A Final Interview with Ismail Fahd Ismail: ‘Nostalgia Breeds Transparency’

At the end of last month, Gulf News published a final discussion between Iraqi novelist Shakir Noori and celebrated Kuwaiti novelist Ismail Fahd Ismail (1940-2018), who died in September

The two authors spoke about Ismail’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction-shortlisted novel, The Story of Sabiliyat as I Heard it From Um Qasem, which is being translated into Italian and English. The English has been done by IPAF judge Sophia Vasalou and is forthcoming from Interlink Books in Spring 2019. Vasalou writes of her judging experience:

One of the happiest outcomes of this intense but rewarding experience was my discovery of a little gem of a novel called Sabiliyat by the Kuwaiti author Ismail Fahd Ismail. The novel was shortlisted for the prize, and while it didn’t win, the next best tribute I could pay it was to translate it.

Ismail Fahd Ismail said of the novel, when asked by Noori whether he considered it his most “mature” work:

I wrote Al-Sabiliat through many stages. I started writing it in 1989 until I travelled to Basra to my village and hometown two years ago. There I wanted to become more familiar with the place, memories and people. This village lived through difficult times during the Iran-Iraq war. My novels are the result of the investigation, and I did not write the novel until I started listening to the people’s opinions. This has taken a long time, and led to two cases: nostalgia breeds transparency in writing; and secondly, I checked the vocabulary of the place so as not to make a mistake — my childhood friends provided me with the information I missed.

As to which Arab authors have influenced him, Ismail said:

I can mention Naguib Mahfouz, Abdel Rahman Munif and Hana Minah. The number of Arab writers was limited in the past, not as it is now.

You can read the whole interview at Gulf News.

More from Vasalou on Sabiliyat is available on her website.