In “Silence as communication: a conversation with Elias Khoury,” Khoury talks My Name is Adam, his latest novel to be translated to English, this time by Humphrey Davies.
And this is the first of a trilogy?
Yes, the second novel is coming out in Arabic now, and I’m beginning to write the third one. It’s a long process. I collected stories from people who stayed in Lydda. I can’t go there of course, so I skyped. And then I met many people who escaped and went to Amman, to Jordan. But the major difficulty was how to recreate the life of the ghetto because very few people can tell you about it and most of them have died. So I had to recreate it myself, which opened a huge debate.
In “The blind and the elephant: a conversation with Ahmed Saadawi and Jonathan Wright,” Saadawi and Wright talk elephants. Or Saadawi does, anyhow.
If religion is important, and you said storytelling is important, what is the role of truth versus storytelling in your novel?
AS: Religious belief, political belief, dogma: all of them tell a story and say, This is the truth. People will fight another to assert the truth of their story. Novels tell us that in fact there isn’t one story. Everybody has a piece of a true story. It is like the story of the blind people and the elephant.
Six blind people all touch a part of the elephant, and they never know the whole elephant?
AS: That’s how it is. Nobody has the whole truth.
And in “The Sauna Series — Youssef Rakha,” they talk, well, all sorts of embarrassing things one discusses in a sauna.
Fernando Sdrigotti: In relation to my previous question, and because it matters to me as writer of English as a second language… How did you arrive at writing in English? Are you the same writer in English as you are in Arabic?
Youssef Rakha: Okay, it’s important to point out I never ”switched” in the way you have, I’ve always worked in two languages. The difference is I recently decided to commit to a big, long-term literary project in English for the first time. And while I’m many different people even within the same language — that’s part of what writing is about, no? — English has facilitated transitioning in a way that had never happened. What I mean by this is only in English could I fully inhabit and write from the perspective of a woman. I have no idea why, but I’m sure it’s nothing to do with the nature of English itself as a language. Maybe in Arabic I’m conditioned to be myself in a different way, and so English opened up the opportunity for a sex change operation, as Steven Toast calls it.