This summer, Fadi Zaghmout’s debut novel, The Bride of Amman, will be released in English, trans. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp:
When blogger Nadia Muhanna wrote about the book back in 2012, nine months after its release, she gave a sense of Zaghmout’s social project, as well as why the blog-turned-novel had stirred controversy:
In an interview on Roya Jordanian TV channel with writer and blogger Fadi Zaghmout, the presenter referred to a gay character in Zaghmout’s novel ’Arous Amman as shaz (an offensive term to describe gays, similar to faggot). „Muthley,” Zaghmout corrected her using a politically correct word for “homosexual”. By the end of the interview, the presenter was using „LGBT-friendly language”.
But it wasn’t only The Bride of Amman’s content that made it controversial. Again, Muhanna:
Zaghmout divided his novel into short, blog like sections written in a simple language often using colloquial words which made it easy to read and accessible for a wider audience. While the style he adopted definitely helps in spreading his advocacy message, it triggered heated debates among the more traditional Jordanian intellectuals who call for elitist literature written in pure fusha (literary Arabic language).
While the fuss over fos7a vs. 3ameya disappears in English, the “shocking” content remains. Muhanna suggested, in her review, that “Arous Amman is definitely a good choice if you are a foreigner interested in better understanding the psychology behind women and LGBT rights violations in the Arab world.”
Perhaps. It’s also interesting in the context of Arabic blog-to-book literature, Arabic advocacy literature, and the different forms — beyond those sanctioned by cultural gatekeepers — that contemporary Arabic literature is taking.
Yesterday, Zaghmout posted a few excerpts from the forthcoming translation. The first is from the point of view of Ali:
I’ve never been truly convinced. The feeling of guilt has clung to me since childhood, since I first realized that my attraction towards men was sexual. I spent my teenage years in self-denial. I used to force myself to picture a woman in my mind whenever I needed to discharge my sexual energy in masturbation. I would reach down and clutch my dick, close my eyes and imagine myself in the presence of a woman’s body. My desire would collapse. I wouldn’t feel anything, but would keep on rubbing. The image in my mind would switch from one woman to another, and another, and then when it finally settled on the image of a man, my desire would be restored, until he made me fall back in rapture and remorse.
The second is Salma:
I’m dreading the day of the wedding, when the guests are going to gaze at me with that pitying look which translates as the one phrase I absolutely cannot stand. “O’balek. I wish the same for you.” I feel like pasting a set response on my forehead for every time someone reassures me it’s my turn next: “Yeah, fuck you.”
Zaghmout’s second novel plays with genre and conventions in a different way. Called Heaven on Earth, it’s a sci-fi novel where, in the future, the aging process is controlled and people needn’t die of old age.
He’s also a tremendously successful blogger and microblogger, with more than 360,000 Twitter followers. It will be interesting to see how this translates to English-language sales, as Zaghmout blogs both in English and in Arabic.