Wednesday, April 23, 2014

shortlist of 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing announced

Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka announces Caine shortlist 
Jackie Kay MBE (photo credit Denise Else)
“Compelling, lyrical, thought-provoking and engaging." This is how the chair of the judges of the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing Jackie Kay MBE summed up this year's five-story shortlist, which was unveiled yesterday . The shortlisted authors are Billy Kahora and Okwiri Oduor (both of Kenya); Diane Awerbuck (South Africa); Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe) and Efemia Chela (Ghana-Zambia). Kahora was previously shortlisted for the Prize in 2012. As so often in previous years, no authors from North Africa feature on the shortlist.

 Wole Soyinka
The shortlist was announced by Nobel Prize winner and Caine Prize Patron Professor Wole Soyinka, as part of the opening ceremonies for the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The other two living African winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature - Nadine Gordimer and J M Coetzee - are also patrons of the Prize.

"From a daughter's unusual way of grieving for her father, to a memorable swim with a grandmother, a young boy's fascination with a gorilla's conversation, a dramatic faux family meeting, to a woman who is forced to sell her eggs, the subjects are as diverse as they are entertaining,” said Jackie Kay, the award-winning Nigerian-Scottish poet and author.

Diane Awerbuck (South Africa) shortlisted for "Phosphorescence"
Diane Awerbuck is shortlisted for "Phosphorescence" from her short-story collection  Cabin Fever (Umuzi, Cape Town. 2011);  Efemia Chela for "Chicken" from the anthology Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013); Tendai Huchu for "The Intervention" in the quarterly Open Road Review, issue 7, New Delhi. 2013; Billy Kahora for  "The Gorilla's Apprentice" from Granta magazine (London. 2010);  and Okwiri Oduor for "My Father's Head" from Feast, Famine and Potluck.  For the first time an audio version of a shortlisted story is available: Tendai Huchu’s "The Intervention" on Open Road Review. The Caine Prize has posted PDFs and publication details of the shortlisted stories on its website.

judges 'heartened by the many gay narratives'
The Prize is awarded for a short story of 3,000-10,000 words by an African writer published in English.  An “African writer” is defined as someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or who has a parent who is African by birth or nationality. This year a record 140 qualifying stories from 17 African countries were submitted to the judges. This was  a major upturn from  2013, when there were 96 stories from 16 countries. In 2012 there were 122 stories from 14 countries, and in 2011 126 entries from 17 countries.

The judging panel found that “the standard of entries was exceptionally high, so much so that it was actually very difficult for the judges to whittle it down to a shortlist of only five stories," Kay said. "We were heartened by how many entrants were drawn to explorations of a gay narrative. What a golden age for the African short story, and how exciting to see real originality - with so many writers bringing something different to the form."

caine prize marks its 15th year
This year the Caine Prize celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. To mark this milestone, in addition to the £10,000 that will go to the winner each shortlisted writer will receive £500. The winner will be announced at the prizegiving dinner to be held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, on Monday 14 July.
Tendai Huchu, shortlisted for "The Intervention"
As in previous years the winner will have the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. The winner will also be invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September, the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi and the Ake Festival in Nigeria.

Gillian Slovo
Kay 's fellow judges are the South African-born novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, Zimbabwean journalist Percy Zvomuya, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgetown Dr Nicole Rizzuto and the Nigerian winner of the Caine Prize in 2001 Helon Habila.

As part of events around the Prize, the shortlisted writers will read from their work at the Royal Over-Seas League in London on Thursday 10 July at 7pm and at the Southbank Centre on Sunday 13 July at 5pm. On Friday 11 and Saturday 12 July they will take part in the Africa Writes Festival organised at The British Library by  ASAUK and the Royal African Society.

As always the Caine Prize events include publication of an anthology including the shortlisted stories, plus stories produced at the annual Caine Prize Workshop. The book of the 2014 prize will be launched at the award dinner in Oxford on 14 July. It is  published by New Internationalist and seven co-publishers in Africa: Jacana Media (South Africa), Cassava Republic (Nigeria), Kwani? (Kenya), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), FEMRITE (Uganda), Bookworld Publishers (Zambia) and ‘amaBooks (Zimbabwe).

last year's Caine Prize anthology: A Memory This Size and Other Stories

The Caine Prize Workshop takes place in an African country: this year it was held in Zimbabwe, from 21 March to 2 April. Writers Henrietta Rose-Innes (Caine Prize 2008 winner) and Nii Parkes were the tutors and animateurs.

Last year the Caine Prize was won by Nigerian writer Tope Folarin. He has subsequently signed up with the Lippincott Massie McQuilkin literary agency and is working on his first novel, The Proximity of Distance.

Biographies of shortlisted authors
Diane Awerbuck is the author of Gardening at Night (2003), which was awarded the Commonwealth Best First Book Award (Africa and the Caribbean) and was shortlisted for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. Her work has been published internationally and translated into a number of languages. Awerbuck develops educational materials, reviews fiction for the South African Sunday Times, and writes for Mail and Guardian’s Thoughtleader. Awerbuck’s collection of short stories, Cabin Fever, was published in 2011. Her most recent full-length work, Home Remedies, was published in 2012. Her doctoral work and non-fiction deal with trauma, narrative and the public sphere.

 Efemia Chela 
 Efemia Chela was born in Chikankata, Zambia in 1991, but grew up in England, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa. Her 2014 Caine Prize shortlisted story "Chicken" - her first published story- won third prize in the  Short Story Day Africa Prize. Efemia lives in Cape Town.

Tendai Huchu is the author of the novel The Hairdresser of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Warscapes, Wasafiri, The Africa Report, The Zimbabwean, The Open Road Review, Kwani?05, A View from Here and numerous other publications. In 2013 he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. His next novel will be The Maestro, The Magistrate, and The Mathematician.  

Billy Kahora
Billy Kahora is the managing editor of the Kenyan literary journal Kwani? and the author of The True Story of David Munyakei (2009). His writing has appeared in Granta, Kwani?, Chimurenga and Vanity Fair. His short story "Urban Zoning" was shortlisted in 2012 for the Caine Prize and in 2007 "Treadmill Love" was highly commended by the Caine Prize judges. He is working on a novel titled, The Applications and is writing a book on Juba.

Okwiri Oduor
Okwiri Oduor was born in Nairobi. Her novella The Dream Chasers was highly commended in the Commonwealth Book Prize 2012, and she is currently working on her first full-length novel. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The New Inquiry, Kwani?, Saraba, FEMRITE, and African Writing Online. She recently directed the inaugural Writivism Festival in Kampala, Uganda. She teaches creative writing to young girls at her alma mater in Nairobi, and is a 2014 MacDowell Colony fellow. She was recently named as an Africa 39 writer (see below). Her 2014 Caine Prize shortlisted story "My Father's Head" won first prize in the Short Story Day Africa Prize last September.

Africa 39 features Caine Prize authors
This is a heady year for African literature, what with the 15th anniversary of the Caine Prize, the choice of Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital, and  Africa 39 - a list of 39 African writers aged 39 or less whose work is judged of particular interest. The list was released at the London Book Fair earlier this month by the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 (PHWBC) and Hay Festival.

The Africa 39 list includes Caine Prize 2014 shortlistee Okwiri Oduor , the Nigerian 2012 winner Rotimi Babatunde, the Ugandan 2007 winner Monica Arac de Nyeko and the 2006 South African winner Mary Watson. Africa 39 also includes writers shortlisted for the Caine Prize in its 15 years, including Nigerian writing star Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (shortlisted in 2002), and the Malawian writer Stanley Onjezani Kenani (shortlisted in 2012 and 2008). The strong presence of Caine Prize writers on the Africa 39 list shows the importance of the Prize in identifying and encouraging young African writing talent.
The Africa 39 project comes after similar Hay Festival initiatives for young Arab Writers - Beirut 39 - and for writers from Latin America - Bogota 39.
 report by Susannah Tarbush, London

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BQFP wins rights to 2013 IPAF winner The Bamboo Stalk

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing wins rights to 2013 ‘Arab Booker’ winner

Saud Alsanousi

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) has reached a deal to publish the English translation of Kuwaiti author Saud Alsanousi's novel Saq al-BambooThe Bamboo Stalk - which won the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, known informally as the ‘Arab Booker’ award.) Alsanousi is the first, and so far only, Kuwaiti novelist to have won this prestigious prize, worth a total of $60,000 to the winner.

The Arabic original of the novel was published by Arab Scientific Publishers of Lebanon. It is being translated by the acclaimed British translator of Arabic literature Jonathan Wright. In January Wright was declared  joint winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation 2013, for his translation of Egyptian writer Youssef Ziedan's 2009 IPAF-winning Azazeel.

BQFP Head of English Publishing Thalia Suzuma - who recently joined the Doha-based publisher from HarperCollins UK - won the English language rights to the daring novel from the London-based Susijn Agency. The translation will be published in 2015. Susijn's website has a page dedicated to  information on the novel and its author. The translation is due to be delivered by the end of July.

The Bamboo Stalk takes an unflinching look at the phenomenon of foreign workers in Arab countries and deals with the problems of identity, race and religion through the life of a young man of dual Kuwaiti-Filipino heritage returning home to Kuwait. The Arab Times described the novel as ‘a force to be reckoned with', which 'will take the Arab world and the whole world by storm.’

 The Bamboo Stalk

Thalia Suzuma says: ‘The Bamboo Stalk is a wonderful novel – an effortless, page-turning read; emotionally compelling and powerful. The themes of displacement and mixed roots are universal and handled with an extraordinary lightness of touch.

"BQFP is delighted to be publishing this book for an English-reading audience around the world, and we are so pleased to have award-winning translator Jonathan Wright on board.’

Saud Alsanousi, born in 1981, is a Kuwaiti novelist and journalist. His work has appeared in a number of Kuwaiti publications, including Al-Watan and Al-Arabi newspapers. He currently writes for Al-Qabas newspaper.

BQFP is a partnership of Qatar Foundation and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, which was  established in October 2008 and is headquartered in the Qatari capital Doha. BQFP has four main aims: to publish books of excellence and originality in English and Arabic; to promote the love of reading and writing and help establish a vibrant literary culture in Qatar and the Middle East; to cultivate new literary talent, especially in Arabic, through events and creative writing workshops; and to achieve the transfer of knowledge and publishing related skills into Qatar. It achieves the last of these aims through regular internships, secondments and training courses in key areas of publishing, and mentoring of aspiring Qatari publishers.
Susannah Tarbush

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lord Taylor questioned on British PM David Cameron's Muslim Brotherhood review

House of Lords Tuesday 8 April 2014

 Muslim Brotherhood Question 3.01 pm 
Asked by Baroness Falkner of Margravine  (Liberal Democrat)

"To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what basis they have established an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the United Kingdom." 

 Lord Taylor of Holbeach

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach) (Conservative):
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s decision to commission a review was taken on the grounds of national interest against a backdrop of substantial recent change, particularly in the Middle East and north Africa. The review will make sure that we have a thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, its impact and influence on our national security and interests, and on stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My noble friend will be aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is a pan-Islamic organisation which takes very different forms in different countries. If the Government believe that the Brotherhood might be involved in violent extremism, why do they not use existing counterterrorism laws to prosecute it in the courts?

 Baroness Falkner of Margravine

If, on the other hand, this inquiry is being driven at the behest of Saudi Arabia to discredit the Brotherhood, I respectfully suggest to my noble friend that it is the United Kingdom’s Government and its foreign policy which risk being discredited, by portraying the Brotherhood in the eyes of its many Muslim supporters around the world as victims of a politically motivated Government acting at the behest of an authoritarian foreign power: Saudi Arabia. Can the Minister tell the House whether the results of the inquiry will be made public?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, my Answer made it quite clear that this is about the UK’s national interest and the UK Government forming their own view. The review will make sure that we have a thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, its impact and influence on our national security and other national interests, and on stability and prosperity in the Middle East. We are not talking about the view of another Government; we are talking about this Government. The review will consult widely with experts, regional Governments, the EU and US partners. The UK Government will make up their own mind.

 Lord Wright of Richmond

Lord Wright of Richmond (Crossbencher): My Lords, if press reports are correct, this review is being headed by Her Britannic Majesty’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Does this not put Sir John Jenkins in an extremely invidious position, given that the Government to whom he is accredited take every possible step, as the noble Baroness has said, to discredit and to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I cannot agree with the noble Lord, although he speaks with a great deal of authority. He will know that Sir John Jenkins has been asked to lead the review because he is one of our most senior diplomats, with extensive knowledge of the Arab world, and his role is to serve Her Majesty’s Government. He was not chosen because of his current role as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He is not working alone, and will draw on independent advice from other places.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour): My Lords, the Minister referred to a review, but the Prime Minister used the words “an investigation” or “an inquiry”, and there may be some difference. It would be helpful if we could have some information on that. Has he taken the opportunity to talk about this to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who always impresses your Lordships’ House with her knowledge of such issues?

Baroness Smith of Basildon

A report in the Financial Times says that a senior government figure reported on “tensions” between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Prime Minister’s Office on this, saying: “This cuts against what the FCO has already been doing in this area, both domestically and in the Middle East. It risks turning supporters of a moderate, non-violent organisation that campaigns for democracy into radicals”. Is there a tension at the heart of the Government, and is this a review or an investigation?

 Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Not at all, my Lords. My noble friend and I are at one on the issue.

Lord Elton (Conservative): My Lords, can my noble friend tell me and the House whether the ambassador will go on being an ambassador while he is also leading the inquiry, and if so, is there not a conflict of interest?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am sure that ways will be found whereby his duties as ambassador can be delegated where necessary. However, he has been appointed to that role as an ambassador, and will continue to undertake that role. I see no conflict of interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Wright, recognised, the diplomatic skills that Sir John Jenkins has are essential for a proper understanding of the situation.

 Lord West of Spithead

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many other reviews or investigations have been conducted in this manner into groups we have been concerned about? I cannot remember that we undertook any reviews or investigations in this manner of the groups that we were worried about during the three years that I was a Minister.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That was a decision for the previous Government. This Government have made up their own mind that they want to know more about the Muslim Brotherhood and its influence on politics and groups in this country. I hope that noble Lords will understand that this is a British review conducted by the British Government. I was asked earlier and did not give an answer—this is obviously an internal review for the Government themselves. However, it is expected that Sir John Jenkins and the group will want to make some of their findings public. Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords—

Lord Dykes (LD): As this is manifestly a sordid plot from Saudi Arabia, would it not be more interesting if HMG had conversations with the Saudi Government about allowing women to drive cars in that country?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That question is not worthy of my noble friend. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, was trying to get in, as I had named him.

Lord Wright of Richmond: With the permission of the House I wish to make a very brief remark. As a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, I would find it extremely difficult if anyone were to ask me to head this review.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: In answer to that, I can say only that I am very pleased that Sir John Jenkins has not found it so. I am sure that he will do an excellent job in the national interest.

[transcript from Hansard] 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

'Al-Mutanabbi Street: Seven Years On' event held at London's Arab British Centre

Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad

On the seventh anniversary of the car bomb that killed more than 60 people, wounded over 100 and destroyed around 50 bookshops in Baghdad's famous Al-Mutanabbi Street, people crowded into the meeting room of the Arab British Centre in central London yesterday to commemorate the 5 March 2007 attack.

The attack on Al-Mutanabbi Street was seen as an onslaught on the heart and soul of Baghdad’s cultural and intellectual community. The winding street - named after the great 10th century classical Arab poet Abu at-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi - is filled with bookshops and outdoor stalls and has for centuries been a meeting place for poets, political dissidents and literary aficionados.

(L to R) Barbara Schwepcke, Margaret Obank, Ghassan Fergiani

The audience heard from a panel of four London-based publishers and booksellers - Brian Whitaker, Margaret Obank, Barbara Schwepcke and Ghassan Fergiani - who discussed the wider relevance and symbolism of Al-Mutanabbi Street, and issues of freedom of expression and safeguarding literary heritage.

Two young actors, Syrian Ammar Haj Ahmad and Iraqi Dina Mousawi, give beautiful readings, in the Arabic original and in English translation respectively, of poems by the great Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef. The poems appear in the anthology Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi and published by PM Press. The poems included "Night in Hamadan", "April Stork" and "Solos on the Oud", all translated by the Libyan poet, scholar and translator Khaled Mattawa. Copies of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here were on sale at the event, and audience members were also able to pick up free copies of Banipal 37, which showcases Iraqi authors. Images of Al-Mutanabbi Street were projected onto the wall behind the panel throughout the event.

Dina Mousawi

The event, Seven Years On: Preserving Literary Heritage, was jointly hosted by Banipal Magazine and the Arab British Centre. It was one of tens of events held around the world on 5 March this year and in previous years following San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil's founding of the coalition Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, to speak out against the destruction of books and writing and people that day. The afternoon event at the Arab British Centre was followed by an Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here evening of poetry, film, drama and photography at UCL Archaeology Lecture Theatre, presented by Iraqi playwright, writer and scientist Hassan Abdulrazzak and Dr Alan Ingram.

Beau Beausoleil had expressed the importance of commemorating the anniversary of the bombing, saying he wanted to "dedicate the readings this year to the tens of thousands of 'disappeared' in Iraq". In this video he speaks compellingly about  Al-Mutanabbi Street and why as a poet and bookseller he felt the need to do something to respond to the attack through founding Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.

Brian Whitaker and Barbara Schwepcke

The audience included several Iraqis who spoke movingly on their memories of, and post-attack visits to, Al-Mutanabbi Street. Another contributor from the floor was soldier turned writer Adnan Sarwar, who was serving in the British Army in Basra at the time of the Al-Mutanabbi Street attack. His essay British Muslim Soldier won the Bodley Head/FT Essay Prize.

The panel was chaired by journalist Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor of the Guardian newspaper, author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian life in the Middle East and What's Really Wrong with the Middle East, and founder of the website Al-Bab: An open door to the Arab world.

Whitaker's co-panellists were  Margaret Obank, co-founder of Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature; Barbara Schwepcke, founder of Haus Publishing and the bookshop BookHaus; Ghassan Fergiani, founder of London-based Darf Publishers, Dar Fergiani in Libya, and three London bookshops including West End Lane Books and Queens Park Books. The event was introduced by Ruba Asfahani, Arab British Centre communications manager.

Brian Whitaker read part of a long article by the late American-Lebanese journalist and author Anthony Shadid "The Bookseller's Story, Ending Much Too Soon", published in the Washington Post on 12 March 2007 just a week after the attack on Al-Mutanabbi Street. The article appears in full in the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here anthology. In the article Shadid vividly recalls a visit he made to Al-Mutanabbi Street in summer 2003, and in particular he remembers the bookshop of Mohammed Hayawi and the contents of his bookshelves. They contained everything from books by communist poets and martyred clerics to a 44-volume tome by a revered Ayatollah. The bookseller, with whom  he struck up a friendship after that first 2003 meeting, was among those killed on 5 March 2007. Shadid's article was a tribute to Hayawi and what he represented, and to how "Al-Mutanabbi Street always seemed to tell a story of Iraq." In the months after the invasion the street revived into an intellectual free-for-all. 

Syrian actor Ammar Haj Ahmad 

Whitaker asked Fergiani about his experiences of being an Arab bookseller. Fergiani told of his memories of going to his father's bookshop in Tripoli during his childhood in Libya. "My father started his bookshops in the 1950s with a small collection of books. He was one of the first booksellers in Tripoli." The business grew to three bookshops, two for Arabic books and one for English language books, and Fergiani's father became a distributor, bringing books from Lebanon and Egypt. "But in 1978 that all ended when Gaddafi decided that the government would take over the importing of books and no one could own their own business. So they closed my father's shops down and took all the inventory."

Fergiani's father moved to London in 1979 and he started a new publishing company and opened a couple of bookshops. "When Gaddafi started opening up a little bit my father decided to go back, and he started with another bookshop and he had to buy back from the government all the books he published, all his inventory, back from the goverment to open a new bookshop. Now we are back to another three bookshops in London run by my family, my brothers and sister, and we started the publishing business again. I think our first 20 books are about the Libyan revolution, different aspects from people who lived it, and her in London we are starting a publishing venture again doing translated literature from Arab countries."

Margaret Obank said that literary heritage should be "preserved in a live way, and carried on for the next generation. Here we are bringing many strands together. The bookselling world, readers, publishers, performers to commemorate this terrible destruction on Al-Mutanabbi Street which was really an attempt to silence the freedom of voice of literature and of books." 

She said that when Banipal was founded in 1998, "one of the reasons we gave then was for the sheer joy and excitement of reading beautiful poetry and imaginative ." She had been delighted to find last year that a study had proved that reading literary fiction has intangible benefits to the reader such as increased empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. "We hope we're making a difference," she said. " the position of booksellers and literature in society is therefore absolutely fundamental to the development of that society. And we've also always though that literature reflects the heart and soul of a country's culture, its ideas and dreams.

The room adjacent to the Arab British Centre's meeting room is home to the Banipal Arab British Centre Library of Modern Arab Literature (BALMAL), and during the tea and biscuits session at the end of the event members of the audience were able to browse the library's books and find out how to become a member.

Obank explained that the library had begun  in 2008 after the Arab World was the Market Focus of the London Book Fair. The Banipal display at the LBF of works of Arabic literature translated to English became the nucleus of BALMAL. Banipal has a books database of  some 1100 translated works, of which around 620 titles are now in BALMAL."We are always looking for ways to increase the number. We don't have any funding for the library."  Among the 1000 or so Arab authors Banipal has published in the 16 years of its existence, there are more than 110 Iraqis.

Barbara Schwepcke emphasised the vital role of the bookseller. "As a  publisher who started his career as a bookseller used to always say, 'a book is only published when it's sold." That bookseller turned publisher was the late Werner Mark Linz, who was head of the American University in Cairo (AUC) Press. It was he who introduced her to Arabic literature some 10 years ago when he pressed a copy of a translation of Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz's novel Miramar into her hands when they were boarding a train from Cairo to Alexandria. "Next, he gave me Children of the Alley, and I was hooked." 

 the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here anthology

Schwepcke recalled how in November 2012 she arranged a meeting between Prince El-Hassan bin Talal and Mark Linz at the Book Haus in London to discuss a 10-year project of dialogues and publishing of 100 books in 10 categories, ranging from religion and philosophy to literature and arts to preserve and promote the genius of Arab civilisation. 

"Great minds, it is said, think alike," Schwepcke said. "What emerged from that meeting was a synthesis of the views underlying Prince El-Hassan's pioneering WANA Forum [West Asia - North Africa Forum] and Mark's original plan for an annual conference and papers as well as plans to publish the most distinguished scholars from the West Asian and North African region.

Schwepcke added that "by broadening the geographic sphere, these two men made sure the endeavour they conceived that day would be different from other publishing projects and avoid privileging one particular core national, ethnic, religious or linguistic group. Instead it would concentrate on shared values and concerns and include works from Turkey and Iran, as well as all the 'Stans'.

Schwepcke said that following Mark's sudden death on 9th February 2013, "I have decided to go ahead with the project, and to publish the books in Mark's memory. I hope to continue his work, building bridges across cultures, religious and language divides, both between but also within the Orient and Occident and thereby build a lasting memorial for the great publisher he was.

"Naguib Mahfouz once said, 'true death is forgetfulness'. And that is why days like this are so important," she concluded. 

Full details of The Gingko Library: A Library Dedicated to the Memory of Werner Mark Linz can be found here.
report and photographs by Susannah Tarbush

Monday, March 03, 2014

Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival 2014 announces programme

The final programme of the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival 2014, to be held in Asia House, London, from 6th - 21st May 2014, was announced in a press release today. The theme of this year's festival is Changing Values Across Asia.

Hanif Kureishi

Literary superstar (as the programme describes him) Hanif Kureishi launches the Festival on 6 May with a discussion on his new novel, The Last Word.

The Festival also features prize winning novelists Kamila Shamsie, Tash Aw and Romesh Gunesekera, award-winning BBC journalist John Sweeney, and debates on North Korea, Tiananmen 25 years on and changing sexual mores across Asia. Other highlights include an evening of British Asian humour, Vietnamese cookery at lunchtime and interactive events for families.

Now in its eighth year and with a new title sponsor, the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival is the only UK festival dedicated to pan-Asian writing.  It presents a mix of literary talks, performance, topical debate, humour, cookery, tai chi and interactive family events from renowned authors, performers and thinkers- home-grown and from across Asia. 

With a range of events covering more than 17 countries, the Festival this year includes authors writing about China, Japan, Malaysia, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, India, as well as Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Nepal, the Middle East, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Britain.

Warming up with three pre-festival events in April, Asia House will feature a session on China's changing values with Booker Prize long-listed author Tash Aw and Yiyun Li, author of Kinder than Solitude; Man Asia Prize winner Kyung-sook Shin, who joins fellow South Korean novelist Krys Lee and British Pakistani Qaisra Shahraz to debate the effect of political separations on their countries and their writing, at an event in partnership with the British Council/London Book Fair Korea Market Focus and Why do Indians Vote?, a wide-ranging discussion on the world's largest democracy and its upcoming election.

Continuing the 'Changing Values' theme into the main festival in May, acclaimed journalists and China experts Jonathan Mirsky, Michael Bristow and Jonathan Fenby explore China 25 years after Tiananmen; foreign correspondent Peter Popham, examines Burma two years after its milestone election, while Shereen el Feki (Sex and the Citadel) and Sally Howard (The Kama Sutra Diaries) take a serious but entertaining look at changing sexual mores in the Middle East, India and Pakistan.

On the fiction side, award-winning Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie introduces her hotly anticipated novel of friendship, injustice and love, A God in Every Stone. The best of Asian literature is further celebrated as new works by acclaimed Sri Lankan novelist Romesh Gunesekera, one of Granta's Best of Young British novelists Xiaolu Guo and Pakistani-born Roopa Farooki are previewed in a special showcase event ahead of publication. A new series, Extra Words will introduce debut authors from Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand.

Award-winning BBC reporter John Sweeney (North Korea Undercover) joins author of North Korea: State of Paranoia, Paul French to analyse the threat posed by that country, while historian John Keay introduces the first comprehensive history of South Asia as a whole with his new book Midnight's Descendants. Digital freedom in East Asia will be analysed with Thai blogger Giles Ji Ungpakorn and Anja Kovacs from the Internet Democracy Project in Delhi and others, in an event in partnership with English PEN.
Shazia Mirza

But not all events will focus on 'Changing Asian Values': some will be just for fun. Look out for lunchtime cookery with The Vietnamese Market Cookbook authors and Tai chi, Origami, Ninja Meerkats and poetry workshops for children. Joining forces with Penned in the Margins at Rich Mix in East London, the festival programme includes The Shroud, a two-man, miniature epic about loss, time and the things that connect us, with Siddhartha Bose and Avaes Mohammed. British Asian humour will be hotly debated by a panel including journalist Sathnam Sanghera, BBC head of comedy Saurabh Kakkar, comedian Shazia Mirza and writer producer of hit TV shows Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars at Number 42, The Office and Citizen Khan, Anil Gupta. The author of Packing Up: Further Adventures of a Trailing Spouse, Brigid Keenan takes us on a wildly funny tour through her life in Kazakstan, Azerbaijan and Palestine.

In addition to events at Asia House, the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival this year extends its youth engagement programmes with two-day writing workshops and author visits in 6 London area schools and 6 others across Newham, Manchester, Leicester and Birmingham aiming to reach 300+ students. There is a student writing competition with the top five students winning a day of mentoring with writing, publishing and communications professionals.

Monday, February 10, 2014

International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2014 shortlist announced

IPAF 2014 shortlisted titles

Moroccan writers Youssef Fadel and Abdelrahim Lahbibi, Iraqi novelists Inaam Kachachi and Ahmed Saadawi, Syrian author Khaled Khalifa, and Egyptian Ahmed Mourad were today announced as the six authors shortlisted for the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, often known as the Arabic Booker).

IPAF is worth a total of $60,000 to the winner - the $50,000 prize itself, plus the $10,000 that goes to each of the six shortlistees. In addition, IPAF guarantees English translation for the winner.

Youssef Fadel is shortlisted for A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me (Dar al-Adab), Abdelrahim Lahbibi for The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya (Africa East), Inaam Kachachi for Tashari (Dar al-Jadid), Ahmed Saadawi for Frankenstein in Baghdad (Al-Jamal), Khaled Khalifa for No Knives in this City’s Kitchens (Dar al-Ain) and Ahmed Mourad for The Blue Elephant (Dar al-Shorouq). Khalifa's No Knives in this City's Kitchens won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in December.

This year's stories "are wide-ranging in both subject matter and style," a statement from IPAF says. "They include a prison novel from Morocco; a story about one family’s dispersal around the globe, from 1950s Iraq to the modern day; a police hunt for an Iraqi Frankenstein terrorising Baghdad; one man’s search for knowledge as he travels around North Africa and the Middle East; the grim reality of one family’s struggle to survive in present day Aleppo, and a psychological thriller played out in a psychiatric hospital in Cairo."

The shortlist was chosen from a longlist of 16, announced in January. The longlist included only two women: in addition to Inaam Kachachi there was Saudi writer Badryah El-Bishr (longlisted for Love Stories on al-Asha Street).

Inaam Kachachi

Some of the best-known Arab novelists failed to make the jump from longlist to shortlist; they include  Egyptian Ibrahim Abdelmeguid (longlisted for Clouds Over Alexandria), Sudanese Amir Tag Elsir (366), Algerian Waciny Laredj (Ashes of the East: The Wolf who Grew Up in the Wilderness) and Jordanian-Palestinian Ibrahim Nasrallah (The Edge of the Abyss).

There will be disappointment in Kuwait that after the winning of last year's Prize by the Kuwaiti writer Saud Alsanousi for The Bamboo Stalk - the first time a Kuwaiti novelist had been longlisted, let alone won - the pioneering Kuwaiti novelist Fahd Ismail - 74 this year - did not make the shortlist with his longlisted novel  Phoenix and the Faithful Friend

There were 156 entries for the Prize from 18 countries; all the entrants were published within the last 12 months. The IPAF 2014 winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on 29 April 2014, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The Prize was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the TCA (Tourism and Culture Authority) Abu Dhabi.

 Saad A Albazei

The shortlist, and the identities of the IPAF 2014 judges, were disclosed  at a press conference held today at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in Amman, Jordan. The chair of the judges, Saudi academic and critic Saad A. Albazei, said: ‘This year’s longlist was full of excellent books – a reflection of the overall quality of Arabic fiction published this year – so it was a real challenge to whittle the list down to just six. The shortlisted novels are varied in their narrative styles and language: from discovering virtual reality to the mingling of fantasy and reality, they also include classical language and multiple narrative voices and demonstrate the Arabic novel's ability to flower despite the harsh realities of daily life.’

Professor Yasir Suleiman

Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the IPAF Board of Trustees, comments: "This year's shortlist includes a rich selection of outstanding novels, in which subject, narrative style and atmosphere are dominated by current fragmented reality and human suffering. There are new voices in the list who are reaching this stage in the prize for the first time and more experienced ones who have been there before. Despite their differences, they all have in common humanitarian concerns and masterful storytelling, gripping and enthralling the reader."

Albazei is joined on the judging panel by Libyan journalist, novelist and playwright Ahmed Alfaitouri; Moroccan academic, critic and novelist Zhor Gourram; Iraqi academic and critic Abdullah Ibrahim, and Turkish academic Mehmet Hakki Suçin who specialises in the teaching of the Arabic language and the translation of Arabic literature into Turkish.

The shortlist includes two shortlistees from earlier years: Inaam Kachachi (The American Granddaughter, 2009) and Khaled Khalifa (In Praise of Hatred, 2008).  Shortlistee Ahmed Saadawi has a previous connection to IPAF, through his participation in the 2012 IPAF Nadwa under the tutelage of fellow-shortlistee Inaam Kachachi, and Sudanese Amir Tag Elsir (the latter was shortlisted in 2011 for The Grub Hunter). The Nadwa, held in Abu Dhabi annually since November 2009, is aimed at emerging Arab writers. 

The IPAF 2014 shortlist press release issued by PR consultancy Four Colman Getty includes the following biographies and novel synopses:
Youssef Fadel

Youssef Fadel is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1949. During the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco, he was imprisoned in the notorious Moulay al-Sheriff prison (1974-75). He has published a number of plays and novels. His first play, The Barber in the Poor District, was made into a film directed by Mohamed al-Rakab in 1982. His novel Hashish (2000) won the Grand Atlas Prize, organised by the Embassy of France in Morocco, in 2001. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me (2013) is his ninth novel.

A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me

A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me - Aziz is a pilot at the air force base who loves flying and forgets his cares when he is up in the air. It is flying that he thinks of on his wedding night, rather his 16 year-old bride, Zina, waiting in the adjoining room. The following morning he leaves his house at the crack of dawn, not to return for 18 years. His wife, Zina, looks for him everywhere - in prisons, offices, cities and forests – asking questions and following false leads, only to be disappointed. However, one day – in the bar where she and her sister Khatima work – a stranger presses a scrap of paper into her pocket. It takes her on one last journey in search of her husband: to the Kasbah of al-Glaoui in southern Morocco, where Aziz crouches in a prison cell, having lost hope of ever being found. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me is a fictional testament to the terrible period of Moroccan history known as 'the years of cinders and lead'.

Inaam Kachachi was born in Baghdad in 1952, and studied journalism at Baghdad University. She worked in the Iraqi media before moving to Paris to complete a PhD at The Sorbonne. She is currently the Paris correspondent for the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and Kol Al-Usra magazine in Sharjah, UAE. Kachachi has published a biography in Arabic, Lorna, about the British journalist Lorna Hales, who was married to the famous pioneering Iraqi sculptor Jawad Salim, and a book in French about Iraqi women's literature produced in times of war and hardship. She produced and directed a documentary about Naziha Al-Dulaimi, the first woman to become government minister in an Arab country, in 1959. Her first novel, Heart Springs, was published in 2005 and her second novel, The American Granddaughter (2008), was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009 and has subsequently been translated into English, French and Chinese.

Tashari deals with the tragedy of Iraqi displacement of the past few decades, through the life story of a female doctor working in the countryside in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The narrative also follows her three children, who now live in three different continents, particularly her eldest daughter who has also become a doctor and works in a remote region of Canada. The title of the novel, Tashari, is an Iraqi word referring to a shot from a hunting rifle which is scattered in several directions. Iraqis use it as a symbol of loss and being dispersed across the globe. As a way of combating the dispersal of his own family, one of the characters, Alexander, constructs a virtual graveyard online, where he buries the family dead and allots to each person scattered across the globe his/her own personal plot.
 Khaled Khalifa

Khaled Khalifa was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1964 and holds a BA in Law from Aleppo University. He has written many successful screenplays for TV series, as well as for the cinema. He is also a regular contributor to a number of Arabic newspapers. His third novel, In Praise of Hatred (2006), was shortlisted for IPAF in 2008, and longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013. It has been translated into several languages.
No Knives in this City's Kitchens

No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a profound exploration of the mechanics of fear and disintegration over half a century. Through the story of one Syrian family, it depicts a society living under tyranny with stifled aspirations. The family realise that all their dreams have died and turned into rubble, just as the corpse of their mother has become waste material they must dispose of in order to continue living. Written with shocking perception and exquisite language, from the very beginning this novel makes its readers ask fundamental questions and shows how regimes can destroy Arab societies, plundering lives and wrecking dreams. Khaled Khalifa writes about everything which is taboo in Arab life, with a particular focus on Syria. No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a novel about grief, fear and the death of humanity.

 Abdelrahim Lahbibi

Abdelrahim Lahbibi is a Moroccan novelist, born in Safi, Morocco in 1950. He left Safi for Fez in 1967, where he obtained a BA in Arabic Language from the College of Arts and Human Sciences in 1970. He worked as a teacher of Arabic language and literature in secondary education from 1970-1982 and as a school inspector and curriculum co-ordinator from 1984 onwards. He has published three novels: Bread, Hashsish and Fish (2008), The Best of Luck (2010) and The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya (2013).
The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya

The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya A researcher stumbles across a manuscript and attempts to edit it, to make it into a doctoral thesis. Entitled The Journeys of 'Abdi, the manuscript is an account of one man’s journeys from Morocco to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia in search of knowledge, written in the manner of Moroccan intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun. ’Abdi’s journey turns into an examination of Arabic and Muslim society, with ’Abdi emphasising the need for Arabs to learn from Europe in order to achieve social progress. Split into two, The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya follows both ’Abdi’s search for knowledge as well as the narrator’s attempts to edit his manuscript.
 Ahmed Mourad

Ahmed Mourad was born in Cairo in 1978. He studied cinematography at the Higher Institute for Cinema in Cairo, graduating in 2001. His graduation films The Wanderers, Three Papers, and On the Seventh Day won prizes for short film at festivals in the UK, France and Ukraine. His first novel, Vertigo, appeared in 2007, before being translated into English, Italian and French and made into a television series broadcast in Ramadan 2012. In 2010, Mourad published his second novel Diamond Dust, which was translated into Italian, followed by The Blue Elephant, in October 2012.

The Blue Elephant

The Blue Elephant After five years of self-imposed isolation, Doctor Yahya returns to work at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Cairo, where there is a surprise in store for him. In ‘West 8’, the department in charge of determining the mental health of patients who have committed crimes, he meets an old friend who reminds him of a past he is desperately trying to forget. Suddenly finding his friend's fate in his hands, Yahya's life is turned upside down, with one shocking turn of events following another. What begins as an attempt to find out the true mental condition of his friend becomes an enthralling journey to discover himself, or what is left of him.

 Ahmed Saadawi

Ahmed Saadawi is an Iraqi novelist, poet and screenwriter, born in 1973 in Baghdad, where he works as a documentary film maker. He is the author of a volume of poetry, Festival of Bad Songs (2000), and three novels, The Beautiful Country (2004), He Dreams or Plays or Dies (2008) and Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013). He has won several prizes and in 2010 was selected for the Beirut39 Festival, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40. He took part in the annual IPAF ‘Nadwa’, or literary workshop for promising young writers, in 2012.

Frankenstein in Baghdad

Frankenstein in Baghdad Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi calls it ‘the-what's-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body. As well as following Frankenstein’s story, Frankenstein in Baghdad follows a number of connected characters, such as General Surur Majid of the Department of Investigation, who is responsible for pursuing the mysterious criminal and Mahmoud al-Sawadi, a young journalist who gets the chance to interview Frankenstein. Frankenstein in Baghdad offers a panoramic view of a city where people live in fear of the unknown, unable to act in solidarity, haunted by the unknown identity of the criminal who targets them all.

One of IPAF's main aims is to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction. It has guaranteed English translations for all its winners. Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher’s IPAF winner in 2008 - the Prize's inaugural year - Sunset Oasis was published in English by the Hodder and Stoughton imprint Sceptre in 2009 and has been translated into at least eight languages worldwide. Eygptian Youssef Ziedan’s 2009 winner Azazeel was published in the UK by Atlantic Books in April 2012. 

English translations of the Saudi writer Abdo Khal and the Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari’s winning novels (in 2010 and 2011 respectively) Throwing Sparks and The Arch and the Butterfly are due this Spring from Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP). 

The English translation of Raja Alem's joint 2011 winner The Doves' Necklace is to be published by Gerald Duckworth and Co in the UK, and Overlook Press in the US. The publication date is understood to have been postponed from autumn 2014 as Adam Talib and Katharine Halls are still jointly working on the translation. 

Biographies of the IPAF 2014 Judging Panel:

Saad A. Albazei (Chair of Judges) is a Saudi Arabian critic. He earned his B.A. in English language and literature from the University of Riyadh (now King Saud University) in 1974 and went on to obtain a doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Purdue University in the USA. He currently works as a member of the Saudi Arabian Shura Council, having been a lecturer at the King Saud University in Riyadh for 30 years. He has published a number of books on Arabic Literature including studies of fiction, poetry, literary theory, terminology and contemporary thought. His book Languages of Poetry: Poems and Readings won the Book of the Year Prize of 2011, awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Information. He edited the Global Arabic Encyclopaedia in 30 volumes.

Ahmed Alfaitouri

Ahmed Alfaitouri is a journalist and writer, born in Benghazi in 1955. He is currently the owner and editor-in-chief of al-Mayadin, a Benghazi weekly newspaper first published in 2011. His career in journalism began in 1973, when he co-founded the Al-Ahli Theatre group and was the editor of its magazine, al-Ra'id. He went on to establish and edit the cultural page of al-Fajr al-Jadid newspaper – entitled Cultural Horizons - Writings of Young Authors - from 1976-77, and in 1978 became editor-in-chief of The Cultural Week, the first weekly Arab newspaper specialising in culture. He spent ten years (1978-1988) as a political prisoner; while in prison, he worked on the seasonal publication of al-Nawafir (Fountains) magazine, written by all the inmates on cigarette papers and produced as a single copy which they could all read. In 1990, he co-founded No magazine, editing several editions as well as contributing anonymous articles. He has published six books including novels, a play and a number of critical works.

Zhor Gourram is a Moroccan novelist, critic and academic. She holds a state doctorate in the analysis of narrative discourse. She is Professor of Higher Education at the Ibn Tofeil University in Kenitra, Morocco, where she is also head of the research laboratory for language, creativity and new media and a director of academic projects and PHD research units. She has previously judged both the Owais Award and the Moroccan Book Prize, awarded by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, as well as a number of other prizes. She is on the academic advisory boards of numerous Moroccan and Arab journals and is a member of reading committees for several Arab publishers. She has organised Arab and international conferences and events. She was awarded the Royal Sash (for National Merit) at the Casablanca Book Fair in 2012, chosen from a list of 14 candidates from Moroccan and overseas.

Abdullah Ibrahim is an Iraqi academic and critic specialising in narrative and cultural studies. Born in Kirkuk in 1957, he obtained a doctorate in Arabic Literature from the University of Baghdad’s College of Arts in 1991 and from 1991-2003 worked as a Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies in universities in Iraq, Libya and Qatar. From 2003 -2010, he was the coordinator of the International Qatar Prize. He currently works as cultural consultant to the Qatari royal court in Doha. He has published 23 books and is a contributor to the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. He has won several prizes, including the Shoman Award for Arab Researchers (1997), the Sheikh Zayed Prize for Critical Studies (2013) and the International King Faisal Prize (2014).

 Mehmet Hakký Suçin

Mehmet Hakký Suçin is a Turkish academic, translator and Arabist. He is the Director of the Arabic Language Department at Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey. He holds an MA in Arabic literature and a doctorate in Arabic-Turkish translation. He was head of the committee responsible for preparing the current Arabic language curriculum in Turkey and the curriculum for non-native speakers of Arabic in Europe. In 2006, he worked as visiting fellow at The Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies, University of Manchester. He also runs annual workshops in Istanbul on literary translation between Arabic and Turkish. Amongst others, he has published translations of works by Elia Abu Madi, Gibran Khalil Gibran, Youssef al-Khal, Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati, Muhammad al-Maghut, Mahmoud Darwish, Adonis, Ahmad al-Shahawi. His studies focus on Arabic literature, translation studies, teaching Arabic to non-native speakers, and creative drama. Among his published works are: To Be in Another Language: Equivalence in Translation between Arabic and Turkish, 2013; Translation into Arabic: Past and Present, 2012; Active Arabic, 2008; Turkish Grammar for Non-Native Speakers, 2003.
 report prepared by Susannah Tarbush

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Wasif Jawhariyyeh's memoir 'The Storyteller of Jerusalem' launched in London

launch reflected the spirit of a unique Palestinian musician and chronicler
report and photos by Susannah Tarbush

The launch of The Storyteller of Jerusalem: The Life and Times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh 1904-1948  at the Mosaic Rooms in London had an atmosphere that suited perfectly the book's subject. There was music-making and readings from the book, Arab food, drink and laughter. But there were also bittersweet memories, and sadness over what the Palestinians have lost.

Wasif Jawhariyyeh was an extraordinary musician, singer and civil servant who was born in Jerusalem in 1897. His lawyer father, Jiryis Jawhariyyeh, was the mukhtar (communal leader) of the Eastern Orthodox community in the Old City, and was a member of Jerusalem's municipal council under the mayoralty of Salim al-Husseini and Faidy al-Alami.

Wasif lived in Jerusalem until 1948 when, like many other Palestinians, he was forced during the establishing of the state of Israel to leave his home. He died in exile in Beirut in 1972. He wrote detailed and copious memoirs covering 60 years, giving a unique and immensely rich account of artistic, social and political life in Jerusalem and wider Palestine, and then of his exile. 

The Storyteller of Jerusalem is an edited version of Wasif Jawhariyyeh's memoirs in English translation. It is published by Olive Branch Press, an imprint of Interlink Books of Northampton, Massachusetts. The 44 year time frame of the edited  memoirs span the Ottoman era and the British mandate period, culminating in the 1948 Nakba.

The original handwritten memoirs are archived as Books I, II and III at the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS) in Ramallah.  They were first published in Arabic by IPS in Beirut in 2003: Volume I covers Ottoman Jerusalem 1904-17, and Volume II British Mandate Jerusalem, 1918-48.

The live music at the Mosaic Rooms launch came thanks to Interlink's Palestinian founder, publisher and editor Michel Moushabeck who as well as being a publisher is a performer and promoter of Arab music. He currently plays tabla, riqq and daff in the Massachusetts-based  Layaali Arabic Music Ensemble of which he is a founding member. His recording credits include two albums  made by the group Anatolia, in which he played percussion: Lost Songs of Palestine and Folk Songs and Dance Music of Turkey and the Arab World.

The music at the launch was performed by an informal ensemble put together for the occasion: Moushabeck on percussion, singer Maria Lopez da Cunha, Kuwaiti violinist Ahmed Al Salhi, oud player Professor Rachel Beckles Willson, and qanun player Professor Martin Stokes. Moushabeck said he had met them all the previous night "and we had a short rehearsal yesterday evening at Rachel's house." 

  Michel Moushabeck

The songs were interspersed with readings from The Storyteller of Jerusalem by the film, TV and radio actor Philip Arditti. The extracts from his memoirs read by Arditti, in a delightfully expressive and intimate manner, were riveting, entertaining and deeply informative.

The Storyteller of Jerusalem was edited by professor of sociology at Birzeit University Salim Tamari, and associate professor of history at Illinois State University, Issam Nassar, coeditors of Jerusalem Quarterly.  Each contributes an introduction to the book: Tamari's is on on "Wasif Jawhariyyeh's Jersalem" and Nassar's on "From Ottomans to Arabs".

The book was translated from Arabic to English by Nada Elzeer, who has a doctorate from Durham University and is now senior lector in Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

The book's foreword is by  Rachel Beckles Willson, professor of music at Royal Holloway, University of London, and director of the Humanities and Arts Centre there. She is the author of three books, most recently Orientalism and Musical Mission: Palestine and the West.

 (L to R)Philip Arditti, Rachel Beckles Willson, Ahmed Al Salhi, Maria Lopez da Cunha

In her introductory comments at the launch Beckles Willson said that while researching for her book on Palestine, with its specific interest in the way in which Americans and Europeans introduced Western classical music to the region, "I realised that these memoirs, although I didn't read Arabic, were absolutely crucial to my work."

She looked for someone who could help her with understanding them and after some time found Nada Elzeer. "Initially I commissioned Nada to translate parts of the memoirs that were helpful for my own research and from them I learned such a new perspective on the region, something completely different from what had been available to me in English and German language sources which were almost all I had available at that time." The memoirs were "a complete treasure trove".

She subsequently met in Ramallah Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar, who had produced the Arabic published version of the memoirs. They told her that they had for some time wanted to produce an English version. She showed them the text that she had already had translated by Nada, and they wanted to use that as the basis for expansion. "That's what they then did, and we were very fortunate that Michel Moushabeck, the publisher of the book - who founded and directs Interlink and who edited this final volume - was able to take on the project."

Moushabeck told the audience that his 27-year-old publishing house specialises in literature in translation: "We do a lot of Arabic fiction in translation, we do a lot of world history, cultural guides as well as award-winning international cookbooks that really keep Interlink alive and well, and allow us to publish important works that we otherwise would never get published." (A recent Interlink cookery title is Sarah al-Hamad's impressive Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee: Date Desserts from Everywhere).

a witness to four regimes and five wars

Moushabeck, whose family is originally from Jerusalem, said The Storyteller of Jerusalem is very dear to his heart. "I knew Wasif as a young child and he left a very deep impression on me." The memoir is  "really the only book that I know of that truly captures the social life, and in particular Palestinian urban life in Jerusalem during this period of really enormously turbulent times. Wasif Jawhariyyeh witnessed four regimes - Ottoman, British, Jordanian, Israeli - and five wars. He was truly a remarkable man."

Wasif's memoirs are "a collection of anecdotes, observations and writings  about the people, the social life,  the culture, festivities, the history of Jerusalem. Wasif was an accomplished oud player,
 a music lover, a historian, a storyteller, a churchgoer and a full-time partygoer, and he truly was a hard-core Jerusalemite. He loved Jerusalem, everyone in Jerusalem loved him, and he really was one of the funniest people I have ever met.

"What makes this volume remarkable is that it not only tells you about the first half of the twentieth century, but he quotes from his father's memoirs as well, written in the first half of the nineteenth century."

One important aspect of the memoir is that "he really undermines the notion of a sectarian, backward city of Jerusalem at that time. According to the British it was divided into four quarters - the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter and the Armenian quarter. And the British would have you believe there was no real interaction - that it was a very religiously conservative city and there was no interaction between the people - but that is really false.

 Philip Arditti

"Jerusalem was made up of 26 different neighbourhoods and people moved, people mixed, people socialised, people interacted, and they went to each other's celebrations, and festivities. One big celebration that became a sort of national celebration was the Sabt al Noor on the Saturday before the Easter Sunday celebration: a lot of Muslims and Christians and Jews would party in the streets, and go to a procession, and end up drinking lots of wine and arak and getting drunk together. So it really gives you a totally different impression than what we hear in the news

Moushabeck stressed the important relationship between the Jawhariyyeh family and the Al-Husseini family, the most prominent Palestinian family at the time. When Hajj Salim al-Husseini became mayor of Jerusalem Wasif's father was the legal adviser to the Husseinis and took care of their estates of, the Husseini family.

Hajj Salim's son Hussein Hasham al-Husseini became mayor later on, and when Wasif's father passed away, he "kind of adopted Wasif as a son and Wasif became very loyal to him and his family. The family always looked after Wasif; they always made sure he had some kind of civil service job where it allowed him plenty of time to play music." 

Jawhariyyeh was a witness to the modernisation of Jerusalem and how this changed people's lives. "In the past they lived inside the walls, they couldn't manoeuvre a lot and then first gas came with the Ottomans, later on electricity was introduced. Electricity allowed people, Palestinians - Jews, Christians, Muslims - to get out of those quarters that were religious quarters and go outside the bounds of the city walls. They established neighbourhoods that tended to be based on class rather than religion. And then there was also intermingling between the different religions in the city of Jerusalem."

Wasif also witnessed the arrival of the automobile, radio, and phonograph. "They used to go down to the cafe and listen to music that was coming from Egypt, and they were introduced to a lot of musicians that they hadn't heard before. The phonograph was an amazing thing. Wasif's neighbours got a phonograph, Wasif heard about it and they would gather every night and listen to all this music.

"This introduced Wasif to a lot of music, and in particular the music of Salama Higazi who was a famous Egyptian muezzin at the time and also a great singer. When Hussein Hashm al Husseini became mayor of Jerusalem he brought Salama Higazi to Jerusalem, in summer 1908, and put up the largest tent in the city for the performance of a play as well as some music by this very famous Egyptian musician." Wasif cherished the memory of being taken to meet Salama Higazi by al-Husseini, and of kissing the great musician's hand.

 (L to R)Rachel Beckles Willson, Ahmed Al Salhi, Maria Lopez da Cunha, Martin Stokes, Michel Moushabeck

Moushabeck recounted how, after Wasif became an exile in Beirut, "my father used to take me to his house on a regular basis. I must have been seven or eight years old. My father was so proud of me, he wanted to show Wasif the big Palestinian composer and musician that his son could also play music. He really embarrassed me when he asked me to play the harmonica for Wasif and he asked me to play what I had been practising."

To the amusement of the Mosaic Rooms audience, Moushabeck proceeded to take a harmonica out of  his pocket to play the tune he played to Wasif , the American song Oh Susanna.

"Wasif said bravo, bravo, but I want you to come back next week and play it faster. So I went home and every day I practised and I practised and came back a week later. Wasif said' bravo, bravo - now put that thing away. You come with me.' And he took me to the living room and he sat me there and he said I want you to close your eyes. He took his oud and started playing some amazing taqasim and I was mesmerised from that moment on.

"He knew that I was going to visit my grandfather in Jerusalem just before the 1967 war and he said 'when you go there I want you to listen when you walk in the streets, listen with your ears and your eyes'. And it's true: when I went for a walk with my grandfather down the streets of the Old City, music is all around you, you hear the muezzin's call to prayer juxtaposed against church bells ringing, you hear vendors in the streets yelling praises about cucumbers as small as ladies' fingers, or prickly pears that melted in your mouth, or you hear transistor radios blasting music from window sills, and you see young kids thumping their feet practising dubke on street corners.

"But the one person who had more effect on me musically than anybody else was the juice vendor. And the juice vendor goes from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and he plays intricate rhythmic patterns on cups and saucers to alert people that he is in the neighbourhood to come down and buy some juice from him. And I would sit on the street corners and my eye would be fixated on that juice vendor's hands playing intricate patterns on the cups and saucers and I went back to my grandfather's house and I picked up some cups and saucers and ended up breaking up half the china. And ended up with a spanking.  And that was the very last evening I saw my grandparents and the very last time I was in Jerusalem."

'like translating an Arab conversation in a room filled with smoke and humour'

The book's translator said: "For me the book has a major strength which is the fact that compared to other books or resources that you might find on the history of Palestine this one does not seem to have been written for publication. My impression is not that he sought to publish it or that he was writing to publish it. He wrote I think a few thousand pages and in the introduction he makes it clear that it is his realisation of how important and significant events he witnessed were that prompted him to write the book. And he dedicates it to his son Jiryis and hopes that he could use it to  know everything about the life of his father and family and the city of Jerusalem which he calls the home of the Jawhariyyeh family. And from that point you know he's not writing to make a political point and you can automatically trust him more.

"You can look forward to reading an account of events that he's writing or is telling as he would tell them to his son, not as he would tell them to an audience and that of course has its implication on the style. For me it is obviously a big privilege for me that I was able to translate this book and bring it to an English audience. But stylistically the challenge was immense: it's like translating an Arab conversation on a Friday evening in a room filled with smoke and humour and where you know where the conversation starts but you don't know what happens after that.

"But this is the kind of conversation that one tends to trust without questioning the intentions of the author, and on a thorny subject like Palestine and what happened there in the sensitive historic period this book talks about. I think its exceptional that we have a resource like that, hat was not written for an audience but more for the family's sake. And if you read the entire thing - maybe that's not clear in the English - there are a lot of private things and stories that you would really only tell to your son, you wouldn't want to share them with the wide audience about his private life.

The other strong point, Elzeer said, is that the memoir  "was written over a very long period  of time and that's also very exceptional as a source on Palestine because it gives you this very unique opportunity to observe how the narrative changed from early on in the Ottoman times, where  he was unsuspecting,  he was looking forward to the British winning the war. There are lots of accounts in the book where he's actually rejoicing after every Ottoman defeat in the war, and he's actually looking forward to it. And then you can see him looking a bit confused and then in the end of course the tone changes completely after 1948. This is quite unique, that you can actually see these feelings change. And if you consider him as a specimen of the Palestinians that can also represent how they all must have felt as the political situation developed."

Elzeer was struck "by the amount of good faith and goodwill that he shows when talking about events which nowadays Arabs could only be outraged when remembering. For example there is this chapter where  he talks about the day - 9 December 1917 - which is the day that the Brits entered Jerusalem. And he refers to that as 'this fortunate moment saw the end of Ottoman rule and of the tyranny and despotism that had prevailed,  particularly from 1914 to 1917.' There is  no way to tell if he edited what he wrote later or not, whether he wrote that when he was still unsuspecting and then edited that later. He does in the same paragraph say had he known then what he now knows, he wouldn't have rejoiced so much, he wouldn't have danced in the streets as he did.

"But again this is something I found very striking, there is this emotional confusion, he is able to talk very positively of what happened of the British taking over of Palestine. And then there will always be at the end of the same paragraph a bitter note as to oh, had we  known we would have thought differently. And he does that not only when he relates political events but also when he's talking about political figures.

"He's the man who's been everywhere, met everyone, and wrote it all down, and because he was working as a civil servant at the governorate at the time he had the chance to work under the most senior officials of the  British  mandate, and that includes Sir Ronald Storrs whom he had direct contact. And again, that is something unthinkable nowadays, that someone could talk about these figures so positively despite  how things turned out.

"It is striking for example that when talking about Ronald Storrs he acknowledges all his personal qualities but at some points he does write of his having been instrumental in the fulfilment of the Zionist dream. But that doesn't stop him talking about him almost fondly when relating personal events involving the two of them and it doesn't stop him from recognising his qualities as a person. In fact he does say that Storrs has taken wonderful stances towards Arabs on many occasions. And that's another attitude that I would find unthinkable today, you just cannot find an Arab who would talk about an occupying power with the same honesty that Wasif does, bearing everything in mind and representing things as they are. And again, in reporting on British policy in general he is able to do it, he doesn't just do it for individuals because he knew them personally or got to be their friends.

She said that one of the reasons the memoir is so emotionally charged is that "Wasif's good faith and goodwill makes you really feel sorry for these people who did not suspect any of this and you will read the stories of villages when  he was a child and went on trips to many Palestinian villages with his father - but if you look these villages up now you will find they are all gone, they were razed at some point or another. It's even more difficult to read about that because Wasif doesn't mention it, he just talks with all goodwill about how things were.

"If you read particularly the Ottoman section another striking thing is how he reports about social life at the time and how they used to party at the homes of Jewish friends. And there's this long section where the word Jewish is only ever mentioned as a pure detail with no comment made about it, just saying Jewish like it might say someone else is Muslim. And you can see that changing, particularly in relation to music, as the book progresses. He starts becoming more suspecting when it comes to music, how he was happy to hear them singing in Arabic and not being able to pronouunce it, and being very amused by  it. And then later on things start changing and that's also a very sad thing when you think this was 60, 70 years ago and it just feels it was much longer period of thing than it actually is. That's the saddest thing about this book."