On Sunday 24 March, the festival features two Arab authors from opposite ends of the Arab world, both with novels newly published in English translation by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), the joint venture of Bloomsbury Publishing plc and the Qatar Foundation. The authors are flying in from their respective overseas locations to take part in the events.
Qatari engineer and journalist Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud [above] is a historical novelist whose first published novel The Corsair - published in both Arabic and English by BQFP - is set in the Gulf, India and England in the early 19th century. It tells of the British government's fight against piracy on the high seas and against the expansion of Wahhabism in Arabia. One of the novel's central characters is the legendary 19th century corsair Erhama bin Jaber, who controlled certain trade routes of crucial importance to the British. (There is today a state-of-the-art shipyard named after him in Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar). The novel was translated into English by Amira Nowaira.
Mohammed Achaari, a Moroccan poet and novelist who is a former culture minister, focuses on a contemporary political theme in his novel The Arch and the Butterfly, which was joint winner in 2011 of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). (The other winner was Saudi novelist Raja Alem, for The Doves' Necklace. The two winners appeared together at an event at the London Festival of Literature in July 2011 to talk about their prizewinning novels.)
The central protagonist of Achaari's novel is a left-wing Moroccan journalist, Youssef al-Firwasi, son of a German mother. Youssef's life is thrown into turmoil when he receives a letter telling him that his only son, whom he had thought was studying in Paris, has been killed as a "martyr" fighting for Islamists in Afghanistan. The novel touches on some of the most burning issues in the Middle East today, with its exploration of religious extremism, cultural identity and generational change. It has been translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid.
On 24 March Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud will be appearing alongside another historical novelist, Harry Sidebottom, in the event Imagining the Battles of the Past to be held in Christ Church, Festival Room 2 from 10-11am, chaired by author, broadcaster and historian Julie Summers.
Mohammed Achaari will be discussing his novel from 2-3pm in Convocation House, part of the Bodleian Library.
This will be the second occasion within two months that a Moroccan writer and former culture minister shortlisted for IPAF 2011 has been in England. In early February Bensalem Himmich travelled to London for the awarding of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation to Roger Allen for his translation of Himmich's novel A Muslim Suicide.
Allen's translation of the novel for which Himmich was shortlisted for IPAF 2011, My Torturess, which focuses on extraodinary rendition during the "war on terror" has yet to find a publisher as Allen explained at an event with Himmich at the Mosaic Rooms.