called Janna ‘Ala Al-ard (Heaven on Earth).
OC: If you had the choice of changing one thing about Jordanian society, what would it be?
FZ: I would heal the relationship between men and women.
OC: What advice can you give to aspiring writers?
FZ: I would advise aspiring writers to question everything around them; to deconstruct common truth, belief systems, social values; to be creative and bring us new stories that we haven’t heard before. That doesn’t mean writing a novel is an easy task. It requires discipline and dedication. There is no time to waste worrying about things. So just write, write, write, and worry later.
Fadi’s Top 5 Books:
Angels and Demons Dan Brown
The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follet
The Passion of New Year Eve Angela Carter
1984 George Orwell
The Kite Runner Khaled Al Husseni
Favorite Artist: Elissa
Favorite Movie: Halla’ La Wain
Favorite Dish: Fattet Makdoos
Favorite Author: Dan Brown
Dream Vacation: Seychelles Islands
Best Birthday Gift: A book with many white papers and a hard cover with my name on it to start writing my first novel.
Favorite Dessert: Knafeh
Guilty Pleasure: Bread
Most Embarrassing Incident: Once I was shopping and met an acquaintance. I said hi and we talked a bit. When I was ready to leave, I wanted to say goodbye. I approached him as he had his back to me. I poked his back, and he turned. He turned out to be someone else. I said bye and left!
Pet Peeve: Laziness
Your Biggest Fear: Death
Such a nice review.. thank you Merissa
Congratulations, Fadi, on a well-thought out and neatly woven novel. You have captured the most intricate and most intimate layers of our Jordanian social construct in an emotional and deeply stirring tale of many tales. You have done a marvelous job in deconstructing our society’s norms through each character’s thoughts and feelings that are often unheard, unsaid and almost always dismissed if ever expressed vocally. Amman Bride, to me, is about identity…how your gender in our society defines your identity and thereby decides FOR you, your status, your role, your boundaries, your lifestyle, your behavior at times and your scope of activities. What is most inspiring about your women characters Laila, Rana and Hayat is their inner strength to challenge society and to overcome their inner most fears, confusion and hesitation not only to find peace and happiness but also to try to understand who they really are as Ammani women. Ive always believed in the power of human stories to instigate change; change of attitudes and norms towards gender inequality (especially women) which, continues to delay our growth and evolution as a society. Amman Bride is a breath of fresh air for the struggling survival or should I say revival of the Jordanian novel, which deserves our full support as Jordanians. When I read the Girls of Riyadh a few years ago, I thought to myself; I wish I can write the Jordanian version. You beat me to it! Congratulations once again and I look forward to your next one inshallah.
Salamat, Merissa Khurma
A while ago, a woman, and after reading Aroos Amman, sent me a letter on Facebook, telling me her story of being tricked into a fake marriage with a gay man who soon left her. She said that she felt like both Laila and Salma in the book for what she went through in her marriage and now what she is going through fearing of ending up alone for the rest of her life.
Today, a gay man replied to that post under the nickname Aziz. He is giving a similar account to Ali in the book. He has been married for five years now and feeling horrible for not being able to give his wife what she needs. He was driven to take this move by family expectations, social pressure and religious fears.
I leave you to read his words, but I wonder, till when are we going to push people into fake relationships? ones that defy their nature? Isn’t it about time to spread a decent sexuality education in our schools?