Recent Interviews: Al-Tahawy on Childhood, al-Jallawi on Bahrain & Fadi Azzam on Writing Sex Scenes and Serving the Revolution

This week’s Making the Life of a Modern Nomad Into Literature,” published in the New York Times, profiles Egyptian author Miral al-Tahawy. It discusses — among other things — her very brief time as part of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s mostly just snappy observations, and not an investigation of al-Tahawy’s life or work. I was interested in her three-way relationship with writing and her son:

“First we write about our childhood and recollections. Then we ponder our childhood through the childhood of our children,” she said, seeing how her son Ahmed has struggled for acceptance among peers.

But unfortunately, the interviewer didn’t investigate this further. Read the full article. 

In “Bahrain Has No Future under This Government, Bahraini writer poet and writer Ali al-Jallawi is asked almost entirely about politics, with just a brief snippet about his current novel, Yadallah’s Shoe, at the end. For more about his writing, Ayesha Saldanha also conducted an interview with him, late last year, more focused on the effects of internal and external exiles on his creative work.

The most interesting interview this past week (of an Arab author in the English-language media) was on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction website. The IPAF’s Q&A with Fadi Azzam wrapped up its series of author Q&As. It was the same few questions they asked other authors, but Azzam really put some thought into it.

Azzam says, of the origins of his novel Sarmada:

It began as a short story of a woman who wandered homeless with a man from outside her religious community and decides to return to her home town to face inevitable death at the hands of her brothers. I began the story in 1998. But I found that the meaning started to grow and sprout and new pages appeared which seemed to demand attention. So in 2008, I went back to them and sent random chapters to wonderful friends male and female, who persistently sent their advice, support and love until the work was finally finished in February 2010.

And about his famously controversial sex scenes:

As for the reservations people had, it was because of the sex scenes and this came from readers of the English edition, not just from Arabs. Here I can say something: in “Sarmada” there are three scenes in which a sexual act is described.

He adds:

Of course I’m not annoyed by this as a writer and I understand that, but what I can’t grasp is why I haven’t found a single reader among these who says: the scene of the killing of the sister, her execution and the separation of her head from her body is a scene offensive to modesty, it is embarrassing and irritating, as though familiarity with killing has made it acceptable. On the other hand a natural act like sex either based on animal instincts or in a higher form, merits condemnation.

And when politics came in, he brought the topic up himself:

At the moment I am trying to find out the attitudes of the Prize nominated authors to the Arab Spring, particularly their general moral stance on it. I know that linking the writer to his convictions or personal life is a mistake, but at a time when we as Arabs are crawling towards a new world and new spirit exploded into life by the Arab revolutions, the personal stance of the writer, “the Arab especially”, becomes a matter of the utmost importance and does not detract in the least from his creativity. The silence of some under the pretext of thinking about it or trying to interpret it saddens and enrages me, as does covering up the oppression and killing, with weak justifications. The situation today is much more complicated than we might think from the complicated writing itself. We are seeking to gain complete independence and there is no future for culture without freedom in the widest sense and with its moral authority.

He adds:

I have stopped all creative projects apart from those which will serve my people’s revolution.