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Friday, 31 October 2008

Become a Book Review Blogger

October 31, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Oh, this wonderful thing.

The Thomas Nelson publishing company in the US has asked if you would like to become a book review blogger for them and they will send you a free book - an item you would have chosen beforehand from their catalogue list - to review on your blog as well as a retail consumer website.
It doesn't matter if your review is positive or negative but you must complete and post your review in both places before Thomas Nelson will send you another book. I think it's a novel idea and have signed up for it.

Check in to their site here which tells you what to do to receive and review the books.

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Thursday, 30 October 2008

An Observation on Iranian film-maker, Samira Makmalbaf

October 31, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Watching the young, award-winning Iranian film-maker, Samira Makmalbaf talk her way rather glibly and with rushing speech through an interview documentary series that depicted the making of At Five in the Afternoon, a poignant and visibly painful drama - the first cinematic drama filmed in Afghanistan after the Taliban Government had been soundly overthrown by the US military; one is compelled to think that Makamalbaf's earnestness may well possess you.

She is zealous in conversation, keen for her listening audience to understand the simplified meaning of otherwise, complicated social statements voiced in her films and sounding slightly impatient with the common questions often asked of Iranian career women and their repressed lot. As such, she produces highly-animated gestures ... this best expressed by lunging forward with neck straining out of her lithe body as she explains passionately why film-making is so exciting.

The discovery of hope at the end of dark dangerous themes excite her, she says, with a rare glint in her eye. |The director who has made brilliant films espcially the Kurdish speaking Blackboards, featuring its strangely complex theme of teachers wandering like nomads up mountains with long blackboards that shape their shadows with bat-like apparitions; never once smiled in the interview. Yet it is clear, that she desires to be liked and understood.

Samira Makalmabaf is the daughter (once child actress and now director) of internationally acclaimed film director in the Persian world, Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

Mohsen has been married for six years to the graceful, sophisticated and rather quieter version but none less the brilliant film-maker herself; Marziyeh Meshkini, famed for The Day I Became A Woman.

In her interview, Samira Makhmalbaf offers a highly astute observation of the Afghanistani women. She says that because of severe injustices where women have had to sacrifice their images after being suitably frightened with the chilling prospect that exposing their faces would conduct for a grave sin and readily take them to hell, they would just as well totally sacrifice their confidence in the aftermath, it seems.

She descibes how difficult it was to get actors and actresses from the above-mentioned ill-fated logic alone; even one day before the shooting for
At Five in the Afternoon began. None trusted the camera. Since women felt they had no images of themselves, they saw the camera as something alien...an enemy. Makhmalbaf laments on how she had offered cash even to the poorest of families but none would stare into the lens. They would prefer the safer option of starving to death rather than accepting currency for the cursed unknown.

How did she manage to get her actors and actresses after all? "I give them all of me, "she enthuses happily. "I give them my heart, my love...I give them all of me. I am patient. I understand."

This saintly revelation would however, clash severely with an unedited footage enthusiastically shot by Samira's 14-year old sister, Hana who shows Samira off in the worst possible light. She nags at the actors involved, shows them hurried impatience, shouts in a loud, stricken voice and suddenly appears as one of those voluble tactless personalities who may easily reprimand an actor, quite severely in public drawing a twinge of nervousness among the crew and the fear of humiliation with the actor concerned. The kind of teacher that every student dreads.

She is so totally involved with the screenplay, that no one would dare put a foot out of place. During the shooting of a particular scene, she laments with highly annoyed agitation at the crew, her hands wringing into the air and clasping down on her forehead with a familiar drama born out of despair.

She shouts as loud as she can in a supposed note of confidence to anyone who would listen, about her bunch of Afghanistani actors. "These people you know. You must address them directly, otherwise they won't bother to look at you." She is clearly scornful of her merry band.

Her make-up is thick and stunning in the searing heat. Plus, every exaggerated movement is helped by a buoyant energy.

I think now of how the inexperienced Afghanistani people taking part in the film, are talked off as if they are commodities. The way rich Indian families sometimes talk of their servants standing in the same room, but behaving as if they were not there.

I remember all at once what Samira Makhmalbaf preached in her studied careful interview about giving her actors her heart and her love. And how her voice had dropped to an alluring whisper meant to convey compassion, kindness and gentleness.

I smile thinking what bad p.r. an unedited footage can sometimes bring about.


Shortlist for 2008 T S Eliot Prize

October 31, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Scottish poet Mick Imlah, whose second poetry collection
The Lost Leader (Faber) recently won the £10,000 Forward Prize for best collection, heads this year's shortlist for the 2008 T S Eliot Prize. 2 decades ago, Imlah's first poetry collection Birthmarks had been published to wide critical acclaim.

The T S Eliot Prize is made up of the most lucrative cash award in British poetry. The winner takes home £15,000; an increase of £5,000 since last year while those on the shortlist can be assured of £1,000 each.

Other shortlisted poets include Moniza Alvi for
Europa (Bloodaxe); Peter Bennett for The Glass Swarm (Flambard); Ciaran Carson for For All We Know (Gallery Books); Robert Crawford for Full Volume (Jonathan Cape); Jan Hadfield for Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe); Glyn Maxwell for Hide Now (Picador)and Stephen Romer for Yellow Studio (Carcanet).

The competition is currently celebrating its 15th year with publishers' entries totalling up to 90. The winner will be announced on January 12, 2009 and with arrangements similar to the Man Booker Prize earlier this month, all 10 poets will read at London's Southbank Centre on the eve of the event.


Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Grace Like A Shadow by Islam Samhan (October 30, 2008)

by Suzan Abrams

Here at last is the forbidden book cover for Grace Like A Shadow, a controversial poetry collection composed and published by 27 year old newspaper journalist and Jordanian poet, Islam Samhan in Amman.

The banned book was handed to me as a gift by Islam Samhan and his boss, Hada Sarhan. I haven't come across this book jacket design anywhere on the web up to the present time, so just remember you saw it here first.

Despite its earlier resounding success, the book's contents have been damned by the country's top religious mufti who reviled at the few romantic liners mixed with Koranic imagery and sections which used words like gods which Samhan said referred harmlessly to Greek mythology.

Grace Like A Shadow has now been officially banned in Jordan.

Samhan who denied that he could be anything close to what the mufti had labelled him; an enemy of the State will stand trial next Thursday in Amman. In the meantime, the Jordanian media and other sympathic supporters must stay tight-lipped about the case.

Islam Samhan had earlier been imprisoned for just over two weeks before being released.
However, the poet has now gone into hiding in another town with the aid of friends after constant death threats, hate mail and Arabic blogs written by extremists and attacking him voraciously in the Arabic language, threatened to engulf the core of his existence.

Reference: One of my earlier entries over here.

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Oct 29 - Exclusive Photo of Jordanian poet Islam Samhan's wife and son

Posted by Picasa
by Suzan Abrams

Here are photographs of 27-year old Jordanian poet Islam Samhan's young wife, Nadia and their two-year old son, Ward. Below, is Islam Samhan in deep conversation with the late Palestinian poet legend, Mahmoud Darwish.

Nadia is currently pregnant with the couple's second child.

The photographs are exclusive to Kafez and copyright usage is owned by Islam Samhan's family.

If Samhan is convicted from a court case that starts in Amman next Thursday and has to face imprisonment, there is a major possibility that Islamic law in Jordan will require for Samhan to divorce his wife and to never approach her or their son, Ward again. Samhan had already been detailed by police for a fortnight before being released a few days ago.

Islam Samhan's poetry collection Grace Like A Shadow was recently banned by the Jordanian Government for his allegedly amorous verses that were thrown in together with Koranic imagery. Samhan was accused of insulting Islam by a top religious mufti. However, the Jordanian Association of Journalists have fought for Samhan's acquittal, insisting that the charge hampered the freedom of expression in what was otherwise a tolerant Muslim nation and was based merely on one man's opinion.

The poet's life has been upturned while his career as a newspaper journalist has suffered tremendously. He also continues to live in fear of death threats that still targets his home everyday.

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Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Today's News

October 28, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Graeme Neill reports in The Bookseller today, that Google has agreed to pay £80 million to settle a lengthy legal dispute with US publishers over its book scanning programme.
The settlement which is subject to court approval, will create online access to millions of in-copyright books, and other documents, in the US, sourced from various collections of participating libraries.
Presently, Google Book Search allows users to browse millions of books online and with respect to out of copyright titles, read an extract out of the entire text.

Please read the rest of this very interesting article HERE.

Monday, 27 October 2008

October 28, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Caption: Playwright Daniel Maclvor

The Toronto based playwright, Daniel Maclvor who wrote
How It Works and A Beautiful View and who has in the past penned such notable plays as See Bob Run, Wild Abandon, The Soldier Dreams and His Greatness, has won the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre.

The prize which is Canada's most lucrative award presents $75,000 to the winning playwright, judged for his contribution and body of work with respect to playwriting.

It places the remaining $25,000 in the hands of the playwright's chosen protege. This time round, Maclvor has settled for a Vancouver based writing team made up of Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn.

Just two weeks ago, Maclvor had bagged a $25,000 commission to write a new work for the Banff Centre of Arts. He is also juggling four plays in various stages of production.

His newest play, Confession, designed as the first part of a trilogy with Communion and Redemption being the other two plays, opens in Guysborough this week. How It Works is running in Winnipeg and A Beautiful View is being staged in Washington. Meanwhile, Maclvor is also involved in a workshop at Montreal's National Theatre School. Naturally, there's a lot of running about.

Maclvor's plays reflect on the execution of relationships between ordinary people who hold unusual perceptions.

Perhaps his most inspiring remark of late, quoted in CBC (Canada)'s Book Section is when he said, "This is going to make a difference for me in terms of the time that I can take — I'll sleep better and I'll be able to do … the work that's important to me, rather than the work that's important to the rent."

Maclvor also added that while he was busy working on his trilogy of plays with some theatre support, he was looking forward to writing time of his own. He will also leave for Tokyo later on courtesy of an expensive commissioned project, that sees him staying put in Japan for awhile, writing a tragic romance between a conservative Japanese translator and her Canadian boyfriend. Maclvor plans to hire an additional writer and translator for the play.

Here is the list of the rest of the nominees.

Credit: Picture courtesy of CBC (Canada) Books Section.


Aravind Adiga sacks his literary agent

October 28, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

The 2008 Man Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga has mysteriously and suddenly parted ways with his famed literary agent, the William Morris Agency. The agency's offices in America, known also for its representation of motion picture actors and other personnel in showbiz where it matters, has just received a letter of termination from Adiga with a view to no longer representing the author in the future, although it will still take care of book rights for The White Tiger. Considered a major player in the world, William Morris runs principal offices in New York, Beverly Hills, Nashville, Miami Beach, London and Shanghai. No one at this stage, appears to know the reason for Adiga's decision. The novelist has also failed to turn up for major interviews in London in recent days, following his prestigious Man Booker Prize win.

(Partial information sourced from the latest edition of The Bookseller.)


Latest on Islam Samhan - October 27, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

I believe that the 27 year old Jordanian poet Islam Samhan whose poetry collection
Grace Like A Shadow is banned by the Government for allegedly insulting Islam in some of its verses that mix Koranic imagery with romantic feelings; is no longer at work from today as the death threats on his life and fears for his family's safety increase.
If convicted, there is a strong probability that the Islamic law in Jordan will force Samhan to divorce his pregnant wife and to never approach her or their toddler son again.

Islam Samhan's court case in Amman starts next Thursday.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Grace Like A Shadow by Islam Samhan - A Personal Message from the Jordanian Poet for Kafez Readers

October 26, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Caption: Jordanian poet Islam Samhan whose romantic poetry collection Grace Like A Shadow was banned by the Jordanian Government for allegedly insulting Islam, is seen here in deep conversation with the late legendary Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish passed away last August from a prolonged illness in a Texas hospital. Samhan has been released from jail where he was detained for over a fortnight, to attend his court case which starts next Thursday.

Photo from Hada Sarhan's personal records, exclusive to Kafez.

I received a note from Islam Samhan early today - Monday, written for Kafez. His boss at the newspaper where he works, Hada Sarhan, has translated the message as Samhan only speaks Arabic. His life is currently in danger as he continues to receive death threats from unknown sources, while awaiting trial next Thursday in Amman. I am publishing the note as it is.

Personal note from Islam Samhan exclusive to Kafez

i am islam sarhan i want to thank you all for supporting me,,my court is on thursday and i need your Prays..am sorry i cant speak english but my boss Mrs hada sarhan is helping translate and write to me in english. i will keep you informed with what will happen.
greeting to all of you
islam samhan
amman jordan

Islam Samhan's banned poetry collection is on its way to me.

Please see earlier entries:
First entry
Second entry
Third entry &
Fourth entry.

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Read stories and poetry from the Istanbul Literary Review

October 26, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

If you're surfing the web and would like an enjoyable read of Middle-Eastern stories, poetry, book reviews and thought-provoking articles, do pause for a neat fill of the Istanbul Literary Review.

Credit: Picture of Turkish men on a street, courtesy of Free pictures of cities


Uprising of extremist groups in Jerusalem

October 26, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Mohamed Salmawy who is the very eloquent President of the Arab Writers' Union and Editor-in-Chief of the Al-Ahram Hebdo, has questioned with a laudable piqued air as to why the recent uprising of extremist groups in Jerusalem has received scant attention from the international press whereas every violent act by a Muslim is diligently recorded.

The writer coated wry humour with his witty article as he expanded on these thoughts a few days ago in Egypt's only independent English daily.

In his essay, Salmawy reminds Egyptian readers of extremist Jerusalem groups in the seventies who would splash sulphuric acid on the stunned faces of women who failed to cover their lips, noses, and cheeks. They afforded themselves authority to attack any woman who failed to abide by their fanatical teachings, he recalls.

Salmawy reports of a case filed in a Jerusalem court last September against two members of one of these fanatical groups, who allegedly broke into the apartment of a Jerusalem woman and beat her up for suspected associations with men.

The 31 year old woman on having secured a divorce, had left the ultra-Orthodox fold (cult). Her assailant then tried to get her to vacate her apartment in Jerusalem by gagging, beating and threatening to kill her after neighbours complained of her 'indecent' behaviour.

Another Jerusalem court would hear of a young zealot turned arsonist after setting fire to a clothes shop in a neighbourhood where many of those fanatics dwelled. According to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfield, their numbers have mushroomed significantly over the past 10 years and now constitute about 10% of the population.

These are said to be Israeli Jews belonging to the haredim group. Why ask Salmawy has the international press hardly given this dangerous story any serious attention?

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Willa Cather

October 26, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

With Christmas perceptions to make of them what I will, there's nothing quite as festive as a spontaneous sackful of reads that pounces on the waiting spirit, with its ready shimmers of tinsel and wine.

An apt Chistmas discovery for me is Pulitzer Prize winner, the once-industrious short-story writer & novelist Willa Cather who writes on
The Burglar's Christmas with a tearful gut. The tale of a prodigal son who unintentionally returns home to rob his own mother in Chicago but ends up buried in her arms near the fireplace, is as heartwarming as The Waltons and with insights that swirl and swell as deep as a ghostly well.

I was dismayed that while having tasted an outstanding success and popularity, Willa Cather would inadverdently be booed by rising Marxist critics who dismissed the romanticism that signified her stories, as fluff.

However, the brave Cather would continue to manage a successful writing career until her death in 1947, when she ordered all her letters burnt.

I was promptly rewarded with 2 arresting writing techniques from her story:

He sank into the depths of the big leather chair with the lions' heads on the arms, where he had sat so often in the days when his feet did not touch the floor and he was half afraid of the grim monsters cut in the polished wood.
(what subtle detailing to define a story's excellence) &

the memory of them was heavy and flat, like cigarette smoke that has been shut in a room all night, like champagne that has been a day opened, a song that has been too often sung, an acute sensation that has been overstrained.
(an attractive creative ordinance to the use of images)


Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Walled Menu

October 26, 2008

The supposedly illegal West Bank wall
- consisting of a lengthy network of fences and trenches - which is being built by Israel to separate its country from the Palestinian Occupied Territories and divide further, the different isolated Palestinian communities, has attracted artists, poets, graffiti painters and even comedians who give the bare walls a colourful creative shape and freedom of expression.

Now, a part of it has even been turned into a menu for a restaurant called The Wall Lounge.

The fascinating development sprouted up when veteran Palestinian restauranteur Joseph Hazboon happened upon a concrete barrier snaking past his Bethlehem property a few years ago. Instead of emigrating with his family to the States, Hazboon decided to open a restaurant while printing its menu of delectable dishes on the Wall in waterproof colours.

Customers pick out scampi or filet mignon dishes directly from his walled menu. Most are foreign tourists who come to experience Bethlehem or the Holy Land which is the birthplace of Jesus.

(Information sourced from an exclusive story by Reuters)


Friday, 24 October 2008

Latest on Islam Samhan

October 24, 2008 4.00pm

by Suzan Abrams

Jordanian poet Islam Samhan's court case starts next Thursday in Amman.
His banned poetry book Grace Like A Shadow is on its way to me in the post.
Will share as much as I can of it with you all.

Latest on poet Islam Samhan - temporary release from jail

October 24, 2008

The handsome 27 year old Jordanian poet, Islam Samhan whose poetry collection Grace Like A Shadow was banned after he incorporated Koranic imagery into his romantic verses has been released from prison and is back at work. However, his court sessions will start in November and no one can predict the verdict.

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Thursday, 23 October 2008

Federal Budget in the UAE for 2009

by Suzan Abrams

As regards the United Arab Emirates' Federal Budget for 2009 just approved by its Cabinet, international readers may be interested to know that there is no surplus and that the deficit stands at zero. Also, no government fees or taxes of any kind were introduced. Residents are pleased with what they describe as a "well-balanced budget." Abu Dhabi was the main contributor while others included Dubai and the Ministry of Finance. A high allocation of funds has been singled out for education sectors in the UAE.

Rare photograph of jailed Jordanian poet Islam Samhan

October 23, 2008

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

Here is a rare photograph of the now 27 year old jailed poet Islam Samhan in an earlier reflective mood.

The photograph was sent to me this morning by Samhan's boss, Hada Sarhan, a well-known journalist in Jordan who now works for the Arabic Alarab Alyawm newspaper with subscriptions all over the Middle-East. Sarhan described Samhan as "such a nice unassuming man" to have worked with. His colleagues are fighting for his release.

Please note that the copyright of this photograph belongs to Hada Sarhan's personal records.

Samhan has been arrested for his forbidden verses in Grace like a Shadow which incorporated Koran imagery into romantic discourses. This was viewed sternly by Jordan's highest religious mufti and a fatwa was issue against Samhan was declared an enemy of the State for insulting Islam. For more details, please read my last 2 entries below this post.

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Latest on Islam Samhan - the young Jordanian poet now arrested and his work banned

October 23, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

For an earlier entry to this post as to why 27 year old Jordanian poet, Islam Samhan was arrested in Amman and his poetry collection called Grace like a Shadow, promptly banned by the Jordanian Government a couple of days ago, please see the entry below, over HERE or refer to my right sidebar.


The Jordanian Writers Association (JWA) together with The Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists in Amman today came out in full force, to demonstrate a protective and blanketed defence over the arrest of young poet Islam Samhan who was alleged to have insulted Islam after throwing in verses from the Koran into his romantic poetry. Both associations demanded to stand behind the writer in full solidarity and support.

Apparently, if convicted, 27-year old Samhan who himself worked as a newspaper journalist faces an imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of JD20,000. I believe that the newspaper has now terminated his contract.

The 650-member association told the Jordan Times that Samhan's arrest was a worrying development as it signalled the curtailment of freedom and creativity in Jordan. The association also said that poets relied on a metaphoric language with unique characteristics about it and did not write Arabic in the ordinary way that most people do. For instance, Samhan had pleaded in court that he had used the word gods which had nothing to do with the Arabic but everything to do with Greek mythology. It was only a metaphor.

In another case, some of the poet's lines spoke of loneliness and compared its similarity to the prophet Yusuf in the Koran.

Unfortunately, one highly-powerful man became furious over the read and saw different.

The fatwa was issued by the Kingdom's mufti and top religious authority, Noah Alqdah, who labelled the poetry an act of blasphemy and Samhan, an infidel, although the association denies that the authority in question holds any specialised knowledge in poetry or literature and stood merely as one man's opinion.

Perhaps then a case of relative notion propelled to dangerous misgivings. This is the first time a religious authority has interfered with any form of a written, printed and published poetic expression in Jordan and the episode has caused feverish anxiety among writers in the country.

Samhan has denied he meant any harm. It did not help matters that his book was printed by an unlicensed press which makes him directly involved with an infringement of the law. His wife Nadia is pregnant. The deadly love poetry so passionately inscribed, were dedicated to her. They also have a 2 year old son, Ward. Islam Samhan's lawyer is Zeina Karadsheh.

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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Grace like a Shadow by Islam Samhan gets the poet into trouble.

October 22, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Sorry for having stayed away. I was unwell.

Anyhow, back to blogging with a news clip from the Middle-East.

A 27-year old Jordanian poet, Islam Samhan was arrested yesterday (Oct 21), for the damning contents of his poetry collection called Grace like a Shadow. Samhan had combined Koranic imagery/verses with his love poems and was accused by the Jordanian Government of insulting Islam by wrongly mixing religious verses with sexual connotations. It was revealed that Samhan should have sought approval from the Jordanian government before publishing his book.

Basically to use Quranic verses in the creation of literature is not labelled as a crime in itself but how the usage is perceived to be, by the masses may account for future repercussions. If convicted, Samhan could be sentenced to prison for 2 years.

The poet has appeared shocked at being accused of apostasy. Although he had given poetry recitals to standing ovations not too long ago and the Ministry of Culture itself had purchased 50 copies of his work, Samhan's good fortune was soon overshadowed by rumours of court cases and threatening messages made to his private cell phone number.

It was only a matter of time before the police would come knocking on his door. However if there is one silver lining over this dark cloud, it is that Samhan's poetry collection is now known worldwide and his name suddenly made popular in the Middle East and with major newspapers in the West.

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Thursday, 16 October 2008

October 16, 2008

Ms Gerty Agoston

I remember my first foray into adult fiction.

No, it wasn't Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights which I admit I read too early at 14 and definitely not
Biggles from where at 11, I had been introduced to my first fictitious murder and a corpse in a plane.

I was 6 years old.

I had spotted my father's forgotten half-opened paperback in the hall.
Feeling impressed and devious, I grabbed it and started to read on. I was mesmerised.

The paperback was called
My Bed Is Not For Sleeping, and was written by popular Hungarian pulp fiction author and playwright, Gerty Agoston. Agoston who lives in New York also rose to fame with My Carnal Confessions.

I managed up to page 7 before my stunned father came along and snatched the novel away.

I kept asking him why the bed couldn't be slept on. He kept asking me to watch a cartoon. I kept insisting that he answer why the bed couldn't be slept on.

My father owned a rich collection of books; he was an avid reader. I hung around him alot with my Batman & Superman cards for my bodyguards. My father was a bit of a colourful character. He took me out for lots of car rides, to the sea and taught me how to bite into sugar cane without hurting my teeth when I was just 3.

Later, he would travel lots.

My father went to Vietnam during the war. He was a writer but did not pursue this love with any kind of aptitude towards book publication. He was content to let his drafted stories stay the way they were.

I remember an instance when he had drinks once with the notorious killer,
Charles Sobhraj, who had posed under a different name. They had chatted by the swimming pool, in a Bangkok hotel. My father remembered Sobhraj as entertaining and congenial. Later, he would read of the murders in the hotel's newspapers and of Interpol's manhunt. He was shocked. Sobraj had mesmering eyes, recalled my shocked dad.

But just look at Agoston. Isn't she beautiful. A writer who discovered herself along the way and is not afraid of her brazen revelations.


Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Aravind Adiga wins the Man Booker Prize 2008

October 15, 2008

Aravind Adiga from India has just been awarded this year's prestigious Man Booker Prize for his chunky novel, The White Tiger, in London.

Here is a review/analysis which I had posted as a commenter on the Guardian Books Blog for Sam Jordison's Man Booker Club. I then reproduced my comments on this blog.
It is a similar analysis as to how the judges had described his prized story a few hours ago.

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Sunday, 12 October 2008

Part 1 - The third allegory titled Hoorah from The Day I Became A Woman (Iranian Cinema)

October 12, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Re-written as a fable in my own words and dedicated to the brilliant world-award-winning filmmaker, Marzieh Meshkini who originally produced The Day I Became A Woman for her graduation project except that it was to hit world cinema by storm. The screenplay also contained important contributions by Meshkini's husband, pioneer filmmaker, Marzieh Makhmalba.


Once upon a time, there lived a very old Iranian woman called Hoorah.

Hoorah was so old that she was properly bent and ancient. She could have been a 100. She could have been 101. Or she could have been just 90 years old and not a day more.

The bent and very old Iranian woman whose name as Hoorah, was still sprightly. Her senses were still able. She heard and saw everything around her clearly. She spoke loudly and in authority as if she were she were in charge of everything.

For many years, Hoorah lived the hard and simple life of a poor lady. One day, good fortune struck. Hoorah inherited a windfall. The bent old lady made a quick plan to come to Kish to buy all the things that she had dreamed of sadly as a young girl. Being in the money also made Hoorah a little bossy. But she was cheerful when she could have been cantankerous. The idea of wealth put her in a good mood.

One bright and sunny day on Iran's calendar, Hoorah flew in an aeroplane on a domestic flight to the island of Kish. A kind air stewardess helped a bent Hoorah climb down the aeroplane. One, two, three and buckle my shoe. One two three and Hoorah would be free.

Outside the airport waited a little ebony-skinned boy who had been sunburnt by the island weather. He had short curly hair, thick dry lips and a happy face. He was very helpful. The little boy had many friends who looked just like him, all rallying around and ready to help. My! My! As soon as they saw the aeroplane descend, how they all rushed into the airport with their trolleys as if their lives depended on them. The little boys were ready to earn their wages in hard cash.

A few minutes later, the ebony-skinned boy wheeled Hoorah in her stylish and capable wheelchair, out of the airport. Hoorah said to the little ebony skinned boy that she wanted to go to the market to buy some things. She suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to feed her rooster as she left home and became upset.

Soon, her face would look merry again as she rows of different coloured ribbons that were tied tightly round her fingers. They looked like colourful bows. How she smiled and smiled.

The little ebony-skinned boy wheeled Hoorah up to a big shopping mall. How the old, bent woman's face lit up like a Christmas tree as she saw all the beautiful things outside the shop windows. She bought so very many things. Hoorah paid ornaments and furniture, a wedding dress and make up. How will you carry it all back to your home, asked the puzzled boy. I will manage, says a pleased Hoorah. She had bought everything that a young bride would need. The little ebony-skinned boy had wheeled her happily about the place. They had spun about, here and there and everywhere.

However, Hoorah stayed perplexed that she couldn't remember what the last ribbon was for. She would never again remember that forgotten item.

Soon, Hoorah tells her new friend of how a potential suitor had cheated her with the betrayal of marriage. She asks the little boy if she could adopt him now that she was rich. The little ebony-skinned boy says that he already has a mother.

Hoorah says again to the little boy if she could find a place to put up her feet as they aren't what they used to be. The little boy and his band of merry friends who are all pushing trolleys of many, many big boxes march in solemn procession to the beach. What a gay picture they looked, marching to the beach in a long straight line, next to a busy highway.

There they go if you can see them. A bent, ancient Hoorah leading the parade in her stylish and capable armchair, the little ebony-skinned boy as the commander-in-charge and his friends trailing after him with the trolleys and very big boxes indeed.

Soon, they all reach the beach and the little boys set up house for Hoorah. There goes the fridge, here goes the ironing board, add on the cupboards, fix a mirror, hang the saucepans.... All that is missing are the walls and ceiling. Hoorah sits on her bright red settee and ask if the ebony-skinned boy would make her a cup of tea. She also warns the other boys not to mess with her make-up kit.
The little ebony-skinned boy fetches a brand new transparent percolator from the box and begins to make tea. He is happy to be Hoorah's tiny butler. "Oh, look at that naked teapot, why did you buy me such a vulgar thing," Hoorah suddenly starts to chide him.

This was the only teapot being sold in the whole of the big wide market, says the little boy sadly, He looks askance. "I feel great shame to use that teapot," nags a severe looking Hoorah. "Let us go back to the market and and buy a new teapot somewhere else." "Okay," shouts the little boy gladly and off they go.

Soon the little ebony-skinned boys' friends all rejoice because "the old lady has gone." They make up their minds to have a little party. One boy opens the fridge and in the way that it has been mysteriously filled to the brim with coke, juices, milk, vegetable and fruit, starts to raid it. He swallows a ripe yellow banana as far down his skinny gullet as it can go.

Another experiments with a lip and eye pencil. He tries to shape his eyebrows, carefully touch up his long lashes and spreads on as much lipstick on his thick lips, as he dares. He splashes perfumes on his nipples and the spray makes them look as white as snow. He experiments with deodorant under his armpits. It is a serious, elaborate affair. The cosmetics are meticulously and vigorously applied so that the little boy may appear as beautiful as a bride.

Another boy wears the wedding dress and slips on the veil. One of his friends come to wrestle with him. The boy wrestles with his friend on the bed, the long wedding dress and veil rolling round and round together with them. One little boy in an Afghan costume busily hoovers the carpet of beach-sand. He loves his chore. Another grabs the new bathtub and takes it out to sea. His friend starts to bathe him while he sits in the bathtub.

Soon the boys gather to beat on the hanging saucepans and playact a wedding march. The boy with the wedding dress dances on and the rest follow, waving colourful umbrellas high above them. To the drumbeat of the saucepans, they sashay to a festive dance.... Round and round a big wide circle they caterpillar together, the guest-of-honour being the little boy dressed in the wedding veil and gown.

After a while, one little boy alerts the rest that Hoorah has returned in her wheelchair.

Now, the little boys run helter-skelter to keep everything back in its place. Hoorah notices nothing. The little boys volunteer to help build floats so that Hoorah and all her processions can be transferred to ships sailing by in the distance. Hoorah asks the cute little boy in the Afghan costume to stay behind and make her tea. He doesn't appear to know how to make the tea although he stays willing and cheerful. "Why did I buy all these kitchen things for if you can't even make a cup of tea?" she scolds. Hoorah begins to stare at him without flinching and finally asks if she could adopt him as he is so handsome. She likes his white, pink colour, she says. He suggests that she consider his pals instead. Oh no, protests Hoorah. They are too brown whereas he is a handsome little boy, all white and pink to look at.

The white and pink boy in his Afghan costume looks sad and says no because he already has a mother and father. He is worried that Hoorah will take him away with her.

Two pretty Iranian girls park their bicycles and come to talk to Hoorah. They have just cycled in a race and tell her stories. The old lady listens amicably. The girls hint that if only they had her possessions; if Hoorah would be so kind as to give everything away, then they could get married and start a new life. Hoorah refuses apologetically and explains that the possessions are gems from a life of waiting. She cannot part with them now. She invites the girls to tea and they all sit down together on the lounge chairs.

It starts to get dark and the little boys rush back to say that the floats are ready and everything has to be transported at once or the ships will sail away, never to be seen again. The tide would soon get lower.

Hoorah readily agrees. Now I can go home to feed my rooster, she says happily.

What about our tea, wail the girls They are disappointed. They find Hoorah fascinating and had hoped to chat longer. Hoorah comforts them for such is the call of destiny, she smiles. She is eager to get home and feed her rooster.

Soon each item is tied together onto a different float. The boys complete the whole project in the wink of an eye as if by magic.

Hoorah herself sits high on her bed as it balances gingerly on one float. It is a strange surreal scene as the army of boys push Hoorah and all her possessions out to sea. There she sits as a tall and aristocratic as a grand dame in the middle of it all. As the boys push her and all her treasured possessions out to sea, she fades further and further away until soon there is nothing left but a speck on the distant horizon. An unreal freedom is left behind to beguile the minds and visions of shocked watchful observers on the coastline.

Film's Website. The second still shows a grand Hoorah poised majestically while sitting on a bed tied to a float and stretching out to sea.

(Film review to follow shortly).
Pictures courtesy of Makhmalbaf and AllMovie.

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Friday, 10 October 2008

The Society of the Faithful - a short story by Alaa Al Aswany

October 11, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

Even books command the power to tempt an eager reader through trailers, that double up as mini-booklets while infused with a tale or two and this, as a prediction of good things to come.

In order to emphasis my meaning, let me just say that I was thrilled to discover this little purple booklet which features a surprise short story by bestselling Egyptian novelist and essayist Alaa Al Aswany.

It lies sure and discreet, tucked away inside the back flap of his latest hardback, Chicago; an intense story spun around an Egyptian community in America. Like his earlier bestseller The Yacobian Building which dealt with the turmoils of difficult personalities housed together in one building and which was recently turned into a film, Chicago stays a talking point with book circles in the UK.

The hidden 12-page story titled The Society of the Faithful forms part of Alaa Al Aswany's collection of short stories called Friendly Fire. It is to be published by Fourth Estate, UK, in June 2009. At this juncture, I feel as if I may have plucked the teaser out of a Christmas stocking. I thought that the advertising effort proved to be an ingenius idea that would certainly sit well with a serious book lover. The word gimmick would merely cheapen a sincere cause in this case and not one I'd care to describe as fitting.

The story revolves around el-Zahhar, a disillushioned Egyptian political activist who still ails in his mournful remembrance of his once charismatic leader. Mustafa el-Nahhas passed away 25 years ago.

Zahhar holds a gathering in a tiny room only to be shocked that el-Nahhas is himself barely remembered, former agendas are swiftly forgotten and that jaded followers would prefer to turn scavengers hounding necessary material pursuits, with calmer spiritual engagements thrown aside. When food is brought into the room, they rush with snarls to grab whatever may be had. The black-clad and frightened aged maid immediately throws her trays into the air and dashes out in fright. How disappointed a stunned el-Zahhar is to view the brutal truth as he sinks heavily into the nearest chair.

Descriptions do well to create an intense drama and the mood of the scene is at once atmospheric. Aswany creates a vivid episode with ease, while confidently relying on a stringent construction of words. The next scene happens upon one of magical realism as el-Zahhar comes face to face with his dead leader in the now empty room. Later, he tries to explain the incident in all earnestness to his bemused friends. Convinced of good things to come thanks to this fantastic vision, el-Zahhar lovingly promises his wife much.

This leads to an interesting end for the black comedy where the tale would appear comic and slightly tragic all at once.

Each different scene lifted new characters to unexpected moods and provoked varied emotions. The writing is distinctly masculine and through the simple plot, serves to reveal man's secret vulnerability while caught in a precarious situation.

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Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Beautiful Names by Saaleha Bhamjee

October 9, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

I first knew Saaleha Bhamjee as a fellow-blogger and aspiring author, about two years ago. Along the way, many things happened and she no longer blogs as frequently as she used to, although I fervently hope that will change.

But what made a situation doubly beautiful, was that despite having added another baby to her brood of now five children - her book is lovingly dedicated to them and after all, she calls them flowers in her garden - and from having opened Lazeeza's bakery in Johannesburg, complete with her famed "killer donuts"; this young South African writer with her strong Muslim heritage, has also published a collection of 20 childrens' poems encased in a wide book format, called The Beautiful Names.

In this respect, Bhamjee was published by Muslim Writers Publishing in Arizona, USA.

Although I began to appreciate Bhamjee's writings a long while before I read this book as once before, she often engaged in thrilling instalments of multicultural fictitious episodes which were both comical and reflective and designed to keep a faithful set of readers hooked; I began to observe her writings with a new eye only on my return from East Africa earlier this year.

Having been vowed over by the prospect of modern and contemporary African and Middle-Eastern literature, I recognised that Bhamjee wrote in the distinct style afforded mostly to intellectual Arab women writers who penned their stories in English as a second language. Think Saudi Arabia's Rajaa Alsanea for Girls of Riyadh or Palestinian Suad Amiry's The Ramallah Diaries. Today, Alsanea is a dentist in America while Amiry, a diplomat and social activist in the Palestinian Territories.

What stays especially compelling is the enthusiastic devotion by which conversational narrations are drawn upon while holding on to a literary engagement that derives its flavour from humour and intensity of description.

Arab women writing in English today parachute their fast-paced snippets and episodes to potent displays of open feeling - both suggestive of bliss and angst. These exhibited in lengthy arresting lines, needing no commas, colons or semi-colons. The use of conjunctions like and and but stay necessary weapons to turn an otherwise ordinary plot into an extraordinary one.

Bhamjee has always demonstrated the very same for her adult fiction.

In The Beautiful Names, the reader receives a slight taste of what could so easily have been perceived as an adult piece of work with her acknowledgement and profile. She is maternal towards the reader and one senses how easily she would have loved to have hung around with a cup of tea and a tale or two of her own. It is easy to picture her hand upon the reader's shoulder in some form of friendly goodwill.

That done and dusted with, the children's writings come into play although I would recommend these poems for slightly older children with a parent about. The only reason is that they are thinking poems and may involve a child pressing curious questions on the subject of life.

Bhamjee sketches out the different variations to Allah, taken from the Qu'ran and relates this to long rhyming or narrative verses story episodes and wildlife in her native South Africa. Who owns the earth, she asks, who owns the animals, planets, birds... In another verse, she reflects on the sleeping sun and the sky on a dark, lonely night. The author's voice is instantly enveloping and offers such a hushed tone that the reader may even picture a snoring dormouse come winter.

There are also humorous poems among others; of kittens playing mischeviously on a velvet carpet, wildlife scenes, the moment of a mum cradling a new infant, prayers for any child to keep handy say on a fearful night or when worried about growing old or facing a catastrophe; and mini chronicles that double up as philosophical meanderings or careful studies on humanity.

Bhamjee walks a fine line with these heartwarming spiritual fare that where some lines may even appear awkward with forced rhyming, they still remain deeply probing and inspirational. She manages to avoid being preachy or telling... preferring instead to paint her words through picturesque elements that would appear comforting or sunny to any child. This writing quality defines her mastery.

No doubt, these poems suggest a deep Muslim connotation but their inspiration and engaging words would hold the attention of any atheist, keen on any aspect that hints of goodness and an abundant love of the universe as a whole. For any interested observer of world affairs, the poems also depict the Islamic religion to be wearing its gentler, kinder face. And I would add fatherly to that.

The pictures in The Beautiful Names were illustrated by the Irish artist Shirley Gavin. Vivid startling scenes focussed on African wildlife and Africa as a whole. Each thoughtful picture to a poem conveyed a sharp clear mood of hope and light that added on a shaft of brightness to the darker verses.

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Sunday, 5 October 2008

October 6, 2008

In writing my book of short stories with its purely Asian theme, I suddenly became confident of my Malaysian heritage in Europe, rallied through a route of ease and while shouldering my gift of peace. I am a child of the Indian diaspora in a rather roundabout way. My mother came from the Punjab and my father not once wanting to part with his Indian citizenship still lives in Kerala, South India. I was born in Malaysia and raised for a few years in Singapore.

When I first went abroad, I lived for five years in Australia and then like a Dick Whittington with his mixed bag of dreams, came to Europe. If I wanted to enjoy one of my more extraordinary hobbies made up of of wildlife expeditions, I would go to my friends in East Africa. How does one even begin to unravel that kind of yarn to make it sound convincing that through travel I would happen upon a legitimate source of identity? Travel made things worse, I think today, not better. It made one greedy for the adoption of culture, for the yearning of a different people , for the eruption of extraordinary lifestyles and for the expanding spectrum of a wide range of philosophies that snubbed international barriers with a smirk.

I always saw myself as a child of Malaysia by default. However as I have become older, I do think more of my ancestral roots in India's north and south regions. I do appreciate both my race and nationality in different ways and wouldn't shun one over the other.

If I had questioned the complicated procedures of my own heritage, before I no longer did in recent weeks.

In choosing to publish my book in the States, I was now in Dublin, over the phone and through countless emails engaged with personnel in America; sometimes two at a time, and that appeared to be fascinating in itself. I thought of nothing... only of the book that had to be completed and the fact that I can get lazy. While the communication still spins heavily forwards and backwards, I found my status as an Asian in Europe suddenly defined with meticulous ease.

The fact that I could be accepted by any country without question and that I now began to feel completely at home in such a closed country as Ireland. Yes, Ireland is still a closed nation as compared to England. It is as fragile as a bubble, beautiful in an etheral way, quiet and self-contained. It is a nation only just getting used to the idea of opening its doors to a multicultural society.

And yet where I never realized before but I do now with this powerful confidence that has overtaken my thoughts; to have found my place in the world without worry or fear. Not one inherited culture or experience can be separated from the other. Every episode is deftly woven into history. As I write this now in the present, the reader would read the lines, already nestled in my past. And yet, even this mild record of introspection serves subtly to live out the threads of my existence.

What my book with its Malaysian theme offered, was merely to confirm the surety of a myriad of cultures that rested within me, to make my personality and my destiny definite and whole.
Yet I wrote my stories spontaneously without any planned caution but for inner pleasures sought and then appropriately and tenderly recovered.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

October 5, 2008

An electrifying parade by Ireland's Nigerian residents on Dublin's main thorougfare, O'Connell's street, today. Also, hilarious Halloween clowns on Dawson's. The wintry afternoon failed to dampen Dublin's exuberant party mood. It's the city's buoyant energy that stays enriching. I bought novels and dvds on alternative cinema. I'm waiting eagerly for Roopa Farooki's Corner Shop - I so love the title - but went home with a hardback... Alaa Al Aswany's much talked about novel, Chicago and also Waterstone's successfully hunted down their last paperback of AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories of India for me.

Almost every South Asian and Middle Eastern novel/non-fiction in the English Language makes it here. Of recent titles, everything did with the exception of two Malaysian novels published in the UK: Evening is the Whole Day and Little Hut Leaping Fishes. They did not appear to have stopped by Ireland's capital city. When a title is sold in the UK, it is sold too in Ireland.

Another sad reality is that despite her excellent reading at Cork recently, Wena Poon's short stories are still not available in Dublin but then they never were; not even while she was being long-listed for an Irish prize. On the contrary, Jhumpa Lahiri's second collection of short stories called Interpreter of Maladies lines almost every book display.

Still, there is always the Web and these things can easily be rectified with frontline publicity and awareness. And Ireland is always a good place to publicize one's work. Times may be hard but book-buyers haven't lessened in number. Just that a potential customer needs to have heard of the author beforehand. As far as I know, there was no MPH title displayed in the main Dublin bookshops.

What a loss in any case, in terms of potential sales and to miss an opportunity when it did strike; especially that the Irish are avid readers, love their bookshops and stay curious about new titles.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

October 1, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

My first book which is called Malaysian Ghost Tales, will be published in the USA and released for the market next March. I'm publishing this title under my real name. It will be made available in both hardback and paperback editions, and with its sober English Language text held faithful to the American version.