Archive for August, 2006

Mahfouz Appreciation

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

I was asked to write a piece for the Nation magazine about the passing of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. Here’s the first paragraph:

The story of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz is the story of modern Egypt itself. Born in 1911 in the Gamaliya district of Cairo, Mahfouz witnessed the last days of British colonial rule and Ottoman influence, the nationalist struggle of Saad Zaghloul, the reigns of King Fuad and King Farouq, the military coup of 1952, the establishment of the republic, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s takeover in 1954, the Suez Canal crisis, the rule of Anwar al-Sadat, the Camp David accords of 1978 and finally the brutal dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

You can read it all here.

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Thursday Giveaway: Lisa Teasley’s Heat Signature

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

heatsignature.jpgThis week, I’m giving away a copy of Los Angeles-based novelist Lisa Teasley’s new book Heat Signature. Heat charts the emotional journey of loss, as a young man tries to cope with the murder of his mother, which occurred sixteen years ago. The book has already received great reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times.

The first person to send me an email with the subject “Heat” gets the book. Also be sure to include your mailing address.

Update: The winner is Cigdem A. from Toronto.

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Season of Migration

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

I need a copy of Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, in the original Arabic, for a piece I’m thinking of writing. If you have an extra copy that you’re willing to part with, could you email me? I would be happy to trade several books for it.

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Naguib Mahfouz: 1911-2006

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Mahfouz_naguib.jpgEgyptian novelist and Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz passed away today in Cairo. Although the news is not a shock–he had been seriously ill for a few weeks–it is still difficult to accept. I find myself thinking about the first time I read him, when I was twelve or thirteen. Our high school didn’t have a library, so our Arabic teachers organized a “borrowing club”–each of us would bring a book at the beginning of the trimester, and the books thus collected formed the class’s pool, from which we could choose what to read every other week. That’s how I came to Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar, and, later, to his other novels and stories. I will have more to say about him and his significance to Arabic letters very soon. Stay tuned.

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And Speaking of Stereotypes…

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Yes, I am the “Arab chick” referred to in this Stranger article about Gary Shteyngart.

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The More Things Change…

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

It really is unbelievable that, in 2006, a book critic at a major newspaper should write the following sentence, and actually get it published:

There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you’ll see that they’re virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content. For me, Midnight’s Children is indivisible from A Fine Balance, which in turn cannot be separated from A Suitable Boy. Directly or indirectly, all three books – and there are other notable examples – are concerned with the same thing: the state of Indian society in the wake of independence and partition.

The critic is Stephen Thompson, writing for The Scotsman. As Ed points out, this isn’t Thompson’s first brush with stupid generalizations. Last month, he dismissed all post-colonial African literature as “clichéd” because it continues to deal with the effect of European occupation of the continent.

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When The Levees Broke

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I have basic cable only, but this month I forked out the 20 extra bucks and subscribed to HBO–so I can watch Spike Lee’s documentary about Hurricane Katrina, When The Levees Broke, which airs again tonight, in its entirety. If you can, please watch it.

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Still Catching Up

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I am still catching up with email, with reading, with the news, with the world, and so desperately trying not to post another rant. We’ll see how it goes.

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Controversial Choukri

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

The life of Moroccan novelist Mohamed Choukri is the stuff of legends: Illiterate until the age of 20, Choukri went on to learn how to read, became a schoolteacher, wrote novels and non-fiction works, and eventually became the head of the Arabic department at a Tangier college. But a controversy has erupted recently: Hassan Aachab, a friend of Choukri’s, now claims that the author started his schooling at the age of eleven, not twenty. Of course, Choukri passed on in November 2003, and can neither corroborate nor deny the charges.

Thanks to Amine for the link.

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Mahfouz Ailing

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz, who has been hospitalized since July 16, had seemed to be doing better last week, but I am told by a reliable reader that the Nobel winner is again in critical condition. We send him best wishes for a full recovery.

Update: A reader from Cairo writes in to say that “{Mahfouz’s] condition does not look good as he still has some internal bleeding” and that “the obituaries are already being written.” This is very upsetting.

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Fall Previews

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Trying to decide what to read this fall? Check out Marie Arana’s fall preview in the Washington Post, and Oscar Villalon’s forecast in the S.F. Chronicle. After perusing the pieces, I discovered that Random House is publishing a cool anthology: The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction, edited by Denys Johnson-Davies. I want a copy. NOW.

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HODP in Women’s Review of Books

Monday, August 28th, 2006

The July/August issue of the Women’s Review of Books includes a piece on my debut book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, and Assia Djebbar’s novel Children of the New World, which finally appeared here in the U.S. in a translation by Marjolijn de Jager, forty years after its original publication. Unfortunately, this (very perceptive) review is not available online. Still, I couldn’t resist including at least this bit from Nadia Boudidah Falfoul’s piece:

In contrast to Djebar’s patriotic men and women who fight a common enemy and work toward a common dream, Lalami’s isolated characters share only their desperation. Although the French colonizer left Morocco decades ago, these people are estranged and displaced in their own country. Djebar’s fellagas, who sacrifice their lives for their country, have been replaced by Lalami’s harragas, who sacrifice their lives to flee it.

More here.

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Speaking of Edward P. Jones

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Michael Taeckens, director of publicity at Algonquin, wrote in to say that the 2007 edition of New Stories from the South will be edited by…Edward P. Jones. Yay! The 2006 edition of the seminal series just came out a couple of weeks ago, and the stories in it were selected by guest editor Allan Gurganus.

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Yacoubian Press

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Alaa Al-Aswany’s best-selling novel, The Yacoubian Building, finally came out in the United States this month, in a translation by Humphrey Davies. Reviews have begun to appear: Here’s Lorraine Adams’ take in the New York Times and John Freeman’s assessment in the San Francisco Chronicle. For those who care, here’s what I thought of it when I read it last year.

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New Jones Collection

Monday, August 28th, 2006

hagarschildren.jpeg I am a huge fan of Edward P. Jones, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating the publication of his new collection of short stories, All Aunt Hagar’s Children. Several of the stories in the book have already appeared in print (in the New Yorker, for example) and I knew I would have at least the delight of re-reading those, if nothing else. But the rest of the book enchants both Dave Eggers, as you can see from his glowing review in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, and Jonathan Yardley, whose write-up in the Washington Post begins with the words: “Now there can be no doubt about it: Edward P. Jones belongs in the first rank of American letters.” Damn right.

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Back Home, At Last

Monday, August 28th, 2006

I am finally back at home, after an exhilarating (and exhausting) stay in Middlebury, Vermont for Bread Loaf. Posting should resume soon.

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B-Loaf, Mid-Week

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

The last two days at Bread Loaf were my busiest yet. On Tuesday, I taught a craft class on “The Character’s Language” or what to do when the characters we create do not speak the language in which we write. If your heroine speaks Urdu or Igbo or Arabic, if she thinks in Japanese or Afrikaans, how do you render her thoughts and her speech convincingly? We took a critical look at several excerpts from the work of: Mary Yukari Waters, Andre Dubus III, Mona Simpson, Ahdaf Soueif, Junot Díaz, Ha Jin, and Aleksandar Hemon. I also co-taught the regular fiction workshop with Robert Boswell that day.

Then on Wednesday, I gave a reading with the poet Carl Phillips. Instead of picking something from Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, I read two sections from the first chapter of my current novel. It was the first time I had ever done a public reading of a manuscript still in progress, but I figured it would motivate me to get my act together and finish my current revision.

I also attended readings by the wait staff and the social staff–these are highly anticipated events at Bread Loaf, because the material is usually excellent, and this year’s batch was no exception.

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B-Loaf Busy

Monday, August 21st, 2006

I am still in Vermont, fighting off bugs (what is it with bugs in this state? They’ve got mosquitoes the size of birds, and ants and spiders and bees and flies and moths and a dozen other insects I can’t even name) and having far too great a time to blog much at all. Yesterday we attended a great lecture by Josip Novakovich on writing in English as a second language, Helen Schulman read from her upcoming novel A Day at the Beach, and Peter Orner from his recently published one (The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo.) We also had an amazing craft class with Robert Boswell, in which we read Mary Robison’s story “Pretty Ice” and studied why it worked so well. Then there were readings by Toi Derricotte and Gonzalo Barr and David Tucker and half a dozen other people whom I’m sure I’m forgetting. Now I have to go prepare for a class I’m teaching tomorrow. More Soon.

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Sarvas on Grass

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Los Angeles-based writer and blogger Mark Sarvas offers his thoughts on the Günter Grass controversy:

We’re not suggesting – as some commentors seem to think – that he should be punished for youthful mistakes or for having been a Nazi (although it’s scarcely a fait accompli that he shouldn’t). We are saying that the sheer, naked, breathtaking hypocrisy here is inarguable. This cuts to the heart of what one requires of one’s moral exemplars, self-appointed or otherwise. A certain amount of consistency seems a minimum; at the other extreme, being outrightly two-faced for a period of 60 years seems ample grounds to merit reassessment of Grass’ place. Talk of “punishment” and the like is silly, but as Bill Clinton knew, it’s all about the legacy – and Grass’ should be reevaluated and appropriately and permanently diminished over this.

There is also a great discussion going on in the comment section of his blog.

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Quotable

Friday, August 18th, 2006

“[A]buse is not sanctified by its duration or abundance; it must remain susceptible to question and challenge, no matter how long it takes.”

Chinua Achebe, Home and Exile.

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Grass Revelation Fallout

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Günter Grass’s revelation late last week that he had been a member of the SS when he was seventeen years old has sparked quite a furor in Germany:

The weekend revelations have left many questioning his motives. “It is a disappointment, in a way he has betrayed the whole generation,” said his biographer, Michael Jürgs, who said Grass had never spoken of it during their many conversations.

“We adored him not only as a moral icon, but as a figure who was telling the truth even when the truth hurts.”

The Guardian wraps up some of the reactions, which range from demands by the Christian Democratic Party that Grass return his Nobel, to statements by Salman Rushdie that Grass’s service was “a youthful mistake” and that his literary work over 70 years should be taken into account. What do you think?

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Angolan Refugee Deported

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

According to the Arabist, Paulin Kuanzambi, an Angolan refugee in Morocco who now works with a local NGO, has been kidnapped by Moroccan secret service agents posing as journalists. He was allegedly driven to the border with Algeria, along with Marcel Amiyeto. Kuanzambi is a legal refugee, recognized as such by the UN High Commissioner, so there is absolutely no excuse or legal basis for his summary deportation. It’s unclear whether UNHCR will act on his behalf.

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A Day in Hell

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Okay, so I lied. I can’t keep away from the news. Look at this: An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July. But Bush & Co. want you to know, dear taxpayer, that this is not a civil war.

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The Loaf

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

One of the great things about being here on the Bread Loaf campus is that cell phones don’t work, and there are only a few computers to check email, so I have been blissfully out of touch with world news until this morning. My first day here was made of reunions with friends, like Mary Akers, Cliff Garstang, Katrina Denza, Nina McConigley, Paul Yoon, and many others, and also enjoying some very Loaf-y experiences, like drinks at Treman before dinner and green tea at the barn after the evening reading. Last night was the official start of the conference, with a welcome talk by Michael Collier, and readings by the amazing Percival Everett and Linda Gregerson.

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In Transit

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

I am on travel today, heading out to Middlebury, Vermont, for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where I will be a fiction fellow. Posting is likely to be sporadic over the next few days.

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Hoop en Andere Gevaarlijke Verlangens

Monday, August 14th, 2006

That is the title of the Dutch edition of Hope, which is coming out in October with Sirene. And here is the Dutch cover:

hope-nl.jpg

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The Blurb

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Kevin Sampsell examines the popularity of book blurbs:

Say you’re a book on a bookstore shelf. A first novel perhaps, or something by a lesser-known author. According to marketing expert Dan Poynter, book buyers look at a book for an average of 23 seconds (eight for the front, fifteen for the back) before making a positive or negative decision on it.

Does it help if you have Bret Easton Ellis or Sue Grafton trumpeting your skills? What if the prospective reader hates Bret Easton Ellis?

And he brings his unique perspective to the piece: He’s both an author and a bookseller.

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Booker Longlist

Monday, August 14th, 2006

The Booker longlist has been announced. I’m thrilled to see that Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss has been included. Other nominated books of note: Hisham Matar’s In The Country of Men, Nadine Gordimer’s Get A Life, and David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green. I predict the prize will go to Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch.

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Grossman’s Son Killed

Monday, August 14th, 2006

The son of Israeli novelist and peace activist David Grossman has been killed in battle in southern Lebanon, AP reports:

Staff Sgt. Uri Grossman who served in an armored unit, was killed Saturday when an anti-tank missile hit his tank, according to the military. He was 20. Twenty-four IDF soldiers were killed on Saturday in the bloodiest day of battles.

Tearful friends and relatives gathered Sunday morning at the Grossman home in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Tzion.

A statement from the family described Uri as a young man with a wonderful sense of humor, who planned to travel abroad and study theater after his scheduled release from the army in November.

You can read the story in full here, including more about Grossman’s positions on this particular war.

Related:
Jess Row recommends David Grossman’s See Under: Love for MG.

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Facelift

Monday, August 14th, 2006

In honor of the upcoming paperback release of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, my book site received a fresh look.

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