The Read the UAE episode, with Omar Ghobash
'My country is younger than my father' - Eman Al Yousuf
In this UAE National Day special, Ahlam, Andrea and Annabelle are joined by Eman Al Yousuf, author and Arabic Literature Events Executive at the Emirates Literature Foundation, and diplomat HE Omar Saif Ghobash, author of Letters to a Young Muslim. We talk about the UAE's literary scene - where it's at right now, where it's going, the genres that are most popular and why, how the concept of constructive criticism is evolving in the region, and Omar's foray into writing fiction about a subject close to his heart.
Books by Emirati writers in translation mentioned in this episode:
Karima by Dr Mana Saeed Al Otaiba
One of the biggest Emirati literary names, Dr Mana Saeed Al Otaiba is the author of over a hundred books published in Arabic, and no stranger to Ahlam and Eman, who remember studying and memorizing his poetry at school. His novel Karima was published in Arabic in 1990 but was published this year in English. If you're looking for a great story about love and revenge set betwen the UAE and Morocco, this is definitely one to add to your TBR pile.
The Statue of Dalma by Reem Al Kamali
One of the most important Emirati historical fiction novelists, Reem Al Kamali's The Statue of Dalma is thankfully available to enjoy in English. The story of a handsome young man called Nurta, on the island of Dalma off the coast of Abu Dhabi who sets about carving a giant statue of a goddess during the fall of the Sumerian civilization, the rise of the Akkadian Empire and subsequent attacks, and the impact of this turmoil on the man's labour of art and love.
The Sand Fish by Maha Gargash
Be transported to the UAE of the 1950s, through this story of an independent Emirati Woman, Noora, who escapes a forced arranged marriage in the wake of her mother's death.
Zelzelah: A Woman Before Her Time by Mariam Behnam
If you prefer memoir to fiction as a way to immerse yourself in this young nation, Ahlam recommends this story of Mariam Behnam (AKA Zelzelah which means 'earthquake' in Farsi and Urdu) and her unconventional life in Iran and the UAE. The first woman in her conservative and traditional family to get a university degree, she went on to become a diplomat in Pakistan and Iran and get caught up in the revolution of 1979, and to then seek refuge in Dubai.
Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
Told in a series of personal letters to his son, UAE diplomat Omar Saif Ghobash tackles how to balance being true to one's faith as a Muslim while navigating the complexities of modern life.
Ahlam Bolooki is the Festival Director for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the largest celebration of the written and spoken word in the Arab World. Ahlam finds it difficult to choose a favourite genre as it’s always changing and she’s still in the midst of discovering her literary self. She’s catching up on all the gems she missed as a child such as The Little Prince and The Giving Tree, but has also developed a new appetite for Crime Fiction so who knows what’s next?
Andrea Gissdal is the Head of Communications and Marketing for the Emirates Literature Foundation. From a voracious and indiscriminate reader as a child, to a part time bookseller as a student, as an adult she has become a literary omnivore but with a preference for fiction. She also dabbles in creative writing, and once scored 82 points in one move in Scrabble. Best day ever.
Annabelle Corton is the English Programme Manager at the Emirates Literature Foundation. She runs the Festival Book Club and has a background in guesting and presenting on talk radio shows about various literary topics. She likes words like ‘equinox’ and ‘vespa’, and loves a good pun. She’ll read anything in reach, but has a fondness for witty tussles of good vs. evil on page and screen, especially vampire fiction where a great deal is at stake. Get it? Stake? ….She’s not sorry.