SIBF 2022: Arab authors talk of challenges when living outside homeland

Eminent writers who migrated to new countries narrate their experiences


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Tue 8 Nov 2022, 5:15 PM

Last updated: Tue 8 Nov 2022, 7:17 PM

The challenges for writers among the Arab diaspora - when living outside their homeland and in a language setting other than their own - was brought into focus at the 41st Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) in a panel discussion.

A panel of eminent Arab writers discussed the impact these challenges have on the writing process in a discussion moderated by Ali Alamri and titled, ‘Challenges and Difficulties that Arab Writers Face’.

The panel featured Yemeni-French computer scientist and novelist Habib Abdulrab Sarori; Kurdish-Syrian writer Marwan Ali; Palestinian-Icelandic writer and poet Mazen Maarouf; Lebanese-Austrian writer Sonia Boumad; Iraqi-Syrian writer Mohamed Mazloum; and Austrian writer and leading literary figure, Helmuth Niederle.

"When moving to a new country, language can prove to be a hindrance for a regular person, let alone a writer seeking to communicate with their audience," said Marwan Ali.

"As a Kurdish person born in northern Syria, who later moved to Europe and had to learn new languages, I can say a writer's freedom lies in experiencing this suffering, so you have to cross that door.”

Mazen Maarouf's journey as a Palestinian who lived in Lebanon and then migrated to Iceland came with a different set of challenges.

"I thought I would be the only writer on this freezing island, but there are actually thousands of writers among a small population of 350,000, but the nine foreign writers there are not always accepted in the official writers' forums," said Maarouf.

"Also, after living in Lebanon, the serenity and peaceful life in Iceland gave me more anxiety. I needed the daily tensions and stresses of life in order to write! The anger and emotional state that fuelled my writing was missing in a quiet country, and that has been a challenge in itself."

For Iraq’s Mohamed Mazloum, the writer's challenge is one of exile. "Exile is a destiny for Iraqis who have lived outside the country for a long time. A number of Iraqis write using pseudonyms - they live, get married and die under those names," he said.

Sonia Boumad observed that “the Arab diaspora writers are responsible for the preservation of the Arabic language and are the soft power representing Arab countries."

Helmuth Niederle noted: "The 20th and 21st centuries are the eras of refugees and migrants. But while many of them have been accepted and integrated into European countries and cultures, many others face the challenges of not having an adequate readership for writing in the language of their adopted countries.”

Habib Abdulrab Sarori, who was longlisted in 2015 for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his work, Suslov's Daughter, also touched upon the challenges of travelling outside Yemen in his younger days and getting his works published outside his homeland.


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