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Willow Trees Don’t Weep: Interviewing Fadia Faqir


267927_251134238233496_6688446_nFadia Faqir is a national pride. She is one of the most successful Jordanian authors (if not the most). Her books were published in 19 countries and translated into 15 languages. She already has four published novels.  My Name is Salma”, which is perhaps the most known, and “Pillars of Salt” which got translated into fifteen languages.

In her writings we could see a needed close-up on the lives of Jordanian women. Stories she managed to bring out of this small country and echo to the world.

20763386I read her latest book “Willow Trees Don’t Weep” recently and was impressed with how well she managed to craft the storyline. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since she holds a Ph.D. in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of East Anglia and have been teaching that discipline at the University of Durham for many years now.

The book tells a story of a Jordanian young girl who goes on a mission to find her father who left home a long time ago to join the jihad fighters in Afghanistan. While the underline theme is a personal relationship between a father and his daughter, the book’s concern is much larger; it gives a needed perspective on the ramifications of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and its effects on our lives today. It shows the aftermath of the cold war and how it triggered the radicalisation of Arab societies. It takes us from Jordan to Afghanistan to the UK on a journey that depicts the lives of three nations affected by terrorism.

I had the chance to interview Fadia about her new book and asked her the following:

Fadi: When I first started reading the book, I was instantly hooked. It felt like another book of Khaled Al Husseini who is one of my favorite writers. Was it an intentional decision you made to follow his writing style? Were you influenced by his books? Or is it the way you crafted the book with such quality, following modern standards of storytelling that made it feel like Khaled’s books?

fadia1Fadia: I really like al-Husseini’s style, but I felt that the picture he drew in The Kite Runner, although beautiful, was not complete. Where were the so called ‘Arab Afghans’, jihadis from different parts of the Arab World, who joined the Taliban and fought against the Russians? Also if you look carefully my stance, perspective and vision are quite different from his. I don’t see the American invasion of Afghanistan as a liberation. It is simply an occupation and didn’t improve living conditions for ordinary Afghanis despite what is propagated in the mainstream media. The picture is far from rosy and the cycle of violence continues.

Fadi: Khaled Al Husseini saw a huge success telling the stories of Afghani people and the effect of the cold war and the soviet invasion of his country on their lives. I am happy to see someone else tackling the effect of that war on the lives of people in the region and the world at large. This is an important story that needs to be told. Where did the idea of this book come from? What motivated you to tell this story?

fadia2Fadia: When I heard that a young man from our neighbourhood in Amman ‘achieved martyrdom’ in Afghanistan in 1987 my fourth novel began germinating. I was puzzled by this piece of news. Why would a young man from Jordan travel all the way to Afghanistan to fight somebody else’s war? How could he leave his family and country behind and travel with the Taliban from one province to another, looking for Soviets and their supports? What happens to your loved ones when you prioritize the call to jihad, holy war, over them?

What about their women relatives who are left to fend for themselves, earn a living, and keep the household together? Their perspectives were mostly missing in everything I had heard or read.

More over the ramifications of the events in Afghanistan are far and wide. Difficult questions needed to be asked about the state of the world today and the only way you could tackle complex issues is through fiction.

Fadi: In my dissertation for the MA in Creative and Critical writing, I did a psychoanalysis read for the relationship between the father and the son in “The Kite Runner”. I was mainly interested in the effect of the father figure on the death drive of the son. For my creative piece, I reflected that into a relationship between a mother and her daughter. I could read the same in your book: Najwa has a strong mother’s figure that is doubled by her grandmother. I could see how these figures along with her concern about her identity fueled her journey into dangerous Afghanistan to look for her father. At the end of the book, you kill the father figure and pave the way for Najwa’s healing. Did you have this psychoanalysis dimension in mind while writing the story?

Fadia: No, I didn’t. This must have evolved unconsciously. There is a line I read somewhere, ‘Father die so I could be free to love you.’ And I wanted some of that in the novel. He does not literally die, but the myth of him does. So Najwa, like most of my heroines, manages to position herself within the historical web of events, and actualizes herself at the end of Willow Trees Don’t Weep. Like most of my novels it is a rite of passage and a narrative of initiation. Physical journeys from one country and continent to another are intertwined with internal ones. The odyssey humanizes and leads towards compassion for self and others and ultimately forgiveness.

Fadi: I enjoyed reading in particular about Najwa’s mother. Though she sounded depressed, but also showed a strong character. It needs courage for a Jordanian woman to stand firm and admit that she is not a believer. The character has even gone beyond that into showing disgust and strong rejection of anything that is related to religion (partly due to her husband disappearance for his religious cause). I am sure that there are many Jordanian women who could relate to this character. I know that even showing such women exist needs courage. Where you reluctant in writing her this way?

fadia3Fadia: No. There had to be a wide spectrum of characters in a novel that is partly about faith and the intra dialogue between Muslims themselves, which you rarely see represented in the mainstream media. The fundamentalists, true and moderate believers, seculars and the non-believers interact and debate issues. Najwa says that she is caught between her father’s magic, ie belief, and her mother’s science, ie secularism. She has to navigate a way through all of this and forge her own ethical code.

There are many secular people in our society and in many households in Amman the debates about belief or lack of it rage. This had to be aired. Give voice to the voiceless if you have a pen and can use it as you weave aesthetically pleasing fiction.

Fadi: In all of your books, you show concern in women status in Jordan. Gender equality activism is not new in Jordan, much work has been put into this but yet things are not moving forward the way we aspire to see. We have seen good success in education where women makes more than half the graduates but we are yet to see this translated into economic participation and civil rights. What do you think is wrong? How can we tackle these issues?

Fadia: Jordanian society is male-dominated and had been for a long time. To tip the power in women’s favour requires social, legal, political etc. revolutions. This will take time and effort. The economic variable is so important, but women shy away from discussing property, earnings, inheritance with their partners and family members. Economic autonomy and independence is a perquisite for equality and equal opportunity. Oddly enough in some cases in Jordan, where domestic violence is rife, it is not leading to liberation. Male members of the family confiscate the earrings or women. However, education and economic independence are a must and then other things would follow.

fadia4The ceiling in Jordan is made of fire-proof glass and women need to keep chipping at it to break it. And every step towards gender equality taken by any woman anywhere in Jordan will push the boundaries farther. The personal is political and is our starting point.

One more observation: women themselves are mostly divided and do not support each other. In Britain things began to change when ‘The Old Girls’ Network’ was born and women began organizing themselves and truly supporting each other.

Fadi: It is a beautiful relationship you built between Najwa and her father, especially towards the end of the book where many things gets revealed. You dedicate the book to your own father Ahmad al-Faqir. It is a touching gesture. As they say there is a woman behind every great man, but I also think that there is also a loving father behind every great woman. How did he shape the woman you are today? What influence did he have on your character and literary career?

Fadia: My father taught me how to read and how to read between the lines for I rarely saw him without a book in his hands. He encouraged me to study history and emphasized the importance of understanding its movement in it’s totally and explained how events are interconnected. We disagree on some things, but our conversation never stopped.

His pursuit of freedom and justice inspired my writings, although our world visions are different. Despite the fact that he sometimes disagreed with my choices he stood by me through thick and thin and never stopped loving me or I him.

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Fadi: There is a good part of the book that talks about Afghanistan war with detailed scenes from battles ground. I assume that required much research from your side. Does living in the UK make it easier for you to access that information? When talking about historical incidents, do you think that Arabic authors are in disadvantage here in terms of the breadth of information they can access?

fadia5Fadia: A colossal amount of research went into the novel, but the reader is supposed to only see the tip of the iceberg. Since it began germinating in 1987 I hadn’t stopped searching for information. I collected material, watched documentaries, and monitored the press for twenty-seven years. My interest in the Afghanistan, its people, and the invasion is like a program that is always running in the background of the PC of my mind, an obsession, if you like.

Unlike some Arab authors access to books here in the UK is easy and their price is normally reasonable especially if you buy them secondhand. So yes some Arab authors who don’t have the facts at their fingertips are at a disadvantage. But the internet is changing all of that if you they have an unhindered and uncensored access to it.

Fadi: Do you have plans to translate “Willow Tree Don’t Weep” to Arabic?

63611_184340641579523_5515078_nFadia: As you know I don’t translate my books although I oversee closely my translations into Arabic. I worked really hard on the translation of My Name is Salma because it was the first time my writing appeared in Arabic and it had to be perfect. It isn’t, but the Arabic text is close enough to the original. I do hope that Willow Trees Don’t Weep will catch the eye of an Arab publisher soon.

Fadi: Why did you choose to write this one in English?

Fadia: After writing in English for thirty-one years it has become as Conrad said, ‘a capability’. These days I wake up and write in whatever language comes first and English is normally my morning visitor. I am not sure after living outside Jordan all these years my Arabic would be good enough to draw the kind of world my fiction conveys. Funnily enough social networks have improved my Arabic and widened my contact with the Arab world. I am also planning to partly move to Amman. So watch this space.

Fadi: How do you see the state of the Arab world today? I feel that we hit a rock bottom with terrorism and that we are yet to see a u-turn. People today are more aware of the dangers that comes from religious extremism. Do you feel a positive change is anywhere in the near future?

Fadia: Unfortunately I don’t envisage a positive change soon and because of that I am suffering from post-Arab Spring depression. Its symptoms: silence, self-examination and searching for ways forward. 

fadia6When the educational systems and institutions were attacked and slowly destroyed by regimes afraid of an educated dissident the seeds for extremism were sown. Katatib and religious schools, where mostly Wahabi dogma is taught, began spreading. And the elite bear some of the responsibility for that because difficult questions about religion and its relation to politics were either dodged or never discussed openly. For true enlightenment to take place intellectuals must apply reason and discuss the role of traditional institutions in society openly. But alas that pivotal moment had passed. So the damage is done and it’s going to take a long time and much effort to reverse the tide in the Arab World towards liberal, democratic and tolerant societies.

Fadi: Have you started working on your next book?

Fadia: Yes, and the working title is ‘Catherine and Omar’. The second draft is almost finished, but it requires a few edits. A female British archeologist arrives in Jordan and joins an excavation in Petra. This cross-cultural encounter proves to be life-changing for her and some people around her.  It is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but there isn’t much laughter in me these days because of the events in our region.

Fadi: What do you advise young Jordanian ambitious writers?

Fadia: I recently stayed in Amman for a while and I could see how much it has changed. East Amman, where native Jordanians, immigrants, asylum seekers jostle for work and live side by side, is in a state of flux. This miasmic shift needs young writers, like you, to chronicle it. Indian and Latin American fiction comes to mind. And I am looking forward to reading something similar to Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in Arabic and with a clear Jordanian flavor.

Also it will be great if a Jordanian literary agency is established to represent, defend and promote local writers.

If I were younger I would look carefully at self-publishing on the internet. Digital books opened up possibilities for authors everywhere and Jordanian ones are no exception. It is hard at the beginning but if you establish a cyber footprint you will be in charge of your own brand, earnings and future.

To conclude the closer a writer moves to him/herself and their own voice the more international they become. This journey towards self, distinct style, and unique vision is life-long and arduous, but the rewards are many. Some readers prefer authentic and sincere narratives with a distinct cultural flavor and Jordan is a fertile ground for that kind of writing.

Fadi: Thank you Fadia, as you said, we have many stories that deserve to be told, and have Jordanian talents that are up to bring these stories to life. Keep on impressing us. 

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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.

Marcia Qualey Three

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! 🙂

Winteroftheworld

Winter of the World for Ken Follet


I would say that Ken Follet is by far my favorite writer. He came to my attention in 2007 by Oprah Winfrey when she selected his book “The Pillars of the Earth” for her book club. When I picked up the book, I couldn’t put it down despite its 1000 pages. It was as she put it back then “a page turner”. Two years later I read the sequel “World Without End” and was reminded of how exciting reading for Ken Follet is.

Ken Follet writes history fiction, the first two novels I mentioned above addresses a middle-age England and shows the power struggle of the elite at a time where the Church dominated the political and social life in Europe. There are so much parallel lines to draw between then and today’s rise of Islam and state of Arabic world. As George Santayana once said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, we have obviously failed to learn anything.

That goes too for Ken Follet century trilogy, “Fall of Giants’, “Winder of the World” and soon to be released final instalment in the trilogy “Edge of Eternity”. In the first book he covers the state of events in World War I, in the second – the subject of this review – covers World War II, and the third one will be addressing the cold war.

Why do we fail to learn from History?

Winter of the World

Winter of the World

I remember when they taught us history at school how they addressed World War II. It was a major chapter on modern history but cut down for a brief main points to memorise back then: The reason behind the eruption of the war, the major countries involved, and the results. It was never complimented with any fiction recommendation to read in order to grasp a better understanding of what happened at the time.

In comparison, in my Creative Writing and Critical Thinking MA, I had a course entitled “The Novel and History” that focused on World War II. I read many novels that gave me a closer understanding of what happened in different areas affected by the war such as the state of affairs in Poland prior of the German Invasion in “The Tin Drum” for Gunter Grass, or the life in the international settlement in China at the time of the Japanese invasion in “When We Were Orphans” for Kazuo Ishiguro.

Understanding history is never an easy task, but outlining it the way they teach it in our schools is a total failure. I personally believe that reading historical fiction is the best way to learn history and if you ask me to recommend the best fiction to understand World War II, I would say without hesitation “Winter of the World” for Ken Follet.

Brutality of war

In his previous books, Ken Follet never shies in showing the brutality of wars and conflict, but he tops himself in this book. There is nothing that matches the effect of the death of a dear one in the hands of his beloved. Follet knows that very well and used it in many incidents in the book. He toys with the read, keeps us hanging with a glimpse of hope that a certain character, who had gone through a brutal torture would make it and live, only to kill him abruptly showing us the insanity of human beings.

In a scene towards the beginning of the book, he successfully depicts the brutality of the Nazis in a concentration camp. He shows how corruption and hatred unite to punish a gay couple who owned a restaurant in Berlin at the time of the rise of the Nazis. A corrupted police officer forces the owner to sign off the restaurant to his brother by torturing his boyfriend in front of him. He blind fold the victim in a wired surrounded area and let savage dogs eat him alive in front of his boyfriend. When the boyfriend surrender and agrees to sign on his ownership in the restaurant in order to have the chance to hold his boyfriend who was brutally attacked, he kills the boyfriend in his hands.

In a similar incident he kills one of his major characters, Walter. Walter is a German who comes from an aristocratic family, fought in the front line for Germany in World War I, and opposed courageously the rise of the Nazis. He gets his brutally beaten in his old age and throws him at the doorstep of his home, only to die in the hands of wife.

There is no shortage of brutal scenes in the book, and that’s a good trick to give a glimpse of the horrors of the war. The most brutal and hard wrenching one I would say is the scene of Carla’s group rape. It is the most shocking brutal scene I have ever read that combines the ambivalence of hatred and love of humanity.

Ideologies and today’s events

The book shows us the rise and fall of Fascism in Europe. It highlights the conflict between communism, democracy and fascism. A deep ideological battle that is not far from today’s ideological battle in the middle east between religious fascism, nationalistic fascism and democracy. I guess that is a stage of a society maturity where it struggles to define the appropriate path for its future. Unfortunate this madness that precedes adulthood leaves a big scare behind it.

One thing that you can’t miss readying the book is seeing the similarities between the brutality of the Nazis towards the Jews and the brutality of Israel towards Palestinians today. It feels that no one has actually learnt from history and that we tend to repeat it more often than we think.

Human history is full of brutality and heroism. We can be mad and sane at the same time, we murder and we build. We never learn and learn much. We print our past with blood, but hope for a better future. I just hope that one day, we could put all that madness behind us, and champion love.

Quick Fiction: Mother in the womb


The kick of the baby inside her womb rocked her world one more time. Her mother in her womb, a dream. A work of insanity of unbearable pain. Paved the way of her losing whatever sense of security, of safety, of love, and all what is beautiful in this life. Death snatched her mom away. In a moment? not, just few seconds of a deadly stroke.

Back engineering of a new age casted a ray of light. A hope for healing. A demonic or holly desire to bring her mom back haunted her. Determined, she headed to that clinic. Granting her genetic code to science to extract the origin form of her mother’s.

“You are mad” her siblings fought her

“Why do you want to bring her struggle again?” her husband warned her

“For the same reason she brought me here, unexplained desire” She stated

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