The Jordan Times reviews “The Bride of Amman” and they love it!


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A review for The Bride of Amman on The Jordan Times by Sally Bland. Posted on 5th July 2015.

Full review:

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.

Alef’s brotherhood aims for a better arab world in 2030: Interviewing Tarek Abdo


Alef is by far my favourite book club in Amman, I believe that I am their favourite author too. I had three great sessions with them last year; at the beginning of the year we discussed “Aroos Amman” (The Bride of Amman) and had a successful public open discussion about homosexuality. Later in the year, they organised a book conference and invited me to present my new book “Janna Ala Al Ard”. A week after that, they hosted me for a first thorough discussion around the concepts of longevity, life and death and other philosophical matters I presented in the book.

Tarek Abdo

Tarek Abdo

Tarek Abdo is the founder of Alef. He is one of those young Jordanians who believe that change can happen and that it is within our hands to overturn the course of events that plagued our societies in the past few decades. He is set on a mission to change the Arab world into a better one.

Alef is not just another book club, it is a social movement that started a change and will make a change. I had the chance to talk to Tarek and asked him the following questions:

Fadi: Hi Tarek, as I said in the introduction, Alef is more than a book club, it is more of a social movement. In your words, you call it a brotherhood. Tell us more about Alef, what is it exactly? How did it start? And what’s your vision for it?

Tarek: Alef club is a non-profit service organization with a stated vision “A better arab world in 2030”, it is a secular organization open to all persons regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or political preference.

tarek2Established in 2012 and organized multiple local events, and three conferences, in addition to special boot camp trainings, the members of ALEF club are known as “A” member.

Members meet every week to discuss books, movies or other subjects. Such social events help us realize our vision.

Alef’s primary motto is “Read to lead”.

Alef brotherhood it is a secret group of leaders that serve and organize our events, 
if you want to know more about them you have to become a member first.

Fadi: In the conference you explained the name Alef. Why Alef? Is it the first letter of the Arabic Alphabets?

Tarek: Yes Alef is the first letter of all alphabet languages. The letter aleph looks like the human being body however if you take a look on our logo you will see the fusion between the human entity and the letter aleph.

Alef logo

Alef logo

Fadi: We are also intrigued to know about Tarek Abdo. How old are you? What did you study? What are you currently doing? And what are your plans for the near future?

Tarek: I am 24 years old, finished my bachelor’s studies in Marketing from 
Amman Al-Ahliyya University and planning to pursue a master’s degree in Business administration. I am also working on my dream project “a public speaking academy”.

My next step in the next year is to grow with Alef and go global, starting from Dubai, Cairo and Morocco.

Fadi: Growing a book club must be a challenge in the Arab world. In my 3 sessions with you guys, I noticed a wide reach that I haven’t noticed in other book clubs. How do you reach out to people? Who are your audience? How many other people help you? What obstacles did you face in growing this book club?

tarek1Tarek: hehe this is one of our secrets Fadi. In the Arab world, the book has a nerdy stamp; readers are usually known as nerdy and boring. Here in Alef we break this wall, we carry the book to the entertainment department, we are cool readers, we do a lot of crazy things, we ask the forbidden questions, and we try to find an answer to it. We actually want to start the change .

Fadi: I have always said that what we need to do in order to revive the culture of reading in the arab world is bringing the cool factor to the books, thanks for helping in doing that! 



Do you see the popularity of the book growing among youth in Jordan? What do you think are the factors that still standing against a mainstream reading culture?

Tarek: I think yes the reading habit started to grow between the youth, because the main factor against this culture is the forbidden questions.

Nowadays there are a lot of young leaders who make the right decision to start asking. They seek the right answers where they can find it best – the book

Fadi: I really enjoyed most of the speaking sessions at the conference. It is an annual conference, right? Tell us more about it? Where did the idea come from? What do you intend to achieve with it? Is it easy to find support/funds for such important cultural activities?

Tarek: First of all, I would like to thank you Fadi for coming to our conference, This idea came from our team after 4 months of starting the club. We thought about a new step for Alef and looked into mass media. We decided on a yearly event to be a speech conference about reading culture and it actually worked.

me at Alef conference

me at Alef conference

Honestly it’s very difficult to organize such event, because there are little companies who are interested in supporting the reading audience in Jordan, but our team has found the way to persuade some companies and it also worked.

We also got the full support from Princess Sumayya University in the last conference.

Fadi: How successful was the conference this year? Give us numbers.

– 225 attendance (133 positive feed backs / 5 negative)
– 10 speakers (2 authors, 2 Writers, 2 book clubs founders, 4 Alef Members)
– 3 sponsorships
– 15 volunteers
– 15 social media volunteers
– 4 coordinators
– 25 trending the hashtag of the conference on twitter
– More than 100 signed copy sold for Fadi Zaghmout new book “janna ala al ard”

with Alef's team

with Alef’s team

Fadi: Haha, you helped me sell many books in the conference, thank you for that!

In one of the sessions at the conference you introduced Alef’s debate club. It reminds me of the debate you hosted for me earlier in the year around homosexuality. One thing that I admire about Alef is that you don’t shy of discussing any issue. You are always ready to talk about any topic no matter how sensitive it is culturally, religiously or politically. I see that a formula of success and a needed breath of air in the country. Tell us more about the debate club. When will it start? Do you have any policy in regards of topics planned to be discussed?

Tarek: It will be one of the most important achievements this year, it’s a world class club which discusses everything with no limits, and we call it ASPRDC: ALEF, SEX, POLITICS, RELIGION, DEBATE, CLUB, with a slogan says: “We Talk Up to the Sky”. But it needs more time because of the security approvals and other operational issues we expect to launch it on 1st of July 2015.

Fadi: I know what you are a big fan of Paulo Coelho. Did he help implanting the seed of believing in yourself and what you could achieve in your heart? Which of his books is your favourite? Any favourite quote for him?

tarek3Tarek: Oh, Paulo Coelho inspired me when I was down and flooded in fail and doubt, then one of my close friends recommended the alchemist novel to me. I found myself in that novel, I felt like I was Santiago, and Coelho was talking to me, it was such a miracle! Coelho was my guide to the road of success, his books makes me a better person, who loves life, and understand why I’m here.

“and when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” That’s my favourite quote!

Tarek Abdo as the Alchemist

Tarek Abdo as the Alchemist

Fadi: That’s one of my favourite quotes too. Paulo Coelho has been a big inspiration for me as well. He planted in us seeds of dreaming big. It actually works for those who believe in themselves.

Who is your favourite Arab author? And favourite Arabic book?

Tarek: Najeeb Mahfooth, “Awlad Haretna or the Children of Gebelawi”

Fadi: What’s next for Alef?

Tarek; The Alchemist Trip 
reading the Alchemist Novel in:

1- The desert of Rum, Jordan
2- The pyramid of Giza, Egypt
3- Dubai Desert safari, UAE
4- Sahara Desert, Morocco

Stay tuned for more craziness reading ideas.

The Alchemist reading in wadi rum

The Alchemist reading in wadi rum

Fadi: You have already done the first reading of the Alchemist in wadi rum. How was it? tell me about the whole experience 


Tarek: hmmm it was an amazing experience. It’s one of our event types called novel stimulation witch is living the same atmosphere for the novel, which will makes the reader understand the message. It brings more inspiration and a chance to think and meditate about the idea of the book,

In wadi rum we followed santiago’s journey in check points reading stations and we put the readers in the same process that Santiago followed in the book (crossing the desert, stealing,  being kidnapped, finding real alchemists, learning the desert language, finding his destiny, and going back to his own treasure)

In addition to the spiritual and learning processes, we had fun. Wish you will be with us next time.

Fadi: I hope so! Thank you Tarek! I look forward for that. Best of luck to you and to Alef. Drastic times calls for drastic actions, with so many arab youth falling for religious extremist ideologies, it is good to see others with such passion to stand up and force a change. Alef might be what the arab world needs today. Best of luck!

Arabic Literature in English: Interviewing Marcia Lynx Qualey


The Arabic literature scene has been growing rapidly in the past few years. The same can be said as well for the English translations of Arabic books. My interest in Arabic literature has grown too over the years with my transition from a reader into an aspiring writer. Looking for sources of information about new releases, book fairs, literary competitions, awards, interviews with writers and reviews of books, I hardly used to find anything close in quality and breadth of content as Arablit blog. Beside crowd reviews social networks like Abjjad and GoodReads, there is only few scattered resources that are dedicated to Arabic Literature. That is why I consider Arablit blog to be a very precious gift.

I have been following Arablit for sometime now. I am happily subscribed to its email list, and I am thankful for the continuous – almost daily – feed hitting my inbox. This blog is priceless but it is sad that it is comes in English without an Arabic side to it. The harsh fact is that the best source for Arabic Literature today comes in English! That may give us an idea about the state of Arabic Literature and how much value we give to intellectual production in comparison to other cultures. marcialqualey_cairo_book_fair

Marcia Lynx Qualey is the founder and manager of this blog. She has been producing and writing most of its content. I had the chance of interviewing her. I asked her about her passion for Arabic Literature, the state of Arabic Literature today, her opinion of literary prizes and much more. Read it all here:

FZ: Hi Marcia, it is an incredible job that you have been doing on Arablit. I am a big fan of this blog and can’t thank you enough for the value of content here that celebrate Arabic literature. Tell more more about Arablit, when did it start? how did it start? are you the owner or the blog? and the sole contributor?

MQ: It started in the fall of 2009, about a year after I moved back to Cairo. In my working life, I’ve been a journalist, an editor, and a literature instructor, not much else. (Yes, there was that one rather insane year as a kindergarten teacher in one of those international schools in the Cairo suburbs, but never mind that.) I’d written book reviews, but they were mostly long, heavy-limbed review-essays. Then in November 2009, I picked up a collection of Iraqi short stories edited by Shakir Mustafa. I wanted to write about the stories, but not in a review-essay format. (I also needed to write shorter, as I must’ve had a one-year-old toddling around at this point.) So I opened up a WordPress blog and wrote a few paragraphs about the stories as they struck me. Shakir Mustafa happened to see it and was, as I remember it, encouraging – indeed, he is surely the reason I turned it into a blog and not a weekend activity. Other people were encouraging as well, as it seemed to fill a void in the informationosphere.

Marcia Qualey 1

I suppose I “own” the blog, although if anyone else would like to take it over, they should drop me a line! I do most of the daily writing, but there are many contributors. For instance, in covering the International Prize for Arabic Fiction this year, we are a group of twelve, I think. Most contributors are in Cairo, but also in Beirut, Dubai, London, Edinburgh, Amman, Doha, Rabat, outside Tunis, and places in between. I love (almost) all of them, and helping people improve their writing or interviewing skills is a particular joy.

FZ: Arablit covers a breadth of topics related to Arabic Literature from new releases, upcoming novels, literary competitions, book awards and translated books,.. etc. How do you follow up with your sources? and how do you sustain this blog with such content and quality?

MQ: Since I started, a number of people have worked to help feed me information: authors, publishers, bloggers, translators, and others. I can always use more people feeding me info. So please: message me at @arablit. I also work at it about 20-25 hours a week, which I know is ridiculous, and please don’t tell my toiling spouse. Sometimes, it does fortuitously overlap with the other (paying) half of my work. I wish it were much higher quality. I wish I had a grant and could pay correspondents in major Arab cities. I wish I had a better design so people could find some of the great old content. I wish, I wish, I wish. But it’s after all just a blog, jeez.

FZ: Arablit email list shows that I am one of 19,018 subscriber (it is growing fast). That is an indication of huge readership. Where do your readers come from? and who are you mainly targeting?

Marcia1MQ: In the beginning, I thought I was targeting English-language readers who had zero knowledge of Arabic literature, contemporary or classical. Certainly, I do have some readers like that. But it’s probably a relatively small section of the readership. Most of ArabLit’s core followers are Arabs who read in English (or who google-translate), translators, publishers, scholars, avid readers, authors, agents, and other people who care deeply about literature. Some posts will draw in other people – like when I write slightly more politically oriented pieces about Iraq or Palestine – but most of the day-to-day audience is frighteningly knowledgeable. Most of my readers know a great deal more than I do about my subjects. So I basically try not to look like an idiot.

FZ: How do you see the state of arabic literature today? there is a perception about Arabs that they don’t read, how much truth do you think is there?

MQ: Everyone would like Arabs to read more, sure. But every time a person unironically circulates the statistic that “Spain translates more in a year than Arabs have translated ever” or “Arabs read only six minutes a year” I slam my head against a wall. Obviously Arabs are an enormously diverse group, and you can’t compare the situations of readers in Baghdad, Sharjah, Damascus, Casablanca, Beirut, Benghazi, and Cairo. Some places, it’s near impossible to read because of daily violence. Other places, books are too expensive for most people and libraries are too scarce. And some places, the reading population is growing by leaps.

Marcia2On the state of Arabic literature, I think it’s similarly diverse and defies a summing-up. There are pockets of wonderful innovation, especially where genre and form are played with in interesting ways. And then there’s a lot of stuff that’s rushed out without editorial oversight. I suppose if there’s a generalization to be made, it’s that a more robust critical apparatus and a stronger editorial practice would not be a bad thing.

FZ: Arablit is mostly focused on translated arabic literature, right? is there a market for arabic books in the west? what are the topics that you think is of interest for a western audience today?

Marcia3MQ: Yes, most of what I write about has been translated or else I want it to be translated. As to the market: Most English-language readers don’t read translations, but I don’t think they’re translation-averse. They just don’t see translations (for a number of reasons). When they do see them, they’re often quite interested—for instance the reaction this past year to work by Iraqi short-story writer Hassan Blasim. I do think there’s a wide interest in reading about Iraq from Iraqi writers, and Penguin seems to have gotten that message, as they’re bringing out Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad in 2016. The same things that are popular in Arabic won’t necessarily be popular in English, of course. People seem to keep thinking that Ahlem Mostaghanemi should be popular in English, but I don’t see it ever happening. Audiences are also diverse: There was a small corner of the bibliouniverse that went into raptures over Humphrey Davies’ translation of Leg over Leg, although I don’t think there were any mainstream bookclubs that took it on. It’s all in the pockets! I think many authors can find different interested audiences in Western languages, as long as they find their pocket.

FZ: eBooks in the Arab world don’t seem to see the same success it saw in the west. What do you think the reasons behind that? Even in the west, there are reports that show decline in ebooks sales and a revival for paper books. Do ebooks have a chance in the Arab world?

Marcia4MQ: I think it’s taken some time to work out the technical aspects. Most publishers aren’t jumping into this feet-first, and I imagine they wouldn’t have in the West, either, if they hadn’t felt pushed by Amazon and others. Also, there’s the payment issue: Arabs have been less enthusiastic about online payment, although that’s being worked on. The move toward ebooks is probably inevitable, and although I’m still not really keen, I do hope they’ll eradicate some of the ridiculous distribution issues that plague Arab publishing and book-buying. Like, for instance, I’m trying to assign out reviews of the 16 novels longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. I should be able to easily purchase these 16 novels in any major Arab city. Right? But different collections of the novels are available in different cities, and some cities have none of them. I like many anachronisms, but not this one. Let’s be done with it.

FZ: There are many book fairs that take place in the Arab area throughout the year. Which one do you think is the most important? Which is your favorite? Why?

MQ: The most “important” ones right now, I suppose, are the two big Emirati fairs, in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. At those fairs, deals are being made and large numbers of authors are being brought together, even if there’s a good bit of chaos to it. My favorite should be the Beirut Arab Book Fair. But my heart belongs to the Cairo Book Fair, because she’s so much like Cairo, so run-down and junky and yet….

FZ: Who is your favorite Arab author? Your favorite Arabic book?

MQ: It wouldn’t be very politic of me to answer this question unless I say someone who’s long dead, like Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq. Anyhow, my favorites fluctuate with what’s in front of me. Right now I’m enchanted by the Moroccan academic Abdelfattah Kilito’s Arabs and the Art of Storytelling, which of course he wrote in French, but it’s about Arab authors.

FZ: Which literary prize would you say is the most prestigious in the Arabic world?

MQ: I suppose it’s the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, or “Arabic Booker,” because of its ties with the Booker Prize and because of all the glitter it can assemble, even though the judges’ choices—and choice of judges—are sometimes quite questionable. But at least it’s semi-transparent. There are other strong prizes, like the Sawiris, but they’re more local. And the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature is quite a big deal in the MG and YA world. I’d love to see some independent prizes move into the space that IPAF occupies, like maybe the new prize named for Mohamed Choukri. And it would be grand to see specialized prizes: for science fiction, for novels by women, for poetry, for romance novels, for memoir, for maqama, for risalas. Perhaps prizes are corny, and perhaps they encourage some of the negative aspects of literary “competition,” but they also can help bring a bit of flash to literature, which it might need to keep readers’ attention.

FZ: If you were to advise Arab authors today to reach out for publishers to translate their work, what would you tell them? who to approach and how?

MQ: The best thing, I think, is to find a great translator who’s passionate about your work. Then have that translator send me an email. 🙂

Really, though, there’s a perception that a bad translation is better than no translation at all. No, no, and a thousand times no.

FZ: Do you mean to say that if someone finds a good english translator, you’d help him in finding a publisher to take on the English version?

MQ: Yes, that’s what I meant. Without a translator, it’s very difficult, because most publishers won’t pay up front for a translator. Usually, the translator must be the one to seek out grants or other funding in order to support the venture — or else she (or he) needs to do it as a labor of love and hope for remuneration down the road.

FZ: Thank you Marica.. I appreciate your time.. keep up the great work you have been doing. Hope you’d find someone to fund you and help taking this blog to further levels. You certainly deserves it.. and so does Arabic Literature.. 

there’s a perception that a bad translation is better than no translation at all. No, no, and a thousand times no. Thank you! 🙂

Utopia: truly brave new worlds


Brave New World

I am pretty much impressed with the Utopian worlds in literature that I had no idea existed before I started my “Creativity and Utopia” module three weeks ago. There is a huge amount of astonishing creativity in those imaginary worlds that keeps you wondering about the brilliance and intelligence of those writers who were able to break down all of the social systems they were bound to and create new brave worlds.

We have started with Thomas More’s “Utopia”, then delved into HG Wells’s “The Time Machine” and Edward Bellamy “Looking Backward” (which I missed reading) and this week “Brave New World” for Aldous Huxley which I should finish by Thursday along with George Orwell’s “1984” and Yevgeny Zamaytin’s “We”.

I don’t know why, but I find this genre of literature to be very compelling. I discovered a hidden passion towards exploring those worlds. I guess it has partly to do with my understanding of Utopia not to be an alternative perfect world but an alternative set of systems that is applied in an imaginary world where it helps improving or making worse the life of its people. For me, the current systems of living is a Utopia on its own.  A Utopia that is ruled by a set of beliefs and rules that are constantly being challenged, harshly by ideas, and shyly by application. It is a Utopia that is not perfect but improved continuously with reviews and tweaks.

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