Non-Muslim Poets Write on Islam’s Prophet, Tolerance

Beirut- In his newly released publication titled “Al-Islam fi Shaer Al-Masihi” (Arabic for Islam in Christian poetry), Fares Joachim presents samples of the works of over 30 Arab writers from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine and other Arab countries.

Citing their writings, Joachim highlights the presence of Islam singling it out in poems and praises.

Joachim’s book opens with a quote for the Lebanese renowned poet Kahlil Gibran recognizing the glory and values of Islam and God’s Messenger, Muhammad (pbuh).

Gibran was born into a Maronite Christian family and raised in Maronite schools. He was influenced not only by his own religion but also by Islam.

Poems viewing the teachings, journey and life of Prophet Mohammed and written by authors belonging to the Christian faith are seen across Joachim’s latest publication.

Expressing solidarity with fellow Muslims, Arab Christian writers have managed to produce verses, literature and anecdotes to all significant Islam-related occasions.

Another well-known Lebanese poet Salah Labaki, in his poem “Ghorabaa” (Arabic for “Strangers”) draws on Prophet Mohammad’s teachings, beseeching, as ignorance prevails in society. Labaki (1906-1955), born in Sao Paulo of Lebanese descent was a poet, prose writer, journalist and lawyer.

Palestinian poet Kamal Nasser in his poem “Al Yatim” (Arabic for “Orphan”) cites the harsh conditions under which the Prophet had lived under as an orphan.

Bridging the gap between the two religions is the extra-ordinary story of Maroun Aboud who is an Arab-Christian who chose to name his own child Mohammad in recognition of Islam’s Prophet. Aboud’s story intrigued many Christian writers among which was Lebanon’s Amin Al Rihani.

Christianity and Islam are the largest religions in the world and share a historical and traditional connection, with some major theological differences. The two faiths share a common place of origin in the Middle East.

Marquez Biographer: He Wanted ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ to Be his First Novel


London – Gabriel Garcia Marquez always reminded people that he had become very poor by the time he completed writing “One Hundred years of Solitude”, his most famous work, in 1966.

He was so poor that he did not have enough money to send the 590 pages of the book from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. During a ceremony thrown in his honor in 2007, “Gabo” as he was fondly known by his fans, said that the very little money that he and his wife Mercedes had was enough to only send the second part of his novel to publishers. The editor was so enraptured with the book, even though he had only read the second part, that he sent Marquez enough money so that he could send the rest of the final draft.

In only a few months after it was published, this novel rose to the top of the world of international literature and was a main reason for the author’s winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” was translated into over 32 languages and it is believed that 50 million people have read it.

On the occasion of 50 years since its publication, Gerald Martin, Marquez’s biographer, highlighted to Asharq Al-Awsat the significance of this novel and just how close it is to Arabian culture.

“I believe that this is one of the most important books that have been published in the past 50 years,” he said.

“It is about what was then known as the ‘third world’ and it paves the way for the so-called ‘global village’, or in other terms, the culture and economy of globalization that we now see around us,” he added.

It was the first South American novel to draw the attention of readers from all over the world and it has become part of Latin American identity, he continued.

Martin attributed the secret to the novel’s success to its tackling of the idea of the history of the nation and “each one of us belongs to one nation or another.”

“It is also a family saga and each one of us has a family. The novel is really very enjoyable even though it implies a deep sadness and hints at light and darkness at the same time. It is easy to read, while also being very deep and complex,” he explained.

The novel was an embodiment of Colombian culture, he stated, while noting that “historically, Latin America was always one of the most isolated continents. This is why the theme of ‘isolation’ is very important in the context of the story.”

Addressing critics’ labelling of the novel as “magic realism”, Martine remarked: “Critics have had extensive discussions on this issue and the majority believe that the book mixes elements of realism and fantasy. In my personal belief, magical realism is the more unique and interesting mixture.”

Marquez’s biographer revealed that the author wanted to write “One Hundred Years of Solitude” since he was 17 years old. He wanted to call it “La Casa” or “The House” through which he would relive the childhood experiences in his grandfather’s house in Aracataca, Colombia.

“He did not however have the literary experience to meet his ambitions and he did not find the necessary vision and technical prose until he was 40 years old,” said Martin.

“Almost everything in the book was inspired from his life and the main character Colonel Aureliano Buendía is a sort of embodiment of Marquez himself. Other members of his real family have been embodied in various characters in the novel,” he noted.

On the novel’s ties with Arabian culture, Martin said that the Colombian cities of Sucre and Aracataca, where Marquez grew up, have a large Arab population. He also knew several Arabs in the various Colombian cities he lived in while growing up and his father-in-law was Egyptian.

There are several references to Arab culture and traditions in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and other works written by Marquez, stated Martin.

Paula Fox: a Prize-winning US Literary Great

New York- With the death of Paula Fox, a distinguished writer for children and adults, in Brooklyn at the age of 93 last week, American literature lost an important figure.

Ms. Fox wrote a half-dozen novels for adults and more than 20 books for young people. What united her output was a cool, elegant style that was haunting in its pared-down economy; minute observation; masterly control of tone and pacing; and an abiding concern with dissolution — of family, of home, of health, of trust.

Her characters are complex, self-contained and often withdrawn, but their ruminative interior states lend the narratives a quiet luminosity.

Ms. Fox’s best-known novel for adults is “Desperate Characters” (1970), about the disintegration of a marriage. It was made into a film of the same title, released the next year and starring Shirley MacLaine and Kenneth Mars.

She was awarded the Newbery Medal, considered the Pulitzer Prize of children’s literature, in 1974 for “The Slave Dancer,” a controversial novel centered on the Atlantic slave trade in the mid-19th century.

Her work also includes two memoirs: “Borrowed Finery” (2001), about her peripatetic childhood, and “The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe” (2005), about her young womanhood.

Ms. Fox’s bibliography took readers from cradle to grave, something few other writers have done. It includes picture books for young children, like “Traces” (2008), a poem, illustrated by Karla Kuskin, about the evanescent signs — think of footprints and vapor trails — left by unseen visitors. It also includes many titles for middle-grade readers and teenagers, among them “Blowfish Live in the Sea” (1970), about a child’s journey to visit the father he has never met; “One-Eyed Cat” (1984), about the painful consequences of a boy’s casual shot with an air rifle; and “The Eagle Kite” (1995), about a boy whose father has AIDS.

Because so much of Ms. Fox’s work was for young people, her fiction for adults was sometimes overlooked. In 1984, The Nation described her as “one of our most intelligent (and least appreciated) contemporary novelists.”

In later years, however, her adult books enjoyed something of a renaissance, thanks largely to the efforts of the novelist Jonathan Franzen, who became an ardent champion after devouring an out-of-print copy of “Desperate Characters” he had come across by chance.

A new edition of “Desperate Characters,” with an introduction by Mr. Franzen, was published by W. W. Norton & Company in 1999. Ms. Fox’s other adult novels — among them “The Widow’s Children,” “A Servant’s Tale” and “The God of Nightmares” — have also been re-released by Norton, with introductions by writers including Frederick Busch, Andrea Barrett and Rosellen Brown.

As a stylist, she was known for her impeccable, almost anatomical, depictions of the material world. In the Paula Fox universe, objects take on heightened importance, as if rearing up to fill the gaps left by characters’ failure to make real connections.

Paula Fox was born in Manhattan on April 22, 1923, to parents who did not want her. Her father, Paul Hervey Fox, was an undistinguished novelist and playwright who earned his living as a script doctor. Her mother, the former Elsie de Sola, of Spanish and Cuban extraction, was young, vain, cold “and ungovernable in her haste to have done with me,” as Ms. Fox wrote in “Borrowed Finery.”

Critical response to Ms. Fox’s work over the years was largely favorable, though there was sometimes dissent. Her Newbery Medal for “The Slave Dancer” inspired a protest at the awards ceremony that year: The novel, which tells the story of a white New Orleans youth conscripted to play the fife on a slave ship in the 1840s, had been condemned by some reviewers for portraying the captured African slaves as a passive, undifferentiated group.

At the end of “Borrowed Finery,” Ms. Fox tells of being reunited with the daughter she had borne at 20, the offspring of a brief liaison after her first marriage had ended. She gave the infant up for adoption, a decision, she wrote, that pained her the rest of her life.

Ms. Fox’s other honors include the Hans Christian Andersen Award, which she received in 1978 for her body of children’s work.

Given the subject matter of Ms. Fox’s books, it is not surprising that some reviewers called them depressing. This did not sit well with her.

The New York Times

The Movement that Changed Europe, the World


London – Hindawi Publishing Corporation issued a new book “Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction” by Christopher Butler, a critic and a former professor at Oxford University. The book – translated by Shaima Taha al-Ridi – is composed of four chapters supported with references and additional readings.

It is worth noting that in his book, Butler focused on postmodernism in literature, art, and music – far from the economic, social, and intellectual aspects of life. He also wrote about the 20th century, although modernism has started way before this era, with the invention of printers in 1447 and many other world-changing revolutions in Europe and USA.

The postmodernism movement tackled by Butler has artistic and cultural basis that focuses on the distinction between ego and object.

The first chapter talks about the Ulysses novel written by James Joyce, “The City” painting for Fernand Léger, and “the Threepenny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht – these works broke all ties with the past and focused on modernism by discussing innovation, modern techniques, urban life, and the regular human being who is far from royalties.

The second chapter discusses modernism movements which introduced new creative concepts for literature, art, and intellects. These concepts mainly relied on freedom and the use of mind.

In his book, Butler sees that modern artists didn’t highlight their ideas and explain their intentions, unlike writers, who used implicit indices to emphasize the balance between past and present.

The third chapter focuses on modern art and focused on three renowned figures as examples.

Finally, the fourth chapter tackled “modernism and politics” – it shed lights on figures like Hitler and the Nazis who attacked the modern art and considered it as an abject topic. Hitler considered that symbols of this type of art lacked morals and promised people to get rid of it.

This book has provided a brief summary on the conflict between the modern and realistic art. No one can doubt Butler’s capacity in tracking modernism in literature and art, however, the critic needs to shed lights on some intellects who paved the road of modernism like Hegel, Descartes, and Immanuel Kant.

Recordings Reveal Tawfiq al-Hakim Writer for Children

London- Many people cannot believe that Tawfiq al-Hakim could have been an author of children’s literature.

They cannot believe that the man who wrote “The People of the Cave,” “The Return of the Spirit,” “The Return of Consciousness,” “My Donkey told me” and many other writings that raise philosophical and intellectual questions on thought and existence, spirit and consciousness and address the era’s complicated political and social problems could ever try to write for children.

Notably, writing stories for children requires simplicity of language and style, thought and approach, and necessitates inspiration from a whole different world of childhood, including its freshness and innocence.

It is true that al-Hakim was inspired by children’s song in “The Tree Climber” play, but he had never written stories that could be listed among those in ‘Children’s literature.’

Undoubtedly, the writer of “A Sparrow from the East” and “The Diary of a Prosecutor among Peasant” was aware of the fact that writing for children is not as easy as it seems and this is why he did not publish them back then or maybe he was not sure of their success; such a transfer remains a literary significant risk for a prominent writer.

Al-Hakim once said: “Simplicity is harder than depth. It is easier to write and narrate deep stories and words than to choose the easy style and terms that let the reader feel like I am sitting with him instead of feeling that I am teaching him. This is the problem I have been facing with children’s literature!”

Maybe, for these reasons too he resorted to recording several stories on cassette tapes in 1977 until the Egyptian Dar el Shorouk found and published them so that the Arabic reader could also be introduced to the other side of “Anxiety Bank’s” creativity.

Opinion: Unified Symbols

There are names and titles in the world’s literature that are recollected in every era by almost all writers. For example, the “Trojan Horse” is an example of a mysterious conspiracy. “Romeo and Juliet” is a work of reference for writing on love amongst most writers across all eras. Shakespeare provides us with the tale of impossible love between Othello and Desdemona and documents internal struggle and desire for power in “Hamlet”. He also wrote about friends betraying each other and this can be seen in the relationship between Julius Caesar and Brutus.

The Spanish poet de Cervantes whose masterpiece Don Quixote was about a knight-errant followed Shakespeare, and the French poet La Fontaine’s “Fables” is a point of cultural reference that was influenced by Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffa’s “Kalila wa Dimna” that was in turn based on Indian mythology.

Sinbad the Sailor is a great man in all world literature without exception, and George Orwell wrote his masterpiece “Animal Farm” which is also inspired by “Kalila wa Dimna” and the idea of eluding the revelation of human identities. A common work of reference in world literature is Al-Farabi’s “Al-Jumhuriyya Al-Fadilah” which exemplifies the impossibility of a fair state and virtuous society. If you mentioned “Rasputin” in any language, it is known that you are referring to a wicked man in the world’s history.

If you mention “Daahis wal Gabraa”, people know that you are talking about a never ending war and if you mention “Saif Ad-Dawlah”, people know that you are talking about Al-Mutanabbi. These connections and references have transformed over time to become a semi- unified language in world literature. One does not explain the story of Romeo and Juliet, the story of Brutus and Caesar’s assassination or Don Quixote’s purity. They are expressions and names that have turned into what resembles a language of symbols in world literature.

Terrorism in Western, Arabic Novels


Paris – Over the past two decades, literature has deeply reflected the realities of communities in regard of terrorism; as it has been the reflection of every society and the writer’s inspiration source – from which he chose his tools of expression as tragedy and human conscience, etc. Our Arab world, which has suffered from terrorism in all its regions, has been affected by this type of literature since the nineties starting from Algeria.

In his novel ‘Lolita’s Fingers’, Wasini AL-Araj has discussed how the hero who is the writer’s beloved woman turn to become a terrorist suicide bomber in one of Paris avenues, just like many European girls who join ISIS these days.

The Iraqi Ahmad Sadawi has been inspired by Frankenstein to tell the story of “Frankenstein in Baghdad”, the Iraqi who collects shreds of terrorist bombing victims on daily basis to merge them and create a Frankenstein-like creature who suddenly came to life to take revenge from terrorists.

This literature phenomenon has also moved to the United States after September 11 and shocked the U.S. people who used to think they were secured from terrorism. Many writers have focused on this incident like “Freedom” for Jonathan Franzen and “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.

France, which was under terrorism threats and attacks since July 2015, has also read terrorism-relates publications.

Many literary novels have seen light like “Nour” by Rashid bin Zein, tackling the story of Nour, who was married to the Fallujah’s Police Director in ISIS; Nour is the daughter of a moderate Muslim cleric who finally rejected the terroristic and extremist intellect and denounced all its draconian acts.

Many publications in the Arab and western world have highlighted the reality of communities living amid constant terrorist threats, particularly western communities that faced such dangers for the first time.

Opinion: When Nobel Mixes the Genres

Last month, Geir Lundestad, the former secretary of the Nobel Academy broke the august body’s traditional reserve to express his deepest regrets in having awarded Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. “That was a big mistake,” Lundestad lamented.

Should we expect a similar apology, maybe in eight years’ time, about the choice of the 1960s pop star Bob Dylan as this year’s Laureate for Literature? The comparison may not be exact, as comparisons seldom are.

Obama was given the prize when he had done nothing in particular to promote peace or anything else except himself. By contrast, Dylan has a body of work in the form of dozens of popular songs of which he has authored both the lyrics and the music.

And, yet, to claim his work as literature may be both confused and confusing. Dylan is a singer-songwriter and as such belongs to the universe of music and not literature. Remember that there are seven arts: paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, literature and, thanks to the Lumiere Brothers, cinema. In recent years, people have tried to add other categories such as comic strips, lithography, television drama, and, of course, journalism.

However, regardless of how many categories of art one comes up with, there is an old consensus that poetry is at the heart of every art form. It was no accident that Aristotle, the father of all categories, named his treatise on the whole of literature as “Poetics”. The ideal man, if he ever existed, would live life poetically (poesitai in Greek).

“The essence of all art is poetry,” writes Heidegger. “And the essence of poetry is the instauration of the truth.” Surely, even the Nobel Academy must know that Bob Dylan does not belong to the same category as Tomas Transtromer, the Swedish poet who was given the prize in 2011.

Some art and/or sub-art forms either require text or seek to deepen their impact by the use of texts. Opera, the queen of music, uses libretti to narrate its story. Films require screenplays. Chunks of sacred texts are also used in some architectural forms, notably in Islamic lands and the Indian Subcontinent. Literature, however, is complete in itself, needing no support from other art forms. A poem could, of course, be recited in a dramatic way (declamation) or even accompanied by music. But even without such accompaniment, it would be complete.

The question is whether Dylan’s songs could be regarded as poetry. My answer is: “No”. That does not mean that Dylan’s work is without merit. On the contrary, he is one of the most talented singer-songwriters I know in the few languages I follow. Those of his songs, for example “Corina, Corina” or “Honey! Just Allow Me One More Chance”, that came closest to poetry, are the works of others.

Dylan is not as genial as Charles Trenet, Georges Brassens or Leo Ferre. But he certainly stands with John Lennon, the Gibb brothers, Leonard Cohen and Elton John. All of them belong to a very ancient and highly valued branch of music that uses words to tell a story or describe a mood. Many languages have special words for them. In old French they were known as the troubadours who had learned their art from the Arabs during the Crusades, playing the oud , a string instrument that was to evolve into the European guitar. The Arabs call them “qawwal” or “mughanni”. To Persians, they are “lulis” and Turks know them as “Ashiq”. The word for them in English is “minstrel” and in Burmese “nat”.

That they belong to a tribe distinct from poets has always been admitted. The Latin poet Horace regrets that he cannot write a song for his beloved. Amaury, the 13th century French troubadour is sad that he is not a real poet to describe the beauty of lady Adelaide.

There are also special words for those who write words for music. In Persian they are called “taranehsara”, in French “parolier” or “chansonnier”, and in English “lyricist”.

The art of songwriters and writers of libretti for opera need not be considered of lesser value than that of poets. In fact, in the days when Vienna was world capital of culture, someone like Hugo von Hofmannsthal was better known for the libretti he wrote than for his poetic oeuvre. Sometimes, poets were even jealous of songwriters. In the 1920s, the great Persian poet Iraj Mirza lampooned his friend-cum-rival Aref Qazvini for being “a mere songwriter” and yet more popular with the public.

It is not the first time that the Nobel prize-givers have stuck the label “literature” on work that belongs to other categories. For example, they gave the literature prize to Dario Fo, a highly talented Italian stand-up comedian who compared well with George Burns to Raymond De Vos but was certainly no literary writer. The 2004 laureate Elfriede Jelinek of Austria is an interesting pamphleteer closer to journalism than to literature. Last year’s laureate Svetlana Alexievich is also a journalist whose work, though outstanding in its own category, cannot be regarded as literature.

Rather than labelling everything literature, the Nobel Academy might do well to establish prizes in other categories such as stand-up comedy, song-writing, journalism, pamphleteering and even limericks.

In medieval scholasticism, mixing the genres (in Arabic theological lexicon: khilt al-mabhath) was regarded as a grave error of judgment. Nowadays, however, our obsession with equality leads us to believe or at least claim that any categorization might mean inequality and apartheid. While we celebrate “difference” and “otherness” as intrinsic values we also want all those who are “different” and “other” to fit into exactly the same pattern.

Is it not possible to celebrate and honor the creators of culture, which means whatever man adds to nature, in their own categories and according to their “excellence” (“Arete” in ancient Greek and “Ann” in Persian)? Isn’t it enough for Bob Dylan to be an outstanding singer and songwriter who does not need to be re-packaged as a poet?

Anyway, here is an amateurish limerick for good old Bob’s 76th birthday:
“Whatever tells you the academy
You are a man of do re mi
And not the poet they say you are
You come close, but no cigar.”

The Unicorn: Novel with Theatrical Soul

Cairo-It is not the first time that different types of literature are merged and we may have gotten used to such texts in poetry, songs, and others. Yet in this novel, we are facing a narration called “monodrama” … It is “The Unicorn” (Wahid al-Qarn) novel for novelist Ahmad Adel al-Kadabi published by “Ibn Roshd” house in Cairo. The novel has been written with a pragmatic language.

This writing style has imposed a different reading strategy that requires training and knowledge of different writing types, like recognizing the difference between the narrative and theatrical (drama) texts. “The Unicorn” pushes us to excel in reading.

When the reader begins reading the book, he is amazed by variety.

While the writer has chosen an exciting style in composing his text, he has expanded its volume; the book’s message would have been better addressed with a less number of papers.

“The Unicorn” is a narrative text that leads its reader to wander among many literature types. The comprehension of this book can be accomplished by increasing the intellectual energy in reading in line with the energy used by the writer while he has written his book.

The book starts by observing the trip of a troop of unicorns in the forest looking for food and water, then strictly moves to the main character “The Unicorn” that announces revolution against its old life. At this point, the writer reveals a new base strategy in his book, according to which he compares between a troop of unicorns (animals in the forest) and a group of university students.

In his strategy, the writer seeks to emphasize the resemblance between the relations existing in the social human structure and those existing in the unicorns’ troop life, which both witness an absence of the individual’s role in the group.

Kaddabi also highlights that a political background always imposes a lifestyle that turns the individual into a dependent creature in his entourage, lacking value and achievements, which prevent him from improving.

In one of its chapters, the book discusses sex as an obsession and a revenge tool used by the human being to compensate for the absence of a future vision, and for a social and political confusion.

The book also mentioned some points, which are related to Egypt’s political history but without focusing on a specific view.

Man Booker Prize Goes to Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper Colleague Al-Madhoun

Palestinian novelist Rabai al-Madhoun

Abu Dhabi- Palestinian novelist Rabai al-Madhoun’s “Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba” won the ninth International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). The novelist is the first Palestinian to ever win the IPAF, despite him making it to the shortlist in 2010.

Al-Madhoun currently works within Asharq Al-Awsat London-based newspaper team.

The judging panel, which convened yesterday in Abu Dhabi, had announced the IPAF winner, who will be receiving the 50 thousand dollar first place prize and having his novel translated into the English language. Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is increasingly selling off the shelves and receiving world-wide appreciation.

Al-Madhoun was born in the city of Ashkelon located south of Palestine in 1945. His family left the south during the Nakba in 1948 and headed to Khan Yunis located in the southern Gaza Strip. The IPAF winner had received his higher education in Cairo and Alexandria, and was later banished in 1970 before he could graduate due to his political activism.

Al-Madhoun currently resides in London and works as an editor at Asharq Al-Awast newspaper. He has three published novels alongside a score of works comprising research and trilogies.

“The Lady from Tel Aviv”, another al-Madoun novel, made it to the IPAF shortlist in 2010 and was published in English by Telegram Books. The story’s English translated version received many awards.

“Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba” receiving the IPAF Man Booker Prize this year is split into four parts, each of which follows up with a different concerto. When arriving to the fourth and final composition, the novel begins unfolding and complementing the rest of its chapters intertwiningly answering questions about the Nakba, the holocaust and the Palestinian right of return.

The novel italicizes Palestinians residing in the country suffering the split reality of their existence and facing the Israeli citizenship as a forced truth. The work of literature speaks about Palestinians who have left their country heading towards the greatest exile of all times, and who later on –each on his own account- attempt to return to their occupied homeland.

After winning the IPAF Man Booker Prize, “Destinies: Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba” is considered to be the best work of literature published over the past 12 months. It has been selected from 159 nominated novels that are published in over 18 Arab countries.