Akram Musallam: ‘I Am Not a Neutral Writer’

I just noticed a new interview with Palestinian writer Akram Musallam on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) website. Msallim’s Qattan-prize-winning 2008 novel, سيرة العقرب الذي يتصبب عرقاً“,  has been translated into Italian and into French. As far as I know, the novel does not yet have an English-language publisher. Meanwhile, at last month’s Hay Festival in Beirut

Musallam read an excerpt from his 2008 novel, The Tale of the Scorpion who Sweated Blood. This novel, set in Ramallah in the late 1980s, follows a young man who briefly meets a French girl with a scorpion tattoo, which sparks his desire to write. (Yes, sure, “The Girl with the Scorpion Tattoo.”) According to reviewers, the novel’s strength is in its biting humor and self-mockery.

Musallam said, at the Hay Festival:

I chose a paragraph from the story about the amputated foot of a wounded Palestinian from Gaza being treated in Baghdad. The narrator accompanying a Palestinian delegation of poets recalls the amputated foot of his father. There is a relationship between the body and place, between cutting off parts of the body and parts of place and also between how the brain continues to send signals to the amputated part and the preservation of stories about the place which has been cut off [from Palestinians]. This paragraph also encourages being open and weeping [about the situation]. The Palestinian accompanying the delegation does not want to cry over his father with the amputated foot, in order to keep alive the idea of the absolute hero, the image of the Palestinian who is superhuman, which is the picture presented by television and is far removed from human pain and real losses.

At the event, Musallam was asked: What is the point of Palestinian literature? More to the point, he was apparently asked: “Why don’t you call for Palestinian revolution instead of giving us a beautiful description of their situation?”

I told the person who asked the question that literature has the right to develop its aesthetic tools and that the [politically] charged period of Palestinian literature had completed its tasks, which were essential for a society which had lost everything: place, capabilities, social fabric and dignity.

As for me, I am not a neutral writer, literature must be prejudiced in favour of the child in front of a tank or the victim in front of the executioner. But literature’s prejudice in favour of moral causes does not excuse aesthetic or artistic weakness.

However, he adds: “It is wrong to exclude every work with political content from the aesthetic arena.”

Musallam’s first novel was published in 2003; his most recent, which he worked on at an IPAF writers’ workshop in 2009 and through an AFAC grant in 2010 is called Confusing the Stork.


The whole IPAF interview.

A review of Musallam’s translation into French.

A short reading from the work (I think that’s what it is) in Italian:

Regular readers please note that I will be traveling this week. I wish the blog would learn how to write itself, but alas.