Last Monday night, The Qatari Forum for Authors hosted the writer, researcher and translator, Dr. Asma Farnan, was hosted in the “Read Me, Says the Book” initiative, which is supervised and managed by Dr. Dr. Abdelhaq Belabed, the Professor of Literature and Methodologies of Criticism and Comparative Studies at Qatar University. The session was broadcast via the YouTube channel of the Forum.
The Cultural Adviser to the French Book Fair praised this initiative, which she considered to be an enrichment of the Qatari and Arab cultural landscape in general, because it is important both in terms of encouraging constructive criticism and in terms of highlighting many literary works that need careful, deep and insightful reading.
She emphasized that she chose to raise the subject of the Qatari Novel, between Credibility of History and Imaginings of Narrative, because of the importance of this subject, as most international prizes now tend to encourage historical novels and narrative interpretations.
She argued that the historical novel has gained importance from the importance of the events it deals with, since every historical novel highlights some hidden aspects of the events of history, which makes it some sort of a historical encyclopedia. Historical novels, she continued, interacts together and produce literary writings that attempt to read the living reality and search for some events that are absent from the public scene, covering the shortage in international libraries, and uncovering some mysterious and shadowy events in the history of the Arab Peninsula. The biggest archive of Arab history and the Arab Peninsula, she pointed out, is in the archives of European libraries, specifically, Germany and France.
She said that the problem that is raised by critics is how to distinguish between the historical truth and the narrative text that seeks to satisfy readers through imagination on the one hand, and the presentation of the historical facts and investigation of its credibility on the other. Furthermore, writers, she asserted, made this difficult equation possible, as they were freed from the guardianship of the raw reference, reconstituting historical events according to a new narrative vision, inspired in their parallel construction of events by historical facts that they formulated in a tangled, interesting, thorny, and dramatic narrative.
The novels’ interest in history, she explained, is not new, but given the spread of this kind of documentary literature and events that took a somewhat different course from the actual course, it was necessary to open a renewed critical window for this this narrative. History, she indicated, formed an obsession for many novel writers, whether in the Arab or Western world. They depended on it in their works, since history enables people to explain the present and foresee the future. Some contemporary writers even projected historical events in their writings, take for example Farid Abu Hadid and Georgi Zeidan. The connection between history and novels, she explained, is not new, but rather it has spread widely in recent times, especially with the growing need to understand and document history. She further highlighted the realistic – imaginary dichotomy in the two novels: “Al-Shera’a Al-Moqaddas” (Holy Sail) and “Al-Qorsan” (The Pirate), as the author called a historical archive from various sources: biographies, history books, notices, letters, speeches, and story sets or the spoken oral folklore. This is evidenced in his inclusion of a famous heritage story that was passed down by generations, and then inscribed in manuscripts, which he weaves with the rest of the elements of the novel skillfully. He then creates the dramatic lines for his novel to intersect with the events. It is the story of Ibn Rahhal, who was a minister in the court of Sultan al-Jabouri, the ruler of Al-Aqqair, Muqrin Bin Zamil Al-Jabri. Ibn Rahhal was married to the daughter of the Minister of the Kingdom of Hormuz, Al-Khawaja ‘Attar, Halima who was the Kingdom’s most beautiful woman. A conspiracy was then planned to get rid of him by a relative of Sultan Al-Jabouri, Prince Nasser Al Jabri, to take Ibn Rahhal’s wife, Halima from him. So, he sent Ibn Rahhal in a military mission, to separate him from his wife.
Here comes the twist, and the level of romance, love, treachery and betrayal goes up, with the beginning of the chapters of revenge and attempts to redeem the rights, then Ibn Rahhal is killed by Prince Nasser after he came back for revenge.
In the novel “Al-Qorsan” (The Pirate), Al Mahmoud managed to be informed of all aspects of that historical period, whether in terms of social characteristics or prevailing principles, which are reflected in the actions of characters and events.
The writer used historical archives, engraving events with all the fine details, employing the historical fact as a technical element in his text, skillfully weaving it with events, location and time, within a wide geographical area stretching from the Arabian Gulf to Europe and North Africa, until the banks of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, where Al Mahmoud took his readers in a journey in history, place, time and depth. He built a dramatic landscape that conveys the conflict on the East brilliantly, sketching the overlap of ships and the sails and moving his characters back and forth between history and narrative.