Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

Search of Air Algerie crash site continues

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Sarkozy, Hollande and the scooter wars

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Confusion online over Air Algérie flight

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - July 25th, 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - July 25th, 2014

Read more

REPORTERS

Halal tourism on the rise

Read more

ENCORE!

Tunisia's Carthage International Festival turns 50

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

WWI Centenary: the battle for Verdun

Read more

THE BUSINESS INTERVIEW

When big companies want to do good

Read more

  • Limited 12-hour humanitarian truce takes effect in Gaza

    Read more

  • Video: No investigation apparent at MH17 crash site

    Read more

  • In pictures: Devastation, debris at Air Algérie crash site

    Read more

  • Paris bans new Gaza protest scheduled for Saturday

    Read more

  • Kerry due in Paris for new round of Gaza ceasefire talks

    Read more

  • Washington Post reporter and his wife arrested in Iran

    Read more

  • French families grieve for Algerian plane crash victims

    Read more

  • Lithuania’s Navardauskas wins 19th stage of Tour de France

    Read more

  • LA Times wipes France off the map in air crash infographic

    Read more

  • Fans electrify the mood as Tour de France crosses the Pyrenees

    Read more

  • French lawyer files complaint against Israel at ICC

    Read more

  • Protest against Gaza offensive turns deadly in West Bank

    Read more

  • Halal tourism on the rise

    Read more

  • Ukraine names acting PM after Yatseniuk's shock resignation

    Read more

  • BNP to pay $80 million for defrauding Dept of Agriculture

    Read more

  • Deadly strike on UN shelter in Gaza Strip

    Read more

  • Pope meets Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan

    Read more

Culture

Beirut is this year's World Book Capital

Latest update : 2009-04-25

UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural and educational body, has picked the Lebanese capital to be this year's World Book Capital, amid an unprecedented boom in Arab novels across the Middle East.

AFP - The Lebanese capital was chosen as the world's literary centre this year "in the light of its focus on cultural diversity, dialogue and tolerance," according to the UNESCO selection committee.

There is no shortage of literary fodder as book readings and launches are scheduled across Beirut daily for the last week of April. Among books being showcased will be a wealth of latest offerings from leading authors.

"More than 100 novels were up for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (the Arab version of the Booker Prize) in 2008/09 -- and that's an unprecedented number," said Fakhri Salih, a former jury member for the award and current chairman of Jordan's association of literary critics.

The prize was awarded to Egyptian author Yussef Zeidan for his book "Azazil," which centres on changes in religion in Arab countries around the Mediterranean in the fifth century AD.

The novel quickly gained popularity as a genre in 2002 when Egyptian writer Ala al-Aswany published the highly successful "The Yaacoubian Building," a novel-turned-movie depicting regime corruption and the rise of Islamism in Egypt.

The publication was followed by a flurry of works that delve into taboo topics, primarily sexuality and religion, in countries where such books had been historically banned and where the novel was almost non-existent.

"The production of novels in Gulf countries exploded in recent years," says Rana Idriss, who heads the Beirut-based Al-Adab (Literature) publishing house.

In 2005, for example, Saudi author Rajaa Alsanea found fame with "Girls of Riyadh," a book that traces the lives of four young women in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

"Individualism and the ego awoke in the Arab world through the novel, as though it were personal resistance against oppression," Lebanese author Jabbour Doueihy told AFP.

"The West likes Arab novels that deal with political oppression, women, or sexual taboos. It's looking for something exotic and is trying to discover the region through these books."

But although the Arab world is home to internationally acclaimed writers such as Egypt's Nagib Mahfuz and Sudan's Tayeb Salih, author of the 1966 hit "Season of Migration to the North," reading has lost popularity.

"We cannot speak of an Arab world that likes to read," said publisher Idriss.

She estimates that even best-sellers pitch no more than 3,000 copies, a number well below hit sales in Europe or the United States -- and especially low considering the Arab world boasts a population of some 300 million.

Literary critics agree that new novelists have not yet reached the heights of legendary writers like Mahfuz, the only Arab author to have been awarded the Nobel prize -- in 1988 -- or Sudan's Salih.

"It's good to have new blood, but many works out there cannot be qualified as novels, or are mediocre, relying only on audacity in talking about sex or religion," Idriss said.

Lebanese novelist Hassan Daoud, who edits daily newspaper Al-Mustaqbal's literary supplement, agrees.

"Some writers place speed over the basic criteria of novels," Daoud told AFP.

"Daring is great, but we should always ask ourselves whether all these novels dubbed 'audacious' will pass the test of time and join the Arab literary canon."

Arab and foreign audiences alike nonetheless continue to be enthralled by the 21st-century Arab novel -- incidentally at a time when Beirut readies to be dubbed the ninth world book capital.

"The Arab novel offers Westerners an 'anthropological' tool to understand the Arab world, which has been accused of terrorism since the September 11 attacks," Fakhri Salih said.

Publisher Idriss says there is a glimmer of hope in that because writing in Arabic has become "fashionable" new talent may appeal to wider audiences.

"We have begun to see hip young people engaging in the novel. It's a trend that is still timid, but it gives us hope."
 

Date created : 2009-04-25

COMMENT(S)