Archive for May, 2009

Shamsie & Mueenuddin

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Pakistani writers Daniyal Mueenuddin (author of the story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders) and Kamila Shamsie (author of, most recently, the novel Burnt Shadows) are the subject of a short piece by Rob Gifford at NPR. Take a listen.



Friday, May 29th, 2009

Guess what? The Israeli police shut down the Palestinian Literature Festival again. This time, armed police showed up at the closing event, which was due to take place in the National Theater in Jerusalem. Fortunately, the director of the British Council stepped in and offered an auditorium for the panelists and audience. An Israeli friend tells me that this story has been under-reported in his country. Unsurprisingly, it’s been under-reported here, too.


Pandora Problem

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

The Telegraph reports that Major General Antonio Taguba, who authored the infamous report that exposed the abuse in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in 2004, has now revealed that there are photos of U.S. soldiers allegedly raping Iraqi prisoners. These photos were part of the initial set that became widely known a few years ago, but have never been released.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it,” [Taguba said.]

In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.

Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

I think these photographs will come out eventually, whether with the permission of the Obama administration or without it. (Remember: the Taguba report and the abuse it documented became widely known thanks to the reporting of Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker and the people at Sixty Minutes.) This set of photographs will probably come to light, too. Yes, public sentiment will be inflamed. And it should be. But the truth always comes out in the end. And then people will direct some of their anger at Obama, the man who tried to stop the release of the photographs.



Power of Culture

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

The second annual Palestine Festival of Literature is taking place this week, with stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jenin, al-Khalil, and Bethlehem. But the festival had a rough start: armed Israeli police shut down the opening night event, which was due to take place at the Palestinian National Theater in Jerusalem. The novelist and essayist Ahdaf Soueif, who started the festival last year, is quoted in this article:

“We stood in the early evening light, by the tables laden with books and food and flowers, nibbled at kofta and borek and laughed and chatted and introduced new friends to old. . . . Then we started moving towards the auditorium and I heard someone say quietly, ‘They’ve come.’


“Looking around – and there they were, the men in the dark blue fatigues, with pack-type things strapped to their backs and machine-guns cradled in their arms. I had a moment of unbelief. Surely, even if they were coming to note everything we said and to make a show of strength they still wouldn’t come with their weapons at the ready like this? But then there were more of them, and more.”

Undeterred, Soueif and the other writers walked over to the French Cultural Center, where the panel was able to proceed without incident. You can watch some video footage here. The festival features panels, readings, and workshops by many different writers and artists, including Abdulrazak Gurnah, Claire Messud, Jamal Mahjoub, Michael Palin, Suheir Hammad, Raja Shehadeh, and Henning Mankel. You can watch Suheir Hammad read one of her poems in Ramallah.


More Bits and Pieces

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

I’ve been back for a few days now, but it seems all I’ve been doing is trying to catch up on all the work I had set aside before leaving, hence the lack of posting. The interview I did for KQED is now archived online. Recent reviews of Secret Son include pieces by Lara Killian in Popmatters and James Gibbons in Bookforum. An excerpt of my novel also appears in the Spring issue of the London-based Banipal magazine.


The Writer As Self-Critic

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I write a fair amount of non-fiction, much of which is criticism, so you would think that I’d feel comfortable critiquing, interpreting, or at least explaining my own work. Ever since my new novel was published I’ve been asked to do just that, in fact. But I confess I find it incredibly hard and also emotionally taxing to act as self-critic, which is why I had to smile in recognition when I was reading this essay by Salman Rushdie in Outlook India last weekend.

The trouble begins with having to explain oneself. When I publish a book, my strong instinct is to absent myself completely, because at the moment of publication, the writer’s time with the book is at an end, and the reader’s time begins. You offer up your tale and then you want to hear from other people; the least interesting voice, at that moment, is your own. However—for such is the nature of the publishing industry—at the very moment when the author wishes to be invisible, he is required to be most visible. Every writer comes to dread the sound of his own voice repeating answers over and over again.

The effect, if the process goes on long enough (and it does, it does), is to alienate one from one’s own work.Publication comes to seem like the process by which the author is persuaded to detest his book, so that he has to begin writing another story to obliterate the one he can no longer bear to discuss.

And before you hit “Compose” on that email software: I do realize how fortunate I am to have a publisher, to be sent on tour around the country, to be translated, to be asked to talk about my work, and, most of all, to be read. My point is about the process of self-interpretation; that is what makes the essay so interesting to me.



On Tour: Day Twelve

Monday, May 18th, 2009

I had another great reading for Secret Son earlier tonight. Great audience, great questions. One elderly Moroccan woman, who had come out with her entire family, said that she had wanted to let out joy-cries when I started to speak. But her family told her that it wasn’t such a great idea, and that perhaps the bookstore customers might get alarmed. (!) It was also great to see some friends and readers I hadn’t seen since I toured for Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, four years ago.

In other news, the interview I did with Voice of America when I was in DC is now available online. And at NPR, Maud Newton recommends the late Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, a novel that is now part of the New York Review of Books Classics series, and for which I wrote an introduction.


On Tour: Bay Area

Monday, May 18th, 2009

My final stop on the Secret Son tour will be in the Bay Area today. Here are the details:

Monday, May 18, 2009
7:00 pm
Reading and signing
Barnes & Noble
6050 El Cerrito Plaza
El Cerrito, CA 94530

Please come by and say hello!


On Tour: Day Eleven

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

I want to say a big “Thank You” to all my friends who came out on Thursday night for the reading at Skylight. You know who you are.


On Tour: Los Angeles

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

I’ll be reading from my new novel, Secret Son, here, at home, in Los Angeles. Here are the details:

Thursday, May 14, 2009
7:30 PM
Reading and signing
Skylight Books
Los Angeles, California

Please come by and say hello!


Matar on Kanafani

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

My friend Hisham Matar has a very moving piece in Granta about Ghassan Kanafani. Here is a tiny excerpt:

For the twenty-three days that the Israeli bombardment of Gaza persisted, I would wake up at four a.m. and sit with yesterday’s paper, then read the news online, then walk to the local newsagent and get the day’s paper. Suddenly it would be lunchtime. I could not respond when asked what I thought, or ‘Isn’t it terrible?’ I spent too long online looking at photographs and watching videos, reading articles, listening to interviews. On the fourth of January, a week after the bombardment started, a friend sent me a piece he had written on the assault. I read it and wrote a long email that every other day I would edit and revise. In the end I never sent it.

I called my mother and whenever she said something about Gaza I changed the subject. It was during one such conversation that my eye fell on a name on my shelf: Ghassan Kanafani. I had not read him since boyhood. I flicked through the collection of short stories until I came upon one called ‘Letter From Gaza’. I read it, photocopied it and took it with me to a reading I was giving at the University of Cambridge. I did not read it but seemed to need it there in my pocket.

Please read it all here.


On Tour: Day Ten

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I read from Secret Son at Books & Books in Coral Gables tonight. It was my first time at this bookstore and I really loved it. They have a wonderfully laid out space, with lots of room to walk around, and these really cool leather pouffes you can sit on if you want to get started reading, plus a little cafe, a lovely courtyard, and they even put up a sign before the reading begins! Thank you to everyone who came.


On Tour: Miami

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I’m finishing of the East Coast portion of my tour this week, with a reading in Miami. Here are the details:

Friday, May 8, 2009
8:00 PM
Reading and signing
Books & Books
Miami, Florida

Please come by!


On Tour: Day Nine

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

It was a nice surprise to see that a reader had taken the train all the way from Connecticut for my event at the Barnes & Noble in the Village. Another happened to be in town from London, saw the bookstore poster, and popped in. I’m always amazed that anyone would want to take time out to hear me pontificate. So thank you to all those who came.

The Daily Beast did a profile of me yesterday, which you can read here. For those of you who have been hiding under a rock, the Daily Beast is published by none other than Tina Brown, former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor. Here’s also an interview with Collected Miscellany’s Kevin Holstberry and a review of Secret Son by Aaminah Hernandez at the Feminist Review.


On Tour: New York

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

I will be reading from Secret Son in New York this week. Here are the details:

Thursday, May 7, 2009
7:30 PM
Reading and signing
Barnes and Noble
396 Ave of the Americas (8th St.)
New York, New York

Please come by!


On Tour: Day Eight

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The Borders Books event was lovely, thought it was slightly surreal because it was taped not by one, not by two, but by three TV camera crews. One was Al-Hurra, the State Dept.-funded TV network that broadcasts in North Africa and the Middle East; one was Al-Muhajer, which is for and about the Moroccan diaspora throughout the world; and one was the Morocco Board, which is also diaspora focused. I also did sit-down interviews with each one of them, either before or after the event. The official news agency of Morocco also sent a correspondent to cover the reading. I was delighted to see some good friends in the audience—one of them brought me chocolate covered coffee beans, which I am munching on now in my hotel room (probably not such a good idea since I have to go to bed soon.)


On Tour: Washington, DC

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

I will be reading from Secret Son in Washington, DC this week. Here are the details:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
6:30 pm
Reading and signing
1801 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20006

This event is co-sponsored by the Washington Moroccan American Club, so I hope I will see a lot of Moroccan Americans there!


On Tour: Day Seven

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Just a quick update for those of you who might be interested. I did an interview with Cameron Martin for the Barnes & Noble Review a few weeks ago and it’s now available online. I was happily surprised to see that they got Joe Ciardiello to do a caricature.

I also did a live radio interview earlier today with the amazing Kojo Nnamdi on WAMU here in DC. You can listen to the show here.

For those of you who are on Facebook, you might be interested to know that my wonderful publisher has set up a fan page there, which you can join if you like.

Now I am in my hotel room, answering email and fighting with the thermostat.

I’ll post information about tomorrow’s reading shortly.


On Tour: Day Six

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Thank you to everyone who came to Harvard Book Store tonight to hear me read (and to the readers who pre-ordered signed copies!) I had a great time. And thank you to the kind and thoughtful staff there. I loved the fact that they were also offering copies of the New York Review of Books edition of Season of Migration to the North with my intro.

Here is a quick heads up on upcoming radio interviews: I taped a short segment for WAMC’s The Roundtable, and I believe it will air on Thursday, so please tune in. For those of you in New England, I will also be on the Jordan Rich Show on WBZ this weekend.


On Tour: Boston

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I will be reading from Secret Son in Boston, Massachusetts this week. Here are the details:

Monday, May 4, 2009
7:00 PM
Reading and signing
Harvard Bookstore
Boston, Massachusetts

Please come by and say hello!


On Tour: Day Five

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

I had a full day on Friday–three panels, plus a couple of interviews. It all started with a lunchtime reading with Morten Ramsland, Peter Weber, and Bernard Comment at Deutsches Haus. The event was scheduled to be held in the courtyard, but it was a little rainy so we stayed inside. I met with several readers afterward, including an Israeli woman of Moroccan origin, a young writer who had traveled from Philadelphia for the event, and an elderly women with carefully wrapped copies of both my books.

I had to take a mad dash to my next panel, which was moderated by Jane Ciabattari and which provided critical perspectives on several writers in the festival: Eric Banks on Peter Weber, Rigoberto Gonzalez on Álvaro Enrique, the translator Alissa Valles on Bernardo Atxaga, and me on Nawal al-Saadawi. As I was getting ready to sit down on stage, I discovered that none other than Ms. al-Saadawi herself was sitting in the front row, right across from me. I got a little bit flustered as I started speaking, but overall I think I got all of my points across. Here is a Flickr photo set from the event and a brief wrap up of the panel from Words Without Borders.

Then we (Alex had flown in from Los Angeles for the weekend) went to get some lunch while we waited for the next panel–a celebration of Tayeb Salih and the marvelous Season of Migration to the North. We started with a reading in Arabic by Elias Khoury of the first scene from the novel, which I then read in English. Then Raja Shehadeh, Bruce Robbins, Elias Khoury and I each spoke about what the book meant to us. I was delighted to discover that Mariam Said was in the audience (the late Edward Said wrote so approvingly of this book; I believe her presence was in his memory).

Photo: Jane Ciabattari, Nawal el-Saadawi, and me. (Photo credit.)

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