Jordanian Novelist Jamal Naji, 1954-2018

Palestinian-Jordanian author Jamal Naji died in Amman on Sunday following a stroke:

Photo courtesy International Prize for Arabic Fiction

The novelist and short-story writer was a prolific author, winning a number of awards for his lyrical prose about Palestine, about social mobility, and about the hierarchies in Jordanian society.

Naji was born in Jericho, where he spent his early childhood, moving to Amman after the 1967 war. He received a degree in the fine arts and then worked as a teacher in a Saudi village in the 1970s, which is where he wrote his first novel, The Road to Balharth (1981). His 1988 novel, Remnants of the Last Storm, was turned into a TV series.

He moved back to Jordan and became an important actor on the cultural scene and a co-founder of the Writers’ Association, which he chaired from 2001 to 2003. He was also president of the Arab Cultural Center in Amman from 2009 – 2016.

His novel When the Wolves Grow Old was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2010.

“I used to have certain rituals for writing, such as wearing loose and light coloured clothes and drinking white coffee and working at night,” Naji told The National in 2010. “But now I gave up all these rituals and can write even with noise around or in the car. I now wonder why I used to have all those rituals. “It wasn’t easy to write When the Wolves Grow Old because I used multiple voices in the narration. Each character has its own vocabulary and mood. This technique is one that the readers love but it is exhausting for the writer.”

What Price Paradise? (in some places translated as In the Hope of Virgins) was translated by Paula Haydar and was set to be published by BQFP. However, it didn’t come out after the two halves of the publishing house (Bloomsbury and the Qatar Foundation) went their separate ways. The Arabic is still available from HBKU Press, the Qatari half of the joint venture, so this coming-of-age about “the struggle to understand a world dominated by crumbling Arab regimes” that “reads like a police thriller” may yet come out in Haydar’s translation.

Naji also won the Prize of the Jordanian State in 2014.