Hussein al-Abri on Why Writing Infuriates Him, the Absence of Omani Novels, and Why He’s Not Looking Forward to the Beirut39 Festival

Hussein al-Abri, one of the Beirut39 (39 Arab writers, blah blah blah), is primarily a hospital physician, although since 2000 he has published four novels. He talked about his conflicted feelings toward the literary arts on the Beirut39 website.

The game of writing is what I find appealing. Yet words have meanings that stretch it far from being an entertainment tool. This is what infuriates me, that even as you entertain people and seduce them with the language, you fall victim to the “sticky” traps of meanings.

Why, the interviewer (presumably Sousan Hammad) asks, aren’t there many Omani novels?

Poetry was the dominating field of literature until not long ago, and then prose was introduced during the early 90s in the form of short stories. As of now, we are facing the renaissance of fiction/ novel writing. There exists a major shift by story writers and poets towards writing novels. The signs are clear and the product is near. One now must wait with legs crossed.

Al-Abri goes on to assert that no Arabic novels have influenced him, although he clearly means that he didn’t want any to influence him; after having read all the authors listed below, surely influence is inescapable.

I read Naguib Mahfouz and could not find myself in his writings and I did not test the waters of [Abdel Rahman] Munif. Tawfiq al-Hakim got me excited about certain subjects he discussed, yet his infatuation with the theater repelled me away from him. I am still bothered by [Abass Mahmoud] al-Aqqad, he still infuriates me with his confident tone. And the logic of Taha Hussein attracts me but the obsolete language he uses brings me back to myself. I could not relate to Jabra Ibrahim, nor the poetics of Ahlam Mustaghanmi. I read works for Abdo Khal, Jamal Ghaitani, Ibrahim al-Qa’id, Sonallah [Ibrahim], [Ibrahim] al-Koni, Ibrahim Abdul Majid, Huda Barakat…etc. I read some of it, I did not like what I did not complete, nor what I completed. Sometimes I think that if most Arabic novels (that I read of course) were turned into TV series then perhaps they would become better works.

The best part of the interview is at the end, when he’s asked about what he’s looking forward to at the Beirut39 conference.

Being slothful, I was shocked to see how often I have to stand in front of a podium to educate people about my “experience in writing” and my “philosophy in life” in front of defenseless people with no microphones. I would have been much comfortable had they given me a sofa while listening to what others have to say. That would have given me the sense of having actually “won a competition”.