Arabic Literature – Ibrahim Nasrallah الأدب العربي – إبراهيم نصر الله
Now let’s talk about the Jordanian-Palestinian author Ibrahim Nashrallah. Yes. Who won a prize this year, the international prize for the Arabic novel, isn’t that so? Yes. And that was for his recent novel, the 2nd Dog War. Do you know this book? Yes, yes. I want to read it, so tell me about this book. First I’d like to tell the people who are listening briefly about this author. Ibrahim Nasrallah is an important author. He is Jordanian from Palestinian roots. He started writing, not like Naguib Mahfouz, but as a poet. A poet. Yes, a poet with two or three collections of poetry. But then he once wrote a short story and he found that people really liked it more than his poetry. So then he shifted to writing short stories and then writing novels. I am going to use this example, I always remember that in Europe there was a British writer, Virginia Wolfe, who started as a poet. Then she once met with another writer, who told her: “you are not a poet. You are a writer. You should start writing stories.” And after that she wrote very many important novels in the style of stream of consciousness. And he also was an artistic photographer, wasn’t he? Yes, yes, he has many activities and he used his ability in writing poetry to help him write novels. That is why Nasrallah is a very good novelist. His style differs from Naguib Mahfouz. But I would like to ask you a question: what did you read of him? Why?! Because I love literature, and I want to read about important contemporary authors. And I know that he is living now, he was born in 1953, and I have read this book and I want to talk about it later, but first I want to know more about this 2nd Dog War. I have read about it, and how can I say, it is about a dystopian future a future when people have forgotten everything about humanity and when all of this happens in bad way. Yes, yes, but tell me us more about THIS Novel. This is the Time of the White Horses. Yes, yes. It resembles a novel of Naguib Mahfouz because it is also the story of one family across three generations. It begins at the turn of the 20th century and goes up to the war with Israel. And its style that I like is magical realism. Yes, magical. And I like that a lot. So, in each generation there is a white horse named Dove. And it is also an allegorical story as the Dove is a symbol of simplicity and life in the olden days, when things were utopian. But now, things are not as they should be , and everything is getting worse and worse. At the beginning, in the Palestinian village, the main character is named Khalid, and his father is Haj Muhammad, and at the time of Haj Muhammad in the village, which is named Peaceful, and that is symbolic, and this is under in the time of the Ottomans. And the Ottomans are not “good bad,” but not good. They are far away, and they don’t do anything for the Palestinians though they take lots of taxes. Yes, they don’t like to work and develop as well. Because of this Haj Muhammad and the others in that generation don’t like them, but then then British came, and that was much worse. For the British kill them. There is especially the evil general Edward Peterson and he is a strange person. He is harsh, but he also likes horses and poetry. He kills the people but writes poems. That’s very strange. In this story about the war against the British, just as the British were worse than the Ottomans, unfortunately, in 1948 when the Jews and Zionism arrived they steal their land and their houses and they [Palestinians] all have to become refugees in Syria and Lebanon at the end of this book. And all of this is told in the style of magical realism, the atmosphere is that the horses think, they know everything in the hearts of the people who love them. From time to time, there is stream of consciousness in the heads of the horses, and that is very beautiful and I like all that. But this is also a book about the disappearance of the Palestinian identity. Yes, especially after the war of 1948. Yes, yes. So can we say that this is a historical novel? Yes. Can we say it is history? No. It is not pure history, but he did a lot of historical research. Yes, he researched a lot and the general frame of the characters and the atmosphere is historical. Now, to compare it to the Cairo Trilogy of Naguib Mahfouz and then just as you said there is metaphor as you said, allegory, that flow takes you from generation to generation, What is the symbol of the white horse, i.e. What does it represent to us? why did he choose to call his novel the Time of the White Horses? Do you know why? No.Why did he choose to name the novel the White Horses? Why?
I don’t know exactly. Why? I will tell you. Because the word horse in the Palestinian tradition is always related to [leafing through the book, looking for poetry], the word “horse” is linked to [looking for poetry] if we looked here, I don’t know, perhaps he mentioned that. Is this poetry at the beginning? Yes, it is.
The horses from wind. Exactly. Why did he call this horse? Because horse means knight, horse means freedom. Horse in Arabic tradition and poetry was [Citing the great Mutanabi]. [night=fear] [sword=end result] The horse and the night and the desert they know me very well And my sword my spear and my paper and my pen [writing] — see what he was caring about, he paid attention to. And so Ibrahim Nasrallah was very wise to choose this title the White Horses as in the Arab imagination they always say, especially for girls and women they dream of marrying a knight on a white horse and sweep her away. These are the dreams of girls, or some of them. The horse and the desert together is the dream of the knight also, who will liberate the land. I bought another book of his, I forget the name of it, the Lamp of the King of Galilee. And this is a historical novel isn’t it? Yes. This novel is about a person, I’ve forgotten his name, who dreams about setting up an independent Palestinian state under the Ottomans two or three centuries ago. Yes, that is right. And why it is called Palestine, where does it come from, and this historical book by Ibrahim Nasrallah differs a bit from the other book because he uses less imagination, there is imagination and historical facts, as he wanted to write a history about Palestine starting two centuries ago to show that the land of Palestine existed before that. He has many beautiful novels and the latest one you spoke about is very beautiful, the 2nd Dog War. It reminds us of World War One and World War Two or the Third World War. When he says Dog War, Why the “Dog” War? It sounds like the dog keeps chasing someone. It is to know that it is always about chasing the human and the situation we are living in right now. You did well to choose this novel for Ibrahim Nasrallah, he is important. I think that Ibrahim Nasrallah is an important writer and resembles Naguib Mahfouz in another regard, in terms of their political problems, he had a political problem with the Jordanian government, With the extremists. Why? What was the problem in Jordan? It is the same story happened with Naguib Mahfouz. Ibrahim Nasrallah was more courageous than Naguib Mahfouz. He refused religion and the hardcore Islamists. He announced that explicitly. There was an Islamic movement in Jordan and Ibrahim Nasrallah wrote a beautiful novel and pointed out in it that the fundamentalists were not honest. Because of them, the society started to become more conservative, closed in on itself because of them. And we want modernization, we want to develop, we want to see the world, how the world is living. But this movement / fundamentalists of religion wanted a closed society, wanted to take the rights of women, were against education. And Ibrahim Nasrallah exposed all of this and they did not want that so they wanted to kill him. But this prize that he won is from the ministry of culture here, in Abu Dhabi, they appreciate his work. Yes, they give it every year, to the Arab world, and Ibrahim Nasrallah won the 1st prize. And this is wonderful. I know that this prize is given together with the Booker Prize so his novel will be translated so the whole world will know about it in the future and perhaps he will merit the Nobel prize in the future. Yes, that is to say, for example, the Noble Prize has a political aspect, and there are a lot of great authors from Europe and America never won this prize but they are great nonetheless, like James Joyce and Virginia Woolfe and John Keats the amazing British writer died…. On the other hand, many Norwegian and Swedish writers who are unknown win the prize. And in Africa and everywhere… and I think Ibrahim Nasrallah became famous after the Booker Prize. And the beautiful thing is that it his works can be translated into English or French and that will be very nice. Is Ibrahim Nasrallah the greatest Arabic writer writing today? I don’t like to say the “best” or the “greatest” or “most famous” writer; he is a great writer. Perhaps he is in the 1st row of writers, not in the 2nd or 3rd rank of writers, that is true. Why? Because he writes continuously. Persistence, we keep comparing him with Naguib Mahfuz, now, Naguib Mahfuz how many years did he write? 90? Let’s say he started when he was 20 and when he died he was 95, which means he wrote for 60 years. Ibrahim Nasrallah has also not stopped writing, but sometimes you find a writer who has not written for the past 10 years, and now he writes nothing, so we can’t put them in the 1st row when they stop writing, he falls back because people want to know what he is doing and want him to continue writing. But Ibrahim Nasrallah is writing now and continues writing. Likewise, there is another writer, maybe we can talk about her later, an Algerian writer named Ahlam Mustaganni, every year she publishes a novel, a beautiful and important novel, and so we can say she is also in the first row of writers. What’s her name? Ahlam Mustagannai. Ahlam Mustagannai. Yes, she is an important writer from Algeria. And there is also her friend Wasini al Araj, he is also an important author. I am talking here about authors who write every year. Have you read Ahlam? No, but I haven’t read her but I have some books by her here: Yes, here it is, the Memory of the Body. It is old, and there are other novels every year she publishes a book every year, which means she is very important. And here is a book I bought by Wasini and it seems to be entirely magical realism. Entirely. Yes. The Arabic Repub-dom. What does Repub-dom mean?
It is republic – kingdom, Yes, a new word he made from the two of them. Have you read it? It is about the republics that have become kingdom, like Libyan and Syrian republics. In a republican system, power is not passed on to the son as in a kingdom. Now we are surprised that these republic countries give the rule to their sons. This is something I really like about the Arabic language. I can read ancient literature like Kalila wa Dimna and if I can read these, I can read books from our age. And I can read authors from Algeria, Tunisia, and from Egypt and Syria and Lebanon, all the Arab countries. Yes, that is true, anyone who wants to perfect the Arabic language should read both the old books and the new books. There are many beautiful old books. Have you read Kalia wa Dimna? Yes of course, and 1001 Nights, the Muquaddama of Ibn Khaldun. Yes, you should read Al Jahith, The Miser. And it is all beautiful stories about misers and cheapskates. It is very beautiful book. It is similar to Kalila wa dimna. And if you like we can talk about Kalila wa Dimna, make a special time to do this. Yes, maybe next time, on Kalila wa Dimna, and the Miser another time. As I told you from the beginning, I am very happy to speak with you Professor Dr. Alexander. Me too, Dr. Thaer. Thank you, Thank you.