If you’re on London May 27, then you’ll want to find your way to SOAS, where Nayrouz Qarmout will read from the short-story collection The Book of Gaza:
If you’re not in London, then stage your own May 27 reading, silent or otherwise.
The ten-story collection is edited by Atef Abu Saif, who is shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). Tomorrow evening, we will find out whether Abu Saif’s A Suspended Life is the 2015 IPAF winner. Even if not, you will surely be hearing much more about Abu Saif, as he recently released a must-read memoir, The Drone Eats With Me, and was the winner of a recent London residency. He also has the most compelling short story in The Book of Gaza, which is a varied, interesting collection that ranges over four decades of Gazan literary production.
Four of the writers included in the collection are young women: Najlaa Ataallah, Mona abu Sharekh, Asmaa al Ghul, and Nayrouz Qarmout, and it is Qarmout who is scheduled to appear at the May 27 reading.
As organizers write:
Nayrouz Qarmout was born in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in 1984 and was returned to the Gaza Strip as a refugee, as part of the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement. She currently works in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to the Book of Gaza — in addition to being introduced to Abu Saif’s writing, which is worth knowing for any reader — is to see the trajectory, obsessions, and interests of the Gazan short story over the course of forty years. As I wrote in a previous review:
In his introduction, Abu Saif reminds us how much we hear about Gaza, as Louisa Waugh also did in herMeet Me in Gaza: Uncommon Stories of Life Inside the Strip (2013). As Waugh wrote, the 140-square-mile strip is a place that most English-language readers can describe, at least superficially, and yet very few have ever been or know it with any sympathetic sense. Upon arriving, Waugh says she felt “like I’ve been sucked inside a BBC news report on Gaza and in a bizarre way it feels almost familiar, because I have seen these images so often on TV.”
This Book of Gaza is an entirely different Gaza. It is neither the sensitive first-person-foreigner book that Waugh writes nor the repetitions of the daily news. It is a book that evokes an atmosphere rather than giving us details on who, what, when, and where, and, most of all, we get an idea of the interests, obsessions, and stylistic choices of the contemporary Gazan short story.
It will also be interesting to hear what Qarmout has to say specifically about women’s writing in the Strip. With any luck, someone will record or write up a version of the event.