Lebanese author highlights literature’s role in widening perspectives

Hoda Barakat was attending the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2020

Lebanese author highlights literature’s role in widening perspectives

  • “Literature has to be against our realities. There are too many mediums to tell you what reality is. In literature, you have to contest that reality,” she said

DUBAI: Literature has the power to widen people’s perspectives, especially on Arab experiences, which are often oversimplified, an award-winning Lebanese novelist has said.

In her most recent book, “The Night Mail,” Paris-based Hoda Barakat showed an example of how the West could generalize the experiences of people in the Middle East, and make it their “reality.”

Barakat, who writes her novels in Arabic, indicated her role as an Arab writer was to try and correct this perception and better explain these regional struggles through the characters and stories she creates.

“Literature has to be against our realities. There are too many mediums to tell you what reality is. In literature, you have to contest that reality,” she told Arab News on the sidelines of the Emirates Airline Literature of Festival held in Dubai Festival City.

Growing up in Lebanon, Barakat was fond of reading, which she initially thought was a “handicap” to her self-expression.

“I was very young and was very attached to reading. I had teachers telling me to express myself more, and when I started to express myself, it was very encouraging,” she said.

But like many established authors, Barakat did not initially think of publishing her works.

“I started to publish very late for my age. I was 35 when I decided to publish my first book,” she said. 

Her first book was “Za'irat” or “Visitors” in English, which was a collection of short stories.

It wasn’t until the publication of her first novel, “The Stone of Laughter” — which received tremendous acclaim in the Arab world — that she felt she should be a writer. 

Barakat added that writing novels is a decision one has to make and commit to.

“The first novel I worked on, I was unsure about it. It wasn’t very serious,” she said, although she had many friends encouraging her to publish.

Now, Barakat has a few prestigious awards to boast about, including the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for her most recent work. 

OneWorld, a London publishing house, has partnered with her to reproduce all her work, even the older novels, in English.

“There are so many works to do with OneWorld — I’m happy for that,” she said.


What We Are Reading Today: Divided Armies

Updated 23 February 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Divided Armies

Author: Jason Lyall

How do armies fight and what makes them victorious on the modern battlefield? In Divided Armies, Jason Lyall challenges long-standing answers to this classic question by linking the fate of armies to their levels of inequality.
Introducing the concept of military inequality, Lyall demonstrates how a state’s prewar choices about the citizenship status of ethnic groups within its population determine subsequent battlefield performance.
Treating certain ethnic groups as second-class citizens, either by subjecting them to state-sanctioned discrimination or, worse, violence, undermines interethnic trust, fuels grievances, and leads victimized soldiers to subvert military authorities once war begins.
The higher an army’s inequality, Lyall finds, the greater its rates of desertion, side-switching, casualties, and use of coercion to force soldiers to fight, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
In a sweeping historical investigation, Lyall draws on Project Mars, a new dataset of 250 conventional wars fought since 1800, to test this argument.