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The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bedell Banned in Dubai

Guardian journalist and novelist Geraldine Bedell wrote in the Guardian Books blog yesterday that her forthcoming novel The Gulf Between Us has been banned from the Dubai book fair, where she had hoped to launch it. Bedell comments:
It seemed a perfect fit. Mine is the only novel I know of in English (but I can't think there are many in Arabic, either) set in a Gulf emirate. Most of the action takes place in a small fictional state called Hawar, which means either "little camel" or "dispute" in Arabic.
This "hawar", coming close on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, will undoubtedly draw attention to the novel. Margaret Atwood has withdrawn from the festival in protest against the censorship of Bedell's novel. Other novelists are considering their invitations, including children's writers Anthony Horowitz and Lauren Child (perhaps as much at the suggestion from the fair to Bedell's publishers Penguin that they consider launching a children's book [read: harmless] instead -- oblivious to the excellent, contentious and controversial children's and YA fiction currently being published). As the festival is being funded by the Emirates Airline Foundation, a boycott of Arsenal might also be considered.

Speaking to the Guardian today, Jonathan Heawood, director of English PEN, said:
Ideally a festival like this should be a chance for authors from all cultures and different backgrounds to come together, share work and exchange experiences. A literary festival should be about cultural exchange, and clearly this one isn't.

Bedell suggests that the "comically long list" of reasons for banning the novel from the fair omit - and in fact disguise - the decision-makers' homophobia (the novel features a gay sheikh). The author of Saudi-set Girls of Riyadh faced a backlash for her portrayal of the sexual double standards among the "velvet class," including a minor character who is a lesbian. The author of Al Akharoun, a Saudi novel with a lesbian protagonist, has to use a pseudonym. So Bedell's guess has some precedents in the region to support it. Al Akharoun was published in Arabic by Dar al Saqi, who also publish Hani Naskshabandi, a Saudi journalist and novelist currently living in Dubai.

I haven't read The Gulf Between Us, but I'd be curious as to how it compares in its worldview and style to the fiction covered by Laila Mohammed Saleh's Women Writers of the Islands and Arabian Gulf, and to the fiction and non-fiction writing being fostered in UAE by the al-Owais foundation, most of which is not available in English translation. Anyone familiar with writing from UAE who can offer an insight?

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