Saturday, October 15, 2011

interview with Libyan writer Mohamed Mesrati

An interview with the Libyan writer Mohamed Mesrati
"The only thing I’m in life for is to be a writer."

Mesrati at the London Book Fair seminar 'The Hidden Face of Libyan Fiction'

Around five years ago the London-based Iraqi writer and journalist Samuel Shimon – founder of the Arabic literary website Kikah.com and cofounder of Banipal magazine – received by e-mail a short story from a then unknown Libyan writer named Mohamed Mesrati living in the northern English city of Manchester

Shimon found Mesrati’s short story “fantastic”, and had no hesitation in publishing it in a prominent position on Kikah. He asked Mesrati to send him more stories, and said he might arrange for some to be translated into English and published in Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature of which Shimon is now editor.

Shimon also asked Mesrati to send him a photograph of himself, and recalls his astonishment when a picture of “a young boy” arrived. He asked Mesrati how old he was: “Sixteen” came the answer.

Mesrati, who turned 21 in July, has amply lived up to this early promise. He has had a succession of stories published in Kikah and an array of other online publications and websites, in al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, and on his own blog Merciapide. Shimon praises both the story-telling skills and style of Misrati’s “really beautiful short stories”. And unlike those of some other Arab writers, Mesrati’s stories need virtually no editing when submitted for publication. Shimon thinks Mesrati has benefitted from his wide reading, including of English-language writers, and other writers in English translation.

The prominent Libyan short-story writer and translator Omar al-Kikli names Mesrati as one of the nine Libyan short-story writers “who have gained most prominence in the first decade of the new century”. Al-Kikli made his comment in an essay on the Libyan short story, published in Banipal’s first-ever special feature on Libyan fiction – published, fortuitously, not long after the Libyan uprising erupted in mid-February.

The 135-page special feature includes an excerpt from Mesrati’s novel-in-progress Mama Pizza, translated into English by Leri Price. Rich in comic touches, the novel has an 18-year-old first-person narrator and is set among Libyan fast-food workers and menu deliverers in the town of Runcorn, near the north-west English port of Liverpool. The excerpt features a Libyan leftist “pizza-making veteran and professional menu deliverer” named Ali Guevara.

Mesrati’s novel enters new territory for Anglo-Libyan and Anglo-Arab fiction: that of Libyan and other Arab refugees and workers struggling to get by in a northern English town, seen from the perspective of a teenage Libyan worker.

Mesrati is a writer from the Arab Spring’s Facebook Generation we hear so much about, eager and restless for change. He is an engaging, funny, outspoken character, playful and erudite. His Twitter profile reads: ‘Writer, journalist, blogger, and REBEL!’ His tweets have recently included irreverent observations on the new political players in Libya.

Mesrati has had a high profile as a writer during the Libyan revolution. He is one of four Libyan fiction writers based in the UK who have been much in demand for conferences, broadcasts, interviews and articles. They were the panellists at the London Book Fair’s groundbreaking ‘The Hidden Face of Libyan Fiction’ seminars in April. The other three writers are prizewinning novelist Hisham Matar, the short-story writer Giuma Bukleb (born in 1952 and imprisoned with other writers in Libya for ten years from the late 1970s), and the short-story writer, surgeon, essayist and prizewinning blogger and podcaster Ghazi Gheblawi.

with Samuel Shimon at the London Book Fair seminar

Is it possible to sum up how the past eight months have been for you, as a Libyan and as a writer? Did you think the revolution would turn out the way it has?
It has been a strange eight months. From the beginning of the uprising in Tunisia, followed by the Egyptian uprising, and then the Libyan, I was all the time wondering if Libyans would make it one day and bring Gaddafi down. I had a big question mark in my mind as did most Libyan intellectuals. I was following many Libyans who were writing and preparing for February 17th as the day of the Libyan revolution, and I was wondering how it would be.

In fact, Libya is not Egypt, nor Tunisia; Gaddafi killed our history and our identity - our flag, street names, national anthem. That was horrible, but it was amazing when we finally saw the independence flag waving over Benghazi in the protests. When I was at school we were taught that our history started from 1969, that we just had Italian colonisation and then Gaddafi came in 1969. Before I came to Britain in 2005, I didn’t know that there had been a kingdom of Libya. And it was only then that I saw our old flag of independence, on opposition websites.

From the beginning of the revolution, we knew that one day Gaddafi and his regime would be a memory – a bad one –from the past. We knew it would take a long time - to be honest, six months is a very short time to bring down a regime that was deeply embedded inside the country, but we are proud to have brought down the whole regime and not only the president. Libyans have reclaimed their identity and everything they lost since Gaddafi took power, and what did we discover in the end? That Gaddafi’s regime was Muhawala Inqilab Fashela – ie A Failed Coup Attempt.

Have you been able to find time for writing during this period?
During the revolution I wrote a lot of essays and fiction. I wrote an essay for an anthology which will soon come out in English entitled Alsh’ab Yurid – The People Demand – and an article for the Lebanese magazine Kalamon. I also wrote short stories that I published mainly on my blog. Most of the short stories I wrote during the revolution are about dictatorship. I wrote and posted a story, entitled Rats in the Big Brother’s Alley about Gaddafi’s 22 February speech, and his phrase Zanga Zanga (alley by alley). Another story, The Origin of Dictatorship, is a fantasy about the night that Gaddafi’s dad slept with Gaddafi’s mum, and the sperm that made Muammar Gaddafi. In the story I ask what if Gaddafi’s mother hadn’t wanted to have sex that night, what would have happened to the sperm that Gaddafi came from? Maybe his dad would have lost it somewhere in the desert!

How do you think the revolution will influence the future path of Libyan literature and Libya’s literary life in general? How do you see the prospects for Libyan artistic and creative life, and what do you hope for?
In Benghazi, just eight months after its liberation, we see more than 100 newspapers and magazines coming out. The same thing will happen in Tripoli and Misrata, but it is still too early to talk about literary magazines. I have a positive vision of Libya’s literary and cultural future. I believe that people were suffering to build a literary community, and now, here you go, you have the space to fill and you have the ideas and the materials – so go for it and do your project. There are literary cafes already in Tripoli as well as in Benghazi, and I can see intellectuals standing up again to improve the culture situation. On the other hand, I have my own vision of the Tripolitan literary side. I hope to see a real theatre and culture centres, like London’s South Bank Centre, full of events, creative works and the warm blood of creation. I’m asking to have festivals in cinema, art and books. And can you imagine that we don’t have a cinema industry to make films in Libya? It’s bloody ridiculous in a country that is rich in stories and history that could easily be turned into scripts for the big screen.

Are you planning to go back to Libya soon, at least for a visit? And do you see your long-term future as being there, or here in the UK, or where?
No, it’s still early for me to go even though I’m dying to go there and see my family and friends. Some friends and family members fought during the uprising, and a number of them were killed. Some are still missing. After we left Libya in 2005 and claimed political asylum in Britain my family and I couldn’t go back, because of Gaddafi – we were against the regime. Our asylum claim was at first rejected, and we had to appeal in court – but we had the evidence to back it up. Now that Libya is free, people are going back and some of them already started making projects in media and culture - but I still feel it is too hard to go back. I am basically not ready yet to see Libya without my childhood friends. I’m not ready to see the land that never left my mind since I left it. I built somehow a romantic image of Libya in my mind, and I’m sure that I still need time before I go there and destroy this image by the reality. In the future, I see myself still in Europe, maybe still in London, but if not you will probably find me somewhere between Naples and Rome – two of my most favourite cities in the world.

How do you think the revolution may influence your own writing?
Oh hell, it will change my writing in every way. The revolution depended on people, some of whom I personally know, joining the revolution and holding weapons, and I already feel that the big amount of harm and stress we got from this revolution changed my writing. I can’t tell how, but I can feel there is something strange going on whenever I write. I have planned two novels on the liberation war of Libya and all I need is time to write them. One of the novels has five characters, each with a story from different places, meeting up in Misrata. It will try to show all aspects of the revolution, including a female perspective and a Gaddafi soldier’s point of view. The other novel is a bit personal, about me and my friends inside Libya.

Please say something about your trip to post-revolution Egypt. I understand you were hoping to get into Libya from there, but were turned back.
I promised myself to keep this trip away from any conversation or interview until I publish a book about it. It’s longer than any interview can hold … it basically changed my life 100%.. Before Egypt I was one person, and after it I turned into someone else.

I think you were working in a bookshop, but gave up your job when you went to Egypt.
I left my job at one of the Fergiani book company’s three London bookshops –Queens Park Books – when I went to Egypt. I am now working in journalism as a freelancer and I recently started working part-time in the bookshop again. The customers ask me about Libya, and about my family, and sometimes invite me out for a drink or wave to me through the shop window. I feel very close to home in that environment, and in Queen’s Park – where I used to live.

Queens Park Books

Where were you born?
I was born in Tripoli in July 1990. My family is originally from Misrata but my father and then I were born in Tripoli. My dad was born in Fashloum. I was born in a street whose name was changed every time the regime changed: the Italian colonialists called it Via Italia. After independence it was called December 24th (the date of Libyan independence) Street, and when Gaddafi took power on September 1st 1969 he called it September 1st Street. Now, after the fall of Gaddafi, suddenly people started to call it February 17th Street. The conclusion is that I was born in a street that lost its identity, the same as me.

Were your parents involved in the arts?
My father is a play actor and was in many international plays but he focused on the subject of freedom, like any young revolutionary in the 70s and 80s. He learnt much from Moroccan theatre and developed what they called ‘The Suffering Theatre’ and ‘The Poor Theatre’ and then ‘The Free Theatre’. They were making plays from their own money. They had a challenging approach and were trying to make a new kind of theatre, but as you know, under military control nothing like that could really happen. For example, in 1984 my father acted an international play, Dracula, and they came and arrested him at night because, they said, “you mean Gaddafi is like Dracula”!
My mother is a musician and journalist. She plays oud and piano, but she found herself in journalism – especially after she came to England, where she could breathe freedom and could write freely about the regime in Libya.

Have you done any acting yourself? – you seem to enjoy playing with different images and so on.
I acted in plays when I was at school, and before I decided to be a writer I dreamed of being an actor. When my dad went out in the evenings, back in Tripoli, I would look through his shelves and read old scripts of plays or series he acted in – I used to read them out loud. Even now I’ll stand in front of a mirror and change my style and act things. Sometimes I sit by myself thinking about a story I would like to write, or a novel, and when I am planning it I choose a scene and start to act it before writing it down. Who knows, maybe one day I will be an actor!


During the London Book Fair Libyan fiction seminar you vividly described the northern English town of Runcorn, near Liverpool, where your novel Mama Pizza is set. How come you went to live there and where else have you lived in Britain?
I lived in Runcorn for a while. I went there because it was summer and I needed to work and get money. It’s a nice small town, and in the old town there are many pizza and kebab shops - I used to work in one of ‘em. That’s the place I chose to write my novel about. It’s a fascinating place and I met many different Libyans there with very interesting stories that I thought it would be enjoyable to share. I think British culture and literature need to know more about this side of Britain. For example, have you ever seen a kebab and pizza shop menu in your post box and thought about the person who delivered it? Who knows, he could be me, because I was a menu distributor for more than two years of my life, in Runcorn, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester. I would put headphones on, listen to music and go from house to house posting menus and dreaming of being a writer one day – and not only a writer, but an international writer. I imagined writing MY Ulysses and I would calm myself down every time a racist person came out of his/her house, shouting at me to go back to my country, by imagining that that this person would one day read my books and would love them. Moreover, kebab and pizza shops are now a part of the British society and as a writer who worked in them I need to write about them.

I lived in Manchester between my parents’ house and my girlfriend’s studio until I turned 18, then I moved to London, it was 2009. I moved to London just to have more freedom and torture myself, like many great poets and writers did ages ago, so that I could then write good literature!

Runcorn Old Town
Is your novel autobiographical?
Mama Pizza draws a lot on my time working in Runcorn as a pizza maker and menu distributor. I had many troubles there. I faced racism, cultural misunderstanding, I found myself in a small Libya! I saw how people treated me badly when I was posting advertising leaflets to their houses and I was sure that these people didn’t know that I was human and had dreams, and would like to have a fine house and family like they did. This is what I talk about in the novel. I also try to show another face of England, a side that people are always facing but never think to go deep inside, either in fiction or in the media. It’s the weird life of a pizza and kebab maker.

What role did literature play in your life when you were younger?
Literature meant a lot to me from when I was a boy and trying to be an actor. I loved plays so much, and my dad’s library was full of them, and I didn’t read anything else. In the days when I was reading plays, I liked Syrian author Saadallah Wannous and Moroccan playwrights such as Mohamed Elmeskin and Elmeskini Alsagher. However I became passionate about literature in general when I watched an Arab TV series called An End of a Brave Man and read that it had been taken from a novel of the same title by the Syrian novelist Hanna Minah. I went to Fergiani Bookshop in Tripoli and bought it - I remember I was 11 or 12 at the time - and when I read that novel I said that I definitely wanted to be a novelist. I continued to read Hanna Minah for a long time until I started reading Naguib Mahfouz and so on. I remember going to small bookshops and I remember one owned by an old man where all the books were dusty because no one went there. The owner supported my interest in literature and he used to let me borrow books, as long as I took them back. My grandfather -my mother’s father - had a very big library. His brother was a well-known writer and judge, Mohamed Kamel al-Houni. He had many books, and gave his library to my grandfather. My grandfather encouraged me to be a writer.

When did you start writing fiction?
I started writing stories when I was around 12. I used to write short stories at home – my mum would see me writing in the afternoon and think I was doing school homework. The short-story writer Ali Mustafa al-Musrati [born in 1926] used to walk in the street in Tripoli – everyone would recognise him. When I was 13 years old I went up to him, gave him some of my writing and said “here’s a story”. He said “I’ll read it and come back to you.” About a week later I went to his house at 2 pm and rang the bell and his daughter said he wasn’t at home. I waited until 5 pm and rang the bell again and his daughter said she had forgotten that he had gone to Tunisia. A few days later he recognised me in the street and told me: “You story was very good, but it is not ready to be published.” He gave me a signed copy of his new collection: he was the first author ever to sign one of his books for me. I read most of his stories when I was young.

Ali al-Misrati
 the inscription from Ali al-Musrati to Mohamed Mesrati

How did your writing develop after you came as a refugee to Britain?
I came to England when I was 14 years and 10 months and went to North Manchester High School for Boys. All the time I was at school in Libya I was in mixed sex schools, and I thought in Britain schools were mixed, so was surprised to find myself in a boys-only school. I then went to the Manchester College where I did more GCSEs and some media studies. I started reading deeply and wrote my first stories in Manchester Central Library, which happens to be where Hilary Mantel wrote her first novel. The first story I sent Samuel Shimon for Kikah was called Asafeer Sharesa, meaning Fierce Birds – it’s about two brothers trying to kill their uncle and grandmother. I was 16 at that time. I had other stories published on Kikah, and two stories and a couple of articles published in Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. But like most of the writers I know of my generation much of my work was first published on blogs and websites; my generation’s writers only write for newspapers to get money. I have published often on the websites jeel-libya.net and libya-watanona.com –Ibrahim Ighneiwa’s website – and also on Libya Today at libya-alyoum.com

Considering all the work you have had published online, is publication in book form still important to you?
For me, the only thing I’m in life for is to be a writer. And no one can consider himself to be a writer until he has had a book published.

What happened with your first collection of short stories, which you had prepared for publication?
My experience of trying to have my first collection of 15 short stories published is a long saga that will stress me out if I remember it here. I gave up with it after realising that publishing in Arabic is killing creativity. Publishing houses in the Arab World are one of the biggest problems in destroying the meaning of reading. There are no rights for the author, and we young writers have to pay money to have our writing published. Normally the publisher looks at your wallet rather than at your work.

Banipal’s special feature on Libyan fiction l has an excerpt from your novel-in-progress Mama Pizza in English translation. How far is the novel autobiographical, and when do you expect it to be completed? Is it your first novel?
Mama Pizza is not my first novel. I finished my first novel a year ago – I wrote it in 2006-2010 – but I hate it. I like to make tragedy funny in my writing, but this novel was only tragic. It covers three generations of Libyan history, through a grandfather, father and son. It’s short, at 35,000 words. Mama Pizza will be completed and ready for publication, first in Arabic, in summer 2012. I have put something autobiographical in all my writing. I believe that any author should have something autobiographical in any writing he or she does.
By the way, that Banipal special feature on Libyan Fiction was long overdue: we had been waiting for it for more than 7 years! And when Banipal Books published an anthology of short stories from North Africa, Sardines and Oranges, in 2005, it didn’t include a single story from Libya among its 26 stories.

What form of Arabic do you use in Mama Pizza?
As well as its Libyan characters, the novel has two Algerian and four Syrian characters, and the Arabic text of Mama Pizza includes Libyan, Algerian and Syrian dialects I use informal Libyan in the dialogue. I believe authors from other countries translated into English should use some of their own language phrases in the translation. This shows the culture they are talking about and make the text more easily envisioned. Mama Pizza and other fiction work that I will write will be dressed by the Tripolitan and Libyan dialect in general, especially given that Tripolitan Arabic is a mixture of Arabic and Italian, which makes conversations and dialogues rich.

Will Gaddafi’s departure and the new situation in Libya make any difference to the writing of Mama Pizza?
I never hid my hatred of Gaddafi and I have written about him in many of my previous works. Most of the characters in Mama Pizza left Libya and went to Runcorn just because of Gaddafi’s regime. I have already made the plan for the novel, and I don’t think his end will change anything in it. It’s already an anti-Gaddafi novel, most of my writing even before the 2011 revolution was anti-Gaddafi.

Do you have a particular writing routine?
I used to write daily in the train travelling between Leyton, in East London, and my work at the Queens Park bookshop. The journey took an hour. Now I can’t write every day, but some days I write from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon while listening to jazz.

Do you do much rewriting?
I rewrite a lot, I wrote some chapters of Mama Pizza three or four times, and then I compare and see what’s the best and what to add and cut. I do this before showing my work to anyone, and more editing comes up after showing my writing to friends or to my agent, Nemonie.

When do you think will Mama Pizza may be published in English?
I’m not sure when the novel will be published in English, but I believe it will be important for the British reader to have it and read about people he sees almost everyday!

The excerpt in Banipal was translated by Leri Price. Are you continuing to work with her, eg is she translating the whole novel?
Leri Price did a good translation but unfortunately I don’t have any contact with her and my agent found a good translator, Robin Moger. He has previously translated one of my non-fiction works and I thought, as did my agent, that he would be a good translator for Mama Pizza.

What have you been reading during your time in England?
When I came to England I read mostly Arabic, especially classical poetry. I went on to read in English, and I started reading British and American literature and literature translated into English from French and other languages. Now I’m reading many different books at the same time. I’m not really in a mood to read on one book at a time. I reread quite a bit nowadays, books including Kitab al-Tugra (Book of the Sultan’s Seal) by Egyptian Yousef Rakha and The Savage Detectives by Chilean Roberto Bolano. I read in English a lot of literature which has never been translated into Arabic, and a lot of post-modern literature. Roberto Bolano is one of my favourites, and he has not been translated into Arabic.
I also reread Matahat - Autobiography - by Libyan author Kamel Hassan Maghur. In fact I love this book, it talks about the biography of the author by telling the stories of his friends and neighbours in Tripoli during the 50s and 60s. I’m fascinated with this period of Libyan history.

a favourite book

Tell us something about your blog and about the Imtidad cultural podcasts which you co-produce and co-host with Ghazi Gheblaw. When did you first meet him, and what sort of subjects do the two o f you cover?
I started my blog under the title ‘My Camomile Tea’ in December 2009 – I have since changed its name to ‘Merciapide’, meaning Sidewalk . My posts focus on culture and literature, and include reviews of books, cinema and music - subjects on which the Imtidad podcasts also focus. I got to know Ghazi’s writing when I read his first published short-story collection when I was still in Libya, and then I met him in person in December 2007 after I came to Britain.
Ghazi and I select topics from our experiences –for example a recent film we have watched or books we have both read. We have put a huge amount of work into developing Imtidad. Ghazi spent a lot to make a small professional studio and we also pay the rights for the songs we choose for the episodes. We have tried to work to very professional and high standards, and have succeeded. We need more comments and other support to help us improve the show by introducing new subjects and involving more people. We plan to make the project bigger in the near future. We still have hope.

How important is the internet for you and other Libyan writers?
Hell, without the internet there wouldn’t even have been a revolution in Libya. It’s difficult to answer this question; I’ve never been in a situation to ask myself how life could be without the internet as a Libyan writer, it’s like a writer without a pen. But it made publishing much easier than before.

You have been doing a creative writing course at London University’s Birkbeck College. Do you think creative writing courses are a real help to writers, especially those starting out?
I am studying creative writing and culture at Birkbeck, and will be changing my subjects to journalism and media next academic year, starting autumn 2012. It was a challenge to study creative writing, but so far I have not found an undergraduate course in creative writing to be a good way to improve your writing. An author, especially a young author, needs to have freedom in writing and in making a new style in writing. A young author should experiment in many ways and feel free to write, but a course or degree in creative writing may limit a young author’s creativity and put him or her on a professional path that will hamper the creative. A creative writing course is best suited to a professional writer who has already discovered their style and who reads a lot.

It is sometimes said that it is almost more difficult for a writer to get taken on by a literary agent than by a publisher. You have been taken by an agent at a distinguished literary agency whose clients include Doris Lessing, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Len Deighton and the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. How did you and your agent get to know about each other and what are you jointly hoping for in terms of writing and publication?
My manager in the bookshop where I was working introduced my agent Nemonie Craven Roderick –a director of Jonathan Clowes Agency – to me in March this year. We exchanged a couple of emails, and she read some of my short stories in English translation, and the Mama Pizza extract in Banipal, before we met for the first time during the London Book Fair at the Libyan fiction seminar. As a first assignment for her I wrote an essay about the Libyan revolution and the struggling of Libyans for the last forty-two years. I believe she liked the essay, and we signed a contract. We in fact hope to introduce a new kind of fiction and novels, but the most important thing is that both of us believe in my work. She is an amazing agent, and we have worked very well together so far. We are even good friends now. Nemonie will be handling publication rights for the Arabic edition of Mama Pizza, as well as of the English translation. Hopefully I will continue working with her for the rest of my novels.

Waguih Ghali's novel

When did your fascination with the Egyptian writer Waguih Ghali start? You have said you identify with him in some ways.

I heard about Waguih Ghali for the first time in the middle of last year from my friend Ghazi Gheblawi who watched the programme on Ghali’s editor Diana Athill in the BBC’s Imagine series. Later, in autumn 2010, I heard his name again from various writers from the Middle-East who write in English and I started Googling him and bought Athill’s memoir of him, After a Funeral. Later still in 2010 when his novel was republished by Serpent’s Tail and I read it for the first time I was sure that I should have been the person who wrote Beer in the Snooker Club! Waguih’s personality in Diana’s book, and even in Beer in the Snooker Club, has a lot of similarities with me. All my life in Libya, for example, I tried to pretend that I was as rich as my cousins who were living in good areas of Tripoli and wearing fine clothes, studying abroad and speaking foreign languages. At the same time I was closer to the poor people in the area where I used to live. I cared about myself and what I looked like. I was a rebel against traditions, family life, society and God’s dictatorship. Also I was well read and I had many troubles because of my cousin who seems to be like Munir in Beer in the Snooker Club. I believe Waguih and I have a similar sense of humour.
For all these reasons and more, I started thinking of writing a biography of Waguih. His life still has many unknowns, especially his time in Egypt. I have often asked myself whether he still has family in Cairo, who they are, and whether they knew him. Moreover, when I visited Cairo a few months ago, I went to Groppi and after a tea there (they stopped serving the fine whiskey Ghali writes about!) I had a long walk to Zamalek as described by Waguih in his novel. I put my hands in my pockets and walked along the Nile, imagining the buildings and streets as they were in the 1940s and 50s. “Nothing changed” I told myself when I arrived in Zamalek, “Only people changed”.

Are you planning to write a memoir?
A memoir! Hmm, I think it’s still early to think about writing a memoir, but most of my essays are autobiography.


It seems that until the uprising in Libya – with the massing of Libyan demonstrators from Manchester and other cities outside the Libyan embassy in London – few Britons realised how large the Libyan community in Britain is. Is this your impression?
There are a lot of Libyans in England, especially in the north. There are more than 20,000 Libyans in the UK I believe. Some of them are students, and there is a small community of Libyan Jews, but the majority are asylum seekers, the same as me. Most Libyans here used to hide their nationality for one reason: if a Libyan said he or she is from Libya, the only image that came to the mind of the person they were taking to was that of Muammar Gaddafi – or they might not even know where this bloody Libya was. Some of my friends used to say they were from Lebanon, not even from Libya. Now, after the February 17th revolution, the image has started to change. In Manchester I saw cars of Libyans with the independence flag waving on ‘em, and sweet and sexy Libyan girls wearing clothes in the colours of the flag. I have seen someone in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens screaming ‘I’m Libyan, I’m Libyan and proud’. It was an emotional moment, until I fell down on my knees laughing when I heard a homeless person crossing the garden saying: “Then go back to your country!”

Do you see yourself as, say, a Libyan émigré writer, or an Anglo-Libyan writer?
I believe that I am an immigrant writer, lost in identity between Britain and Libya. I believe both countries are like two ladies who hate me and I am still keeping the secret relation between me and them. They hate me but I need to stay with them.

interview conducted by Susannah Tarbush



5 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Subrato, India said...

Here's to Lybian democracy. Now that the exorcism part is likely over, here's hoping that better sense prevails and pluralistic identity entwined with past heritage and modern outlook is reborn. good luck!

Anonymous said...

here is a talented youg libyan who proves to be original and inspiring. Proud of you my Mesrati...

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