Monday, February 10, 2014

International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) 2014 shortlist announced

IPAF 2014 shortlisted titles

Moroccan writers Youssef Fadel and Abdelrahim Lahbibi, Iraqi novelists Inaam Kachachi and Ahmed Saadawi, Syrian author Khaled Khalifa, and Egyptian Ahmed Mourad were today announced as the six authors shortlisted for the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, often known as the Arabic Booker).

IPAF is worth a total of $60,000 to the winner - the $50,000 prize itself, plus the $10,000 that goes to each of the six shortlistees. In addition, IPAF guarantees English translation for the winner.

Youssef Fadel is shortlisted for A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me (Dar al-Adab), Abdelrahim Lahbibi for The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya (Africa East), Inaam Kachachi for Tashari (Dar al-Jadid), Ahmed Saadawi for Frankenstein in Baghdad (Al-Jamal), Khaled Khalifa for No Knives in this City’s Kitchens (Dar al-Ain) and Ahmed Mourad for The Blue Elephant (Dar al-Shorouq). Khalifa's No Knives in this City's Kitchens won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in December.

This year's stories "are wide-ranging in both subject matter and style," a statement from IPAF says. "They include a prison novel from Morocco; a story about one family’s dispersal around the globe, from 1950s Iraq to the modern day; a police hunt for an Iraqi Frankenstein terrorising Baghdad; one man’s search for knowledge as he travels around North Africa and the Middle East; the grim reality of one family’s struggle to survive in present day Aleppo, and a psychological thriller played out in a psychiatric hospital in Cairo."

The shortlist was chosen from a longlist of 16, announced in January. The longlist included only two women: in addition to Inaam Kachachi there was Saudi writer Badryah El-Bishr (longlisted for Love Stories on al-Asha Street).

Inaam Kachachi

Some of the best-known Arab novelists failed to make the jump from longlist to shortlist; they include  Egyptian Ibrahim Abdelmeguid (longlisted for Clouds Over Alexandria), Sudanese Amir Tag Elsir (366), Algerian Waciny Laredj (Ashes of the East: The Wolf who Grew Up in the Wilderness) and Jordanian-Palestinian Ibrahim Nasrallah (The Edge of the Abyss).

There will be disappointment in Kuwait that after the winning of last year's Prize by the Kuwaiti writer Saud Alsanousi for The Bamboo Stalk - the first time a Kuwaiti novelist had been longlisted, let alone won - the pioneering Kuwaiti novelist Fahd Ismail - 74 this year - did not make the shortlist with his longlisted novel  Phoenix and the Faithful Friend

There were 156 entries for the Prize from 18 countries; all the entrants were published within the last 12 months. The IPAF 2014 winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi on 29 April 2014, on the eve of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The Prize was launched in Abu Dhabi in April 2007, and is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation in London and funded by the TCA (Tourism and Culture Authority) Abu Dhabi.

 Saad A Albazei

The shortlist, and the identities of the IPAF 2014 judges, were disclosed  at a press conference held today at the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation in Amman, Jordan. The chair of the judges, Saudi academic and critic Saad A. Albazei, said: ‘This year’s longlist was full of excellent books – a reflection of the overall quality of Arabic fiction published this year – so it was a real challenge to whittle the list down to just six. The shortlisted novels are varied in their narrative styles and language: from discovering virtual reality to the mingling of fantasy and reality, they also include classical language and multiple narrative voices and demonstrate the Arabic novel's ability to flower despite the harsh realities of daily life.’

Professor Yasir Suleiman

Professor Yasir Suleiman, Chair of the IPAF Board of Trustees, comments: "This year's shortlist includes a rich selection of outstanding novels, in which subject, narrative style and atmosphere are dominated by current fragmented reality and human suffering. There are new voices in the list who are reaching this stage in the prize for the first time and more experienced ones who have been there before. Despite their differences, they all have in common humanitarian concerns and masterful storytelling, gripping and enthralling the reader."

Albazei is joined on the judging panel by Libyan journalist, novelist and playwright Ahmed Alfaitouri; Moroccan academic, critic and novelist Zhor Gourram; Iraqi academic and critic Abdullah Ibrahim, and Turkish academic Mehmet Hakki Suçin who specialises in the teaching of the Arabic language and the translation of Arabic literature into Turkish.

The shortlist includes two shortlistees from earlier years: Inaam Kachachi (The American Granddaughter, 2009) and Khaled Khalifa (In Praise of Hatred, 2008).  Shortlistee Ahmed Saadawi has a previous connection to IPAF, through his participation in the 2012 IPAF Nadwa under the tutelage of fellow-shortlistee Inaam Kachachi, and Sudanese Amir Tag Elsir (the latter was shortlisted in 2011 for The Grub Hunter). The Nadwa, held in Abu Dhabi annually since November 2009, is aimed at emerging Arab writers. 

The IPAF 2014 shortlist press release issued by PR consultancy Four Colman Getty includes the following biographies and novel synopses:
Youssef Fadel

Youssef Fadel is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1949. During the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco, he was imprisoned in the notorious Moulay al-Sheriff prison (1974-75). He has published a number of plays and novels. His first play, The Barber in the Poor District, was made into a film directed by Mohamed al-Rakab in 1982. His novel Hashish (2000) won the Grand Atlas Prize, organised by the Embassy of France in Morocco, in 2001. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me (2013) is his ninth novel.

A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me

A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me - Aziz is a pilot at the air force base who loves flying and forgets his cares when he is up in the air. It is flying that he thinks of on his wedding night, rather his 16 year-old bride, Zina, waiting in the adjoining room. The following morning he leaves his house at the crack of dawn, not to return for 18 years. His wife, Zina, looks for him everywhere - in prisons, offices, cities and forests – asking questions and following false leads, only to be disappointed. However, one day – in the bar where she and her sister Khatima work – a stranger presses a scrap of paper into her pocket. It takes her on one last journey in search of her husband: to the Kasbah of al-Glaoui in southern Morocco, where Aziz crouches in a prison cell, having lost hope of ever being found. A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me is a fictional testament to the terrible period of Moroccan history known as 'the years of cinders and lead'.

Inaam Kachachi was born in Baghdad in 1952, and studied journalism at Baghdad University. She worked in the Iraqi media before moving to Paris to complete a PhD at The Sorbonne. She is currently the Paris correspondent for the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat and Kol Al-Usra magazine in Sharjah, UAE. Kachachi has published a biography in Arabic, Lorna, about the British journalist Lorna Hales, who was married to the famous pioneering Iraqi sculptor Jawad Salim, and a book in French about Iraqi women's literature produced in times of war and hardship. She produced and directed a documentary about Naziha Al-Dulaimi, the first woman to become government minister in an Arab country, in 1959. Her first novel, Heart Springs, was published in 2005 and her second novel, The American Granddaughter (2008), was shortlisted for IPAF in 2009 and has subsequently been translated into English, French and Chinese.

Tashari deals with the tragedy of Iraqi displacement of the past few decades, through the life story of a female doctor working in the countryside in southern Iraq in the 1950s. The narrative also follows her three children, who now live in three different continents, particularly her eldest daughter who has also become a doctor and works in a remote region of Canada. The title of the novel, Tashari, is an Iraqi word referring to a shot from a hunting rifle which is scattered in several directions. Iraqis use it as a symbol of loss and being dispersed across the globe. As a way of combating the dispersal of his own family, one of the characters, Alexander, constructs a virtual graveyard online, where he buries the family dead and allots to each person scattered across the globe his/her own personal plot.
 Khaled Khalifa

Khaled Khalifa was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1964 and holds a BA in Law from Aleppo University. He has written many successful screenplays for TV series, as well as for the cinema. He is also a regular contributor to a number of Arabic newspapers. His third novel, In Praise of Hatred (2006), was shortlisted for IPAF in 2008, and longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013. It has been translated into several languages.
No Knives in this City's Kitchens

No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a profound exploration of the mechanics of fear and disintegration over half a century. Through the story of one Syrian family, it depicts a society living under tyranny with stifled aspirations. The family realise that all their dreams have died and turned into rubble, just as the corpse of their mother has become waste material they must dispose of in order to continue living. Written with shocking perception and exquisite language, from the very beginning this novel makes its readers ask fundamental questions and shows how regimes can destroy Arab societies, plundering lives and wrecking dreams. Khaled Khalifa writes about everything which is taboo in Arab life, with a particular focus on Syria. No Knives in this City's Kitchens is a novel about grief, fear and the death of humanity.

 Abdelrahim Lahbibi

Abdelrahim Lahbibi is a Moroccan novelist, born in Safi, Morocco in 1950. He left Safi for Fez in 1967, where he obtained a BA in Arabic Language from the College of Arts and Human Sciences in 1970. He worked as a teacher of Arabic language and literature in secondary education from 1970-1982 and as a school inspector and curriculum co-ordinator from 1984 onwards. He has published three novels: Bread, Hashsish and Fish (2008), The Best of Luck (2010) and The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya (2013).
The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya

The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya A researcher stumbles across a manuscript and attempts to edit it, to make it into a doctoral thesis. Entitled The Journeys of 'Abdi, the manuscript is an account of one man’s journeys from Morocco to the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia in search of knowledge, written in the manner of Moroccan intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun. ’Abdi’s journey turns into an examination of Arabic and Muslim society, with ’Abdi emphasising the need for Arabs to learn from Europe in order to achieve social progress. Split into two, The Journeys of 'Abdi, known as Son of Hamriya follows both ’Abdi’s search for knowledge as well as the narrator’s attempts to edit his manuscript.
 Ahmed Mourad

Ahmed Mourad was born in Cairo in 1978. He studied cinematography at the Higher Institute for Cinema in Cairo, graduating in 2001. His graduation films The Wanderers, Three Papers, and On the Seventh Day won prizes for short film at festivals in the UK, France and Ukraine. His first novel, Vertigo, appeared in 2007, before being translated into English, Italian and French and made into a television series broadcast in Ramadan 2012. In 2010, Mourad published his second novel Diamond Dust, which was translated into Italian, followed by The Blue Elephant, in October 2012.

The Blue Elephant

The Blue Elephant After five years of self-imposed isolation, Doctor Yahya returns to work at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Cairo, where there is a surprise in store for him. In ‘West 8’, the department in charge of determining the mental health of patients who have committed crimes, he meets an old friend who reminds him of a past he is desperately trying to forget. Suddenly finding his friend's fate in his hands, Yahya's life is turned upside down, with one shocking turn of events following another. What begins as an attempt to find out the true mental condition of his friend becomes an enthralling journey to discover himself, or what is left of him.

 Ahmed Saadawi

Ahmed Saadawi is an Iraqi novelist, poet and screenwriter, born in 1973 in Baghdad, where he works as a documentary film maker. He is the author of a volume of poetry, Festival of Bad Songs (2000), and three novels, The Beautiful Country (2004), He Dreams or Plays or Dies (2008) and Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013). He has won several prizes and in 2010 was selected for the Beirut39 Festival, as one of the 39 best Arab authors below the age of 40. He took part in the annual IPAF ‘Nadwa’, or literary workshop for promising young writers, in 2012.

Frankenstein in Baghdad

Frankenstein in Baghdad Hadi al-Attag lives in the populous al-Bataween district of Baghdad. In the Spring of 2005, he takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. When a displaced soul enters the body, a new being comes to life. Hadi calls it ‘the-what's-its-name’; the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed it, or killed the parts constituting its body. As well as following Frankenstein’s story, Frankenstein in Baghdad follows a number of connected characters, such as General Surur Majid of the Department of Investigation, who is responsible for pursuing the mysterious criminal and Mahmoud al-Sawadi, a young journalist who gets the chance to interview Frankenstein. Frankenstein in Baghdad offers a panoramic view of a city where people live in fear of the unknown, unable to act in solidarity, haunted by the unknown identity of the criminal who targets them all.

One of IPAF's main aims is to increase the international reach of Arabic fiction. It has guaranteed English translations for all its winners. Egyptian novelist Bahaa Taher’s IPAF winner in 2008 - the Prize's inaugural year - Sunset Oasis was published in English by the Hodder and Stoughton imprint Sceptre in 2009 and has been translated into at least eight languages worldwide. Eygptian Youssef Ziedan’s 2009 winner Azazeel was published in the UK by Atlantic Books in April 2012. 

English translations of the Saudi writer Abdo Khal and the Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari’s winning novels (in 2010 and 2011 respectively) Throwing Sparks and The Arch and the Butterfly are due this Spring from Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP). 

The English translation of Raja Alem's joint 2011 winner The Doves' Necklace is to be published by Gerald Duckworth and Co in the UK, and Overlook Press in the US. The publication date is understood to have been postponed from autumn 2014 as Adam Talib and Katharine Halls are still jointly working on the translation. 

Biographies of the IPAF 2014 Judging Panel:

Saad A. Albazei (Chair of Judges) is a Saudi Arabian critic. He earned his B.A. in English language and literature from the University of Riyadh (now King Saud University) in 1974 and went on to obtain a doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Purdue University in the USA. He currently works as a member of the Saudi Arabian Shura Council, having been a lecturer at the King Saud University in Riyadh for 30 years. He has published a number of books on Arabic Literature including studies of fiction, poetry, literary theory, terminology and contemporary thought. His book Languages of Poetry: Poems and Readings won the Book of the Year Prize of 2011, awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Information. He edited the Global Arabic Encyclopaedia in 30 volumes.

Ahmed Alfaitouri

Ahmed Alfaitouri is a journalist and writer, born in Benghazi in 1955. He is currently the owner and editor-in-chief of al-Mayadin, a Benghazi weekly newspaper first published in 2011. His career in journalism began in 1973, when he co-founded the Al-Ahli Theatre group and was the editor of its magazine, al-Ra'id. He went on to establish and edit the cultural page of al-Fajr al-Jadid newspaper – entitled Cultural Horizons - Writings of Young Authors - from 1976-77, and in 1978 became editor-in-chief of The Cultural Week, the first weekly Arab newspaper specialising in culture. He spent ten years (1978-1988) as a political prisoner; while in prison, he worked on the seasonal publication of al-Nawafir (Fountains) magazine, written by all the inmates on cigarette papers and produced as a single copy which they could all read. In 1990, he co-founded No magazine, editing several editions as well as contributing anonymous articles. He has published six books including novels, a play and a number of critical works.

Zhor Gourram is a Moroccan novelist, critic and academic. She holds a state doctorate in the analysis of narrative discourse. She is Professor of Higher Education at the Ibn Tofeil University in Kenitra, Morocco, where she is also head of the research laboratory for language, creativity and new media and a director of academic projects and PHD research units. She has previously judged both the Owais Award and the Moroccan Book Prize, awarded by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, as well as a number of other prizes. She is on the academic advisory boards of numerous Moroccan and Arab journals and is a member of reading committees for several Arab publishers. She has organised Arab and international conferences and events. She was awarded the Royal Sash (for National Merit) at the Casablanca Book Fair in 2012, chosen from a list of 14 candidates from Moroccan and overseas.

Abdullah Ibrahim is an Iraqi academic and critic specialising in narrative and cultural studies. Born in Kirkuk in 1957, he obtained a doctorate in Arabic Literature from the University of Baghdad’s College of Arts in 1991 and from 1991-2003 worked as a Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies in universities in Iraq, Libya and Qatar. From 2003 -2010, he was the coordinator of the International Qatar Prize. He currently works as cultural consultant to the Qatari royal court in Doha. He has published 23 books and is a contributor to the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature. He has won several prizes, including the Shoman Award for Arab Researchers (1997), the Sheikh Zayed Prize for Critical Studies (2013) and the International King Faisal Prize (2014).

 Mehmet Hakký Suçin

Mehmet Hakký Suçin is a Turkish academic, translator and Arabist. He is the Director of the Arabic Language Department at Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey. He holds an MA in Arabic literature and a doctorate in Arabic-Turkish translation. He was head of the committee responsible for preparing the current Arabic language curriculum in Turkey and the curriculum for non-native speakers of Arabic in Europe. In 2006, he worked as visiting fellow at The Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies, University of Manchester. He also runs annual workshops in Istanbul on literary translation between Arabic and Turkish. Amongst others, he has published translations of works by Elia Abu Madi, Gibran Khalil Gibran, Youssef al-Khal, Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati, Muhammad al-Maghut, Mahmoud Darwish, Adonis, Ahmad al-Shahawi. His studies focus on Arabic literature, translation studies, teaching Arabic to non-native speakers, and creative drama. Among his published works are: To Be in Another Language: Equivalence in Translation between Arabic and Turkish, 2013; Translation into Arabic: Past and Present, 2012; Active Arabic, 2008; Turkish Grammar for Non-Native Speakers, 2003.
 report prepared by Susannah Tarbush

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Wasif Jawhariyyeh's memoir 'The Storyteller of Jerusalem' launched in London

launch reflected the spirit of a unique Palestinian musician and chronicler
report and photos by Susannah Tarbush

The launch of The Storyteller of Jerusalem: The Life and Times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh 1904-1948  at the Mosaic Rooms in London had an atmosphere that suited perfectly the book's subject. There was music-making and readings from the book, Arab food, drink and laughter. But there were also bittersweet memories, and sadness over what the Palestinians have lost.

Wasif Jawhariyyeh was an extraordinary musician, singer and civil servant who was born in Jerusalem in 1897. His lawyer father, Jiryis Jawhariyyeh, was the mukhtar (communal leader) of the Eastern Orthodox community in the Old City, and was a member of Jerusalem's municipal council under the mayoralty of Salim al-Husseini and Faidy al-Alami.

Wasif lived in Jerusalem until 1948 when, like many other Palestinians, he was forced during the establishing of the state of Israel to leave his home. He died in exile in Beirut in 1972. He wrote detailed and copious memoirs covering 60 years, giving a unique and immensely rich account of artistic, social and political life in Jerusalem and wider Palestine, and then of his exile. 

The Storyteller of Jerusalem is an edited version of Wasif Jawhariyyeh's memoirs in English translation. It is published by Olive Branch Press, an imprint of Interlink Books of Northampton, Massachusetts. The 44 year time frame of the edited  memoirs span the Ottoman era and the British mandate period, culminating in the 1948 Nakba.

The original handwritten memoirs are archived as Books I, II and III at the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS) in Ramallah.  They were first published in Arabic by IPS in Beirut in 2003: Volume I covers Ottoman Jerusalem 1904-17, and Volume II British Mandate Jerusalem, 1918-48.

The live music at the Mosaic Rooms launch came thanks to Interlink's Palestinian founder, publisher and editor Michel Moushabeck who as well as being a publisher is a performer and promoter of Arab music. He currently plays tabla, riqq and daff in the Massachusetts-based  Layaali Arabic Music Ensemble of which he is a founding member. His recording credits include two albums  made by the group Anatolia, in which he played percussion: Lost Songs of Palestine and Folk Songs and Dance Music of Turkey and the Arab World.

The music at the launch was performed by an informal ensemble put together for the occasion: Moushabeck on percussion, singer Maria Lopez da Cunha, Kuwaiti violinist Ahmed Al Salhi, oud player Professor Rachel Beckles Willson, and qanun player Professor Martin Stokes. Moushabeck said he had met them all the previous night "and we had a short rehearsal yesterday evening at Rachel's house." 

  Michel Moushabeck

The songs were interspersed with readings from The Storyteller of Jerusalem by the film, TV and radio actor Philip Arditti. The extracts from his memoirs read by Arditti, in a delightfully expressive and intimate manner, were riveting, entertaining and deeply informative.

The Storyteller of Jerusalem was edited by professor of sociology at Birzeit University Salim Tamari, and associate professor of history at Illinois State University, Issam Nassar, coeditors of Jerusalem Quarterly.  Each contributes an introduction to the book: Tamari's is on on "Wasif Jawhariyyeh's Jersalem" and Nassar's on "From Ottomans to Arabs".

The book was translated from Arabic to English by Nada Elzeer, who has a doctorate from Durham University and is now senior lector in Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

The book's foreword is by  Rachel Beckles Willson, professor of music at Royal Holloway, University of London, and director of the Humanities and Arts Centre there. She is the author of three books, most recently Orientalism and Musical Mission: Palestine and the West.

 (L to R)Philip Arditti, Rachel Beckles Willson, Ahmed Al Salhi, Maria Lopez da Cunha

In her introductory comments at the launch Beckles Willson said that while researching for her book on Palestine, with its specific interest in the way in which Americans and Europeans introduced Western classical music to the region, "I realised that these memoirs, although I didn't read Arabic, were absolutely crucial to my work."

She looked for someone who could help her with understanding them and after some time found Nada Elzeer. "Initially I commissioned Nada to translate parts of the memoirs that were helpful for my own research and from them I learned such a new perspective on the region, something completely different from what had been available to me in English and German language sources which were almost all I had available at that time." The memoirs were "a complete treasure trove".

She subsequently met in Ramallah Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar, who had produced the Arabic published version of the memoirs. They told her that they had for some time wanted to produce an English version. She showed them the text that she had already had translated by Nada, and they wanted to use that as the basis for expansion. "That's what they then did, and we were very fortunate that Michel Moushabeck, the publisher of the book - who founded and directs Interlink and who edited this final volume - was able to take on the project."

Moushabeck told the audience that his 27-year-old publishing house specialises in literature in translation: "We do a lot of Arabic fiction in translation, we do a lot of world history, cultural guides as well as award-winning international cookbooks that really keep Interlink alive and well, and allow us to publish important works that we otherwise would never get published." (A recent Interlink cookery title is Sarah al-Hamad's impressive Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee: Date Desserts from Everywhere).

a witness to four regimes and five wars

Moushabeck, whose family is originally from Jerusalem, said The Storyteller of Jerusalem is very dear to his heart. "I knew Wasif as a young child and he left a very deep impression on me." The memoir is  "really the only book that I know of that truly captures the social life, and in particular Palestinian urban life in Jerusalem during this period of really enormously turbulent times. Wasif Jawhariyyeh witnessed four regimes - Ottoman, British, Jordanian, Israeli - and five wars. He was truly a remarkable man."

Wasif's memoirs are "a collection of anecdotes, observations and writings  about the people, the social life,  the culture, festivities, the history of Jerusalem. Wasif was an accomplished oud player,
 a music lover, a historian, a storyteller, a churchgoer and a full-time partygoer, and he truly was a hard-core Jerusalemite. He loved Jerusalem, everyone in Jerusalem loved him, and he really was one of the funniest people I have ever met.

"What makes this volume remarkable is that it not only tells you about the first half of the twentieth century, but he quotes from his father's memoirs as well, written in the first half of the nineteenth century."

One important aspect of the memoir is that "he really undermines the notion of a sectarian, backward city of Jerusalem at that time. According to the British it was divided into four quarters - the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter and the Armenian quarter. And the British would have you believe there was no real interaction - that it was a very religiously conservative city and there was no interaction between the people - but that is really false.

 Philip Arditti

"Jerusalem was made up of 26 different neighbourhoods and people moved, people mixed, people socialised, people interacted, and they went to each other's celebrations, and festivities. One big celebration that became a sort of national celebration was the Sabt al Noor on the Saturday before the Easter Sunday celebration: a lot of Muslims and Christians and Jews would party in the streets, and go to a procession, and end up drinking lots of wine and arak and getting drunk together. So it really gives you a totally different impression than what we hear in the news

Moushabeck stressed the important relationship between the Jawhariyyeh family and the Al-Husseini family, the most prominent Palestinian family at the time. When Hajj Salim al-Husseini became mayor of Jerusalem Wasif's father was the legal adviser to the Husseinis and took care of their estates of, the Husseini family.

Hajj Salim's son Hussein Hasham al-Husseini became mayor later on, and when Wasif's father passed away, he "kind of adopted Wasif as a son and Wasif became very loyal to him and his family. The family always looked after Wasif; they always made sure he had some kind of civil service job where it allowed him plenty of time to play music." 

Jawhariyyeh was a witness to the modernisation of Jerusalem and how this changed people's lives. "In the past they lived inside the walls, they couldn't manoeuvre a lot and then first gas came with the Ottomans, later on electricity was introduced. Electricity allowed people, Palestinians - Jews, Christians, Muslims - to get out of those quarters that were religious quarters and go outside the bounds of the city walls. They established neighbourhoods that tended to be based on class rather than religion. And then there was also intermingling between the different religions in the city of Jerusalem."

Wasif also witnessed the arrival of the automobile, radio, and phonograph. "They used to go down to the cafe and listen to music that was coming from Egypt, and they were introduced to a lot of musicians that they hadn't heard before. The phonograph was an amazing thing. Wasif's neighbours got a phonograph, Wasif heard about it and they would gather every night and listen to all this music.

"This introduced Wasif to a lot of music, and in particular the music of Salama Higazi who was a famous Egyptian muezzin at the time and also a great singer. When Hussein Hashm al Husseini became mayor of Jerusalem he brought Salama Higazi to Jerusalem, in summer 1908, and put up the largest tent in the city for the performance of a play as well as some music by this very famous Egyptian musician." Wasif cherished the memory of being taken to meet Salama Higazi by al-Husseini, and of kissing the great musician's hand.

 (L to R)Rachel Beckles Willson, Ahmed Al Salhi, Maria Lopez da Cunha, Martin Stokes, Michel Moushabeck

Moushabeck recounted how, after Wasif became an exile in Beirut, "my father used to take me to his house on a regular basis. I must have been seven or eight years old. My father was so proud of me, he wanted to show Wasif the big Palestinian composer and musician that his son could also play music. He really embarrassed me when he asked me to play the harmonica for Wasif and he asked me to play what I had been practising."

To the amusement of the Mosaic Rooms audience, Moushabeck proceeded to take a harmonica out of  his pocket to play the tune he played to Wasif , the American song Oh Susanna.

"Wasif said bravo, bravo, but I want you to come back next week and play it faster. So I went home and every day I practised and I practised and came back a week later. Wasif said' bravo, bravo - now put that thing away. You come with me.' And he took me to the living room and he sat me there and he said I want you to close your eyes. He took his oud and started playing some amazing taqasim and I was mesmerised from that moment on.

"He knew that I was going to visit my grandfather in Jerusalem just before the 1967 war and he said 'when you go there I want you to listen when you walk in the streets, listen with your ears and your eyes'. And it's true: when I went for a walk with my grandfather down the streets of the Old City, music is all around you, you hear the muezzin's call to prayer juxtaposed against church bells ringing, you hear vendors in the streets yelling praises about cucumbers as small as ladies' fingers, or prickly pears that melted in your mouth, or you hear transistor radios blasting music from window sills, and you see young kids thumping their feet practising dubke on street corners.

"But the one person who had more effect on me musically than anybody else was the juice vendor. And the juice vendor goes from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and he plays intricate rhythmic patterns on cups and saucers to alert people that he is in the neighbourhood to come down and buy some juice from him. And I would sit on the street corners and my eye would be fixated on that juice vendor's hands playing intricate patterns on the cups and saucers and I went back to my grandfather's house and I picked up some cups and saucers and ended up breaking up half the china. And ended up with a spanking.  And that was the very last evening I saw my grandparents and the very last time I was in Jerusalem."

'like translating an Arab conversation in a room filled with smoke and humour'

The book's translator said: "For me the book has a major strength which is the fact that compared to other books or resources that you might find on the history of Palestine this one does not seem to have been written for publication. My impression is not that he sought to publish it or that he was writing to publish it. He wrote I think a few thousand pages and in the introduction he makes it clear that it is his realisation of how important and significant events he witnessed were that prompted him to write the book. And he dedicates it to his son Jiryis and hopes that he could use it to  know everything about the life of his father and family and the city of Jerusalem which he calls the home of the Jawhariyyeh family. And from that point you know he's not writing to make a political point and you can automatically trust him more.

"You can look forward to reading an account of events that he's writing or is telling as he would tell them to his son, not as he would tell them to an audience and that of course has its implication on the style. For me it is obviously a big privilege for me that I was able to translate this book and bring it to an English audience. But stylistically the challenge was immense: it's like translating an Arab conversation on a Friday evening in a room filled with smoke and humour and where you know where the conversation starts but you don't know what happens after that.

"But this is the kind of conversation that one tends to trust without questioning the intentions of the author, and on a thorny subject like Palestine and what happened there in the sensitive historic period this book talks about. I think its exceptional that we have a resource like that, hat was not written for an audience but more for the family's sake. And if you read the entire thing - maybe that's not clear in the English - there are a lot of private things and stories that you would really only tell to your son, you wouldn't want to share them with the wide audience about his private life.

The other strong point, Elzeer said, is that the memoir  "was written over a very long period  of time and that's also very exceptional as a source on Palestine because it gives you this very unique opportunity to observe how the narrative changed from early on in the Ottoman times, where  he was unsuspecting,  he was looking forward to the British winning the war. There are lots of accounts in the book where he's actually rejoicing after every Ottoman defeat in the war, and he's actually looking forward to it. And then you can see him looking a bit confused and then in the end of course the tone changes completely after 1948. This is quite unique, that you can actually see these feelings change. And if you consider him as a specimen of the Palestinians that can also represent how they all must have felt as the political situation developed."

Elzeer was struck "by the amount of good faith and goodwill that he shows when talking about events which nowadays Arabs could only be outraged when remembering. For example there is this chapter where  he talks about the day - 9 December 1917 - which is the day that the Brits entered Jerusalem. And he refers to that as 'this fortunate moment saw the end of Ottoman rule and of the tyranny and despotism that had prevailed,  particularly from 1914 to 1917.' There is  no way to tell if he edited what he wrote later or not, whether he wrote that when he was still unsuspecting and then edited that later. He does in the same paragraph say had he known then what he now knows, he wouldn't have rejoiced so much, he wouldn't have danced in the streets as he did.

"But again this is something I found very striking, there is this emotional confusion, he is able to talk very positively of what happened of the British taking over of Palestine. And then there will always be at the end of the same paragraph a bitter note as to oh, had we  known we would have thought differently. And he does that not only when he relates political events but also when he's talking about political figures.

"He's the man who's been everywhere, met everyone, and wrote it all down, and because he was working as a civil servant at the governorate at the time he had the chance to work under the most senior officials of the  British  mandate, and that includes Sir Ronald Storrs whom he had direct contact. And again, that is something unthinkable nowadays, that someone could talk about these figures so positively despite  how things turned out.

"It is striking for example that when talking about Ronald Storrs he acknowledges all his personal qualities but at some points he does write of his having been instrumental in the fulfilment of the Zionist dream. But that doesn't stop him talking about him almost fondly when relating personal events involving the two of them and it doesn't stop him from recognising his qualities as a person. In fact he does say that Storrs has taken wonderful stances towards Arabs on many occasions. And that's another attitude that I would find unthinkable today, you just cannot find an Arab who would talk about an occupying power with the same honesty that Wasif does, bearing everything in mind and representing things as they are. And again, in reporting on British policy in general he is able to do it, he doesn't just do it for individuals because he knew them personally or got to be their friends.

She said that one of the reasons the memoir is so emotionally charged is that "Wasif's good faith and goodwill makes you really feel sorry for these people who did not suspect any of this and you will read the stories of villages when  he was a child and went on trips to many Palestinian villages with his father - but if you look these villages up now you will find they are all gone, they were razed at some point or another. It's even more difficult to read about that because Wasif doesn't mention it, he just talks with all goodwill about how things were.

"If you read particularly the Ottoman section another striking thing is how he reports about social life at the time and how they used to party at the homes of Jewish friends. And there's this long section where the word Jewish is only ever mentioned as a pure detail with no comment made about it, just saying Jewish like it might say someone else is Muslim. And you can see that changing, particularly in relation to music, as the book progresses. He starts becoming more suspecting when it comes to music, how he was happy to hear them singing in Arabic and not being able to pronouunce it, and being very amused by  it. And then later on things start changing and that's also a very sad thing when you think this was 60, 70 years ago and it just feels it was much longer period of thing than it actually is. That's the saddest thing about this book."


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Caine Prize 2014 judging panel announced

Jackie Kay

The chair of the judges of this year's £10,000 Caine Prize for African Writing is the prize-winning Edinburgh-born Nigerian-Scottish poet, novelist and short story writer Jackie Kay MBE the prize organisers announced today. The Prize is awarded for a short story of 3,000 to 10,000 words by an African writer, published in English. Kay is joined on the panel by the distinguished South African-born novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, Zimbabwean journalist Percy Zvomuya, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgetown Dr Nicole Rizzuto and Nigerian winner of the Caine Prize in 2001, Helon Habila.

Gillian Slovo

This is the second time that a past winner of the Caine Prize will take part in the judging. Last year the judges included the Sudanese-Egyptian writer Leila Aboulela, who won the Caine in its inaugural year, 2000.

This year a record 140 qualifying stories have been submitted to the judges from 17 African countries. This is a big increase from last year, when there were 96 stories from 16 countries. In 2012 there were 122 stories from 14 countries, and in 2011 126 entries from 17 countries.

The judges are to meet in late April to decide on the five shortlisted stories, which will be announced shortly thereafter. Unlike some other prizes in the Booker-linked family of literary prizes, such as the Man Booker Prize and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), Caine non-winning shortlistees  receive no cash. But this year, to commemorate fifteen years of the Caine Prize, £500 will be awarded to each shortlisted writer.

The winning story will  be announced at a dinner at the Bodleian Library in Oxford on Monday 14 July. The five shortlisted stories, alongside the stories written at the annual Caine Prize workshop, will as always be published as an anthology by the publishers New Internationalist (UK), Jacana Media (South Africa), Cassava Republic (Nigeria), Kwani? (Kenya), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), FEMRITE (Uganda), Bookworld Publishers (Zambia) and amaBooks (Zimbabwe). This year’s Caine Prize workshop will be held in Zimbabwe. The 2013 workshop was for the first time hosted by Uganda.

Included in the 2013 anthology A Memory This Size and Other Stories is the story by last year’s Nigerian winner, Tope Folarin. Chair of judges Gus Casely-Hayford said at the time: "Tope Folarin's 'Miracle' is another superb Caine Prize winner - a delightful and beautifully paced narrative, that is exquisitely observed and utterly compelling..."

The Caine Prize for African Writing is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. An “African writer” is normally taken to mean someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or whose parents are African.

 The Prize is principally supported by The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Miles Morland, the Booker Prize Foundation, Sigrid Rausing and Eric Abraham, Weatherly International plc, China Africa Resources, Exotix and CSL Stockbrokers. Other funders include the DOEN Foundation, The Beit Trust, British Council, The Lennox and Wyfold Foundation, the Royal Over-Seas League and Kenya Airways.

 The African winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer and J M Coetzee, are Patrons of The Caine Prize. Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne is President of the Council, Ben Okri OBE is Vice President, Jonathan Taylor CBE is the Chairman and Ellah Allfrey OBE is the Deputy Chairperson.

The previous winners are: Sudan’s Leila Aboulela (2000), Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenyan Yvonne Owuor (2003), Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (2004), Nigerian Segun Afolabi (2005), South African Mary Watson (2006), Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), Nigerian EC Osondu (2009), Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry (2010), Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde (2012) and Nigerian Tope Folarin (2013).
Susannah Tarbush