by Rana Asfour
Published by Motivate
To purchase: go to booksarabia.com
Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson has lived in the Middle East for many years. Currently the Senior Chaplain of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, his book ‘Jesus of Arabia’ published by Motivate proved to be a most interesting read over the weekend.
My use of the word ‘interesting’ is deliberate. Contrary to previous book purchases, I had no expectations whatsoever regarding the content of the book and knew nothing about its author. No one I knew had read it. And since I’m doing honesty, I admit that it was the title that sold it for me. Since moving back to the Middle East, it seems that all it takes is for someone to stick the word ‘Arabia’ before or after a title and my attention is piqued. I am not sure what this says about me at the moment, yet as this is neither place nor article for self-examination, I will hurriedly dismiss it as an over-eagerness to learn all about a region I currently call home.
The idea for the book according to its author began as a series of conversations for a video project on interfaith dialogue with filmmaker Ray Haddad (you can watch one Vimeo HERE). With a forward note penned by His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development in the UAE, Thompson’s work is seen as a projection of the underlying principles that are at the core of everyday life in the UAE. In complete support of the book, H.E. writes:
‘Uniting people of differing faiths, finding common ground among those who come from different cultural traditions, harnessing the core values that are common to all religions – these principles are consistent with the aims of the United Arab Emirates … the UAE has committed itself to bridging the gaps that separate people of different cultures, discovering and celebrating the bonds that unite them’.
The structure of the book adopts the ‘jizz’ categories (jizz is actually a term related to birds) or essential components of the Arab spirit as outlined by former British diplomat Mark Allen in his book ‘Arabs’. Now, here’s where the book gets its ‘interesting’ factor: Thompson does two things simultaneously; he informs the reader of the essential components of Arabian Gulf culture and then relates the teachings of Jesus to them. These components include the themes of blood (the importance of tribe and family), religion (how it shapes communities and serves as law), the role of women, and language (Arabic is the vehicle of God’s speech).
As he describes it, the Reverend writes as a ‘Western expatriate Christian, seeking to engage with the culture of the Arabian Gulf through the stories and teachings of Jesus Christ’. According to Thompson the book is about exploring the common ground between the faiths using Arabian Gulf culture as a mediator. It is not, he writes, ‘a narrative or a reconstruction of the Jesus of orthodox Christian faith or history’ nor is it a manual aiming to ‘convert’ people to his way of thinking.
In the process, the reader is offered a rare education into the daily life of the UAE’s locals that is insightful and fascinating; The Gulf Arabs’ (Khaleejis) wedding and banquet protocols, pearls (mentioned in both the Qur’an and Bible as a symbol of eternal life), fasting, camel beauty contests, where to sit in a ‘majlis’ and even a section on how Abu Dhabi got its name. There are chapters on scent (indicator of wealth in the same way a car is), bread (a staple diet in the Gulf) and even running (why Arabs don’t run). And did you know that a monastery in Sir Bani Yas Island off the coast of Abu Dhabi provides the first real evidence of the pre-Islamic Christian presence in the region? And did you know that other churches were found on Failaka island in Kuwait and in Jubail on the Eastern coast of Saudi Arabia and that some of the most important theologians and liturgists emerged from monastic communities based in Bahrain, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Qatar? Well, neither did I.
It is historically well known that storytelling and poetry are highly treasured by Gulf Arabs. In general, the people of the Middle East have a longstanding oral tradition and, according to Thompson, Jesus was not only a part of this but employed it in his teachings as well. In the same manner, the Holy Qur’an provides the lectionary ‘which peppers daily dialogue of the Gulf Arab and the ability to compose and recite poetry is seen as the epitome of learning’. Meaning? The two religions share very much in common when compared in this manner by Reverend Thompson.
However, there are differences that Thompson cannot, does not ignore in the text. Least of all is that the eternal word of God in Islam was revealed as a book, but for Christians it was a person. Others include the subjects of the Trinity, the integrity of the Bible, the identity of Jesus and the events of his death. He addresses them in a chapter entitled ‘The Elephant in the Room’.
The author’s reasoning throughout the book relies on exegesis; the discipline of ‘reading out’ of the sacred text the behaviour, culture, religion and meanings of the world that Jesus inhabited at the time’. He believes that it is in this area of exegesis that interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims might yield fruitful insights. But Thompson is also aware of the criticisms that may be levelled at his book and he mentions those in detail in his conclusion. He also suggests a vey important point regarding the possibility of conducting research and interviews that could provide fresh perspective on what the stories of Jesus mean to the culture of the contemporary Gulf Arab.
Reverend Thompson believes that the Bible is a Middle Eastern book that has a lot to say that is relevant not only to Middle Easterners but to the world. Islam, a religion that has defined the Arab World since the seventh century, is entwined in every aspect of Arab culture making it ‘thoroughly difficult to separate Islamic culture from the religion’, and it too carries a message to the world. Regardless of their apparent differences, both religions agree that we can encounter God anywhere ‘as long as our hearts are turned in prayer’ and that a religion, any religion, devoid of compassion ‘is a religion that becomes estranged from God’.
‘Jesus of Arabia’ is a pioneering, intelligent, brief (194 pages) easy-to-read approach to tackling the thorny subject of interfaith dialogue particularly in a region that is undergoing modernization at incredible speed; A region that still ‘pockets traditional communities who boast of following a way of life, which has not changed for centuries’. The Reverend, an expert on interfaith dialogue, concedes to many hurdles along the path but none that cannot be overcome by Muslims and Christians simply listening to one another, setting up communal practices of reading sacred scriptures, and engaging in those conversations that such a respectful interaction creates; an interaction that can ultimately lead to a deepening knowledge of one’s own traditions as well as that of others.
Inside Leaf of hardcover:
Jesus was a man raised by Joseph and Mary, a preacher with followers, who questioned religious establishments and was sentenced to death. His legacy has endured for more than 2,000 years and has proved to be a divisive one. Today, he is simultaneously recognized as a historical figure, a prophet and as the Messiah. But on this last point Islam and Christianity are divided.
Jesus is often viewed as an abstract figure, one who stood apart from society. Andrew Thompson explores the role of Jesus as a man particularly as a Middle Easterner, considering the social obligations placed on Him an the impact of His teachings in a Middle Eastern community, both then and now.
‘Jesus of Arabia’ looks at the bridges between Islam and Christianity and how the two communities often mirror one another despite their differences. Andrew Thompson uses his experience as a priest in the Church of England and his many years living in the Middle East to analyse the often-conflicting roles and loyalties concerning family, culture and God.
A timely and incisive work, ‘Jesus of Arabia’ invites us to consider the contemporary views held of the Middle East and how a figure like Jesus might be received today.
The Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson MBE is Senior Chaplain of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi. He holds degrees in Behavioural Sciences and Islamic studies, and trained to be a priest for the Church of England at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He was ordained in Derby Cathedral. He is currently writing his PhD thesis on Christian-Muslim Relations in the Gulf.
Over the years he has served the Church in the UK and in several countries in the Middle East and the Gulf. His previous publications include 'The Christian Church in Kuwait: Religious Freedom in the Gulf' and ‘Christianity in the United Arab Emirates: Culture and Heritage’.
He was earlier a newspaper columnist and featured recently in a documentary on Christian-Muslim dialogue shown at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
In 2011 he was awarded an MBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for services to Human Rights and Interfaith Dialogue. He is a canon of Bahrain Cathedral in the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf. He is married with three children.
This is by far the most exciting book buy in ages. It is a collection of the earliest known short Arabic stories to be translated into English for the first time. The stories introduced by Robert Irwin are according to an article he penned to the Independent, 'very old, more than 1,000 years old, yet most of them are quite new to us'.
According to Irwin, 'Tales of the Marvellous' includes tales of the supernatural, romances, comedy, Bedouin derring-do and one story dealing in apocalyptic prophecy. The contents page indicates that the complete manuscript contained 42 chapters, of which only 18 chapters containing 26 tales have survived. The handwriting of the manuscript suggests that the copy was made in the 14th century, but its contents indicate that the stories were compiled and in some cases composed in the 10th century in either Syria or Egypt. Read full article HERE.
Robert Irwin's books include 'For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies', 'The Middle East in the Middle Ages', 'The Arabian Nights: A Companion' and (as editor) 'The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabian Literature'. He also introduced and edited the Penguin Classics 'Arabian Nights'.
As I have read and reread these stories, I have slowly become convinced that the person who first wrote them down in the 10th century did not just collect them from other sources, but in some cases he or she actually composed them' - Robert Irwin for the Independent.
The Book Cover:
On the shrouded corpse hung a tablet of green topaz with the inscription: 'I am Shaddad the Great. I conquered a thousand cities; a thousand white elephants were collected for me; I lived for a thousand years and my kingdom covered both east and west, but when death came to me nothing of all that I had gathered was of any avail. You who see me take heed: for Time is not to be trusted.'
Dating from at least a millennium ago, these are the earliest known Arabic short stories, surviving in a single, ragged manuscript in a library in Istanbul. Some found their way into 'The Arabian Nights' but most have never been read in English before. 'Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange' has monsters, lost princes, jewels beyond price, a princess turned into a gazelle, sword-wielding statues and shocking reversals of fortune.
To read these stories today is an extraordinary experience - they were designed to enchant and delight a society almost fantastically distant from our own, and now, centuries later, they can be marvelled at in all their strangeness.
About the translator:
Malcolm C. Lyons is also the translator of the Penguin Classics edition of the complete 'Arabian Nights'. He was Sir Thomas Adam's Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University and is a life fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is one of the world's leading experts on classical Arabic literature.
photo by JJ (perpetual_lemons)
'After the Dark' is a riveting cautionary tale about the ecstasy and dangers of loving Marvin Gaye, a performer passionately pursued by all—and a searing memoir of drugs, sex, and old school R&B from the wife of legendary soul icon Marvin Gaye.
After her seventeenth birthday in 1973, Janis Hunter met Marvin Gaye—the soulful prince of Motown with the seductive liquid voice whose chart-topping, socially conscious album What’s Going On made him a superstar two years earlier. Despite a seventeen-year-age difference and Marvin’s marriage to the sister of Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder, the enchanted teenager and the emotionally volatile singer began a scorching relationship.
One moment Jan was a high school student; the next she was accompanying Marvin to parties, navigating the intriguing world of 1970s-‘80s celebrity; hanging with Don Cornelius on the set ofSoul Train, and helping to discover new talent like Frankie Beverly. But the burdens of fame, the chaos of dysfunctional families, and the irresistible temptations of drugs complicated their love.
Primarily silent since Marvin’s tragic death in 1984, Jan at last opens up, sharing the moving, fervently charged story of one of music history’s most fabled marriages. Unsparing in its honesty and insight, illustrated with sixteen pages of black-and-white photos, After the Dance reveals what it’s like to be in love with a creative genius who transformed popular culture and whose artistry continues to be celebrated today.
by Rana Asfour
‘The red stain was like a scream in the silence’ is how Icelandic writer Ragnar Jónasson kickstarts his highly gripping Nordic Noir novel, ‘Snowblind’. The book, translated by Quentin Bates, is set in the sleepy fishing town of Siglufjördur, the furthest point north of Iceland, close to the Arctic circle; a place where ‘nothing ever happens’ but where soon everything is about to change.
Ari Thór Arason is the town’s latest newcomer who has just accepted a 2-year contract with the town’s police force. Leaving his girlfriend Kristín behind in Reykjavic, 24-year old Ari is feeling quite homesick and challenged by the tight knit community where everyone shares a history. He is also struggling to overcome a severe claustrophobia triggered by Siglufjördur’s bitterly harsh winter.
No sooner than Ari settles into his new job than misfortune strikes. One of the town’s most prominent members is found dead in circumstances that Ari is unwilling to overrule as suspicious. However, a rookie to police work, and as yet to complete his police college finals, Ari is finding it hard to convince Siglufjördur’s longtime serving sergeant Tómas of his theories.
Straight on the tails of that, a young, unconscious, bleeding and half-naked woman is found in the snow. Courtesy of this latest drama, the tension among the town’s residents heightens considerably. As Siglufjördur’s only mountain pass is shutdown due to an avalanche brought on by the relentless snowstorm, the police scramble to find answers in the hopes of bringing a murderer to justice. Until then, friendships are put to the test, lies are exposed, and all is not as it seems.
Ragnar Jónasson writes with a chilling, poetic beauty - a must-read addition to the growing canon of Iceland Noir' - Peter James
As I read the book, many elements brought on undeniable reminders of an Agatha Christie novel to mind. One could even safely venture as to say that Jónasson has adopted Christie’s formulaic writing style to a tee. Most poignant is the author’s choice of a closed setting in which Siglufjördur’s brutal, claustrophobia-inducing weather is so extreme that it renders the town under complete lockdown, isolating it from the world. It is then that Ari, as Hercule Poirot would have done, begins to examine each of the characters up close and personal, dissecting the intricate details of their lives, observing their interactions, questioning their motives and uncovering long buried and forgotten secrets. Matters are further complicated for Ari when he becomes involved in a personal relationship with one of the possible suspects.
That said, 'Snowblind' is a brilliantly engaging read. Throughout the book there is that sense as if one were audience to a play brought to life with aid of a vivid cast flitting on and off the stage. Jónasson has bestowed his characters with unique, more importantly believable, personalities, and has made sure that their interactions throughout serve mainly to play on readers’ mind and psychology. The author engages his audience in an ongoing guessing game that extends right up to the very end as they try to sift out the ultimate culprit among the clues, twists and turns of this well-woven plot.
A truly remarkable mesmerising debut. Loved it!
'This has all the ingredients - a young policeman, a girlfriend left behind, murders both old and new for solving together with the intertwining of relationships with a small community as it goes through a snowbound dark winter. An absorbing read and one that I didn't put down' - Thinkingofyouandme.com
About the author:
Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavik in 1976 and currently works as a lawyer, while teaching copyright law at Reykjavik University Law School. In the past, he’s worked in TV and radio, including a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic and has had several short stories published in German, English and Icelandic literary magazines.
Ragnar set up the first overseas chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) in Reykjavik and is co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir. He has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, and is currently working on his sixth. He lives in Reykjavik with his wife and two daughters.
The second instalment of the series, ‘Nightblind’, will be published by Orenda Books in 2016. ‘Snowblind’ will be available in paperback, in the UK market, on June 15. It is currently available for download as an ebook.
Meet Stewart. He’s geeky, gifted and sees things a bit differently to most people. His mum has died and he misses her all the more now he and Dad have moved in with Ashley and her mum.
Meet Ashley. She’s popular, cool and sees things very differently to her new family. Her dad has come out and moved out – but not far enough. And now she has to live with a freakazoid step-brother.
Stewart can’t quite fit in at his new school, and Ashley can’t quite get used to her totally awkward home, which is now filled with some rather questionable decor. And things are about to get a whole lot more mixed up when these two very different people attract the attention of school hunk Jared.
'The Lie Tree' is a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric novel by Frances Hardinge, award-winning author of 'Cuckoo Song' and 'Fly By Night'.
Faith's father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.
The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father's murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter.
Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. For fans of Silver Linings Playbook and Liar, this thought-provoking debut tells the story of Alex, a high school senior—and the ultimate unreliable narrator—unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion.
Alex fights a daily battle to figure out what is real and what is not. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8 Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She's pretty optimistic about her chances until she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She's not prepared for normal. Can she trust herself? Can we trust her?
In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.
Sudasa, though, doesn't want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realise that they just might want the same thing.
This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view Sudasa's in verse and Kiran's in prose allowing readers to experience both characters' pain and their brave struggle for hope.
Life is hard for Mikey. He's frightened of open spaces and would much rather curl up in his room and avoid the world outside. So going to a noisy, public place is a big deal - but with his sister Meggie by his side, it should be safe. And Mikey is determined to overcome his fear.
But things go badly wrong when he encounters a gang and witnesses something terrible. To make matters worse, they know where he lives, and now they want to see him . . .
This time, there's no hiding place for Mikey . . .
Innovative Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai was last night announced as the winner of the sixth Man Booker International Prize at an award ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Krasznahorkai was chosen from a list of ten eminent contenders from around the world.
The Man Booker International Prize, worth £60,000, is awarded for an achievement in fiction on the world stage. It is presented once every two years to a living author for a body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in the English language. It has previously been awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011, and Lydia Davis in 2013.
Born in 1954, László Krasznahorkai gained considerable recognition in 1985 when he published 'Satantango', which he later adapted for the cinema in collaboration with the filmmaker Bela Tarr. In 1993, he received the German Bestenliste Prize for the best literary work of the year for 'The Melancholy of Resistance' and has since been honoured with numerous literary prizes, amongst them the highest award of the Hungarian state, the Kossuth Prize.
Krasznahorkai and his translator George Szirtes were longlisted for the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for 'Satantango' and Krasznahorkai has won the Best Translated Book Award in the US two years in a row, in 2013 for 'Satantango' and in 2014 for 'Seiobo There Below' which was published in the UK on 7 May by Tuskar Rock Press.
The judging panel for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize was chaired by celebrated writer and academic Marina Warner. The panel also comprised Wen-chin Ouyang, Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS, University of London; acclaimed author Nadeem Aslam; novelist and critic Elleke Boehmer, who is currently Professor of World Literature in English at Oxford University; and Edwin Frank, editorial director of the New York Review Books Classics.
Announcing the winner, Marina Warner, who will be interviewing the winner at the Hay Festival on Sunday 24 May at 7pm commented:
‘Laszlo Krasznahorkai is a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful. 'The Melancholy of Resistance', 'Satantango' and 'Seiobo There Below' are magnificent works of deep imagination and complex passions, in which the human comedy verges painfully onto transcendence. Krasznahorkai, who writes in Hungarian, has been superbly served by his translators, George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet.’
Krasznahorkai has chosen to split the £15,000 translator’s prize between two translators, George Szirtes (who translated 'Satantango' and 'The Melancholy of Resistance') and Ottilie Mulzet (who translated 'Seiobo There Below'). Szirtes is a Hungarian-born poet who came to the UK as a refugee. He has won a number of prizes for his poetry, including the T.S. Eliot Prize. He has also translated Sándor Márai amongst others.
Ottilie Mulzet is a Hungarian translator of poetry and prose, as well as a literary critic. She has worked as the English-language editor of the internet journal of the Hungarian Cultural Centre in Prague, and her translations appear regularly at Hungarian Literature Online.
The Man Booker International Prize is sponsored by Man Group plc, which also sponsors the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize in that it highlights one writer’s continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. Both prizes strive to recognise and reward the finest modern literature.
Source: Press release
'The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union' by Serhii Plokhy has been declared the winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2015.
Serhii Plokhy, Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University and award-winning historian, received glowing reviews on publication of his book. It was described by 'The Telegraph', quite simply, as 'masterful'.
'The Last Empire' is a fascinating interpretation of the USSR's final moments before Gorbachev's resignation in 1991. Filled with the type of political intrigue that could only exist in reality, its breath-taking narrative makes it one of the best history books of the last few years and crucial to understanding modern Russia.
Now in its third year, the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize rewards the best non-fiction writing on Russia. Its aim is to establish wider understanding of the Russian-speaking world. Previous winners have included 'Red Fortress', a history of the Kremlin, and 'Former People' about the lives of the Russian aristocracy who remained in the country after the Russian Revolution.
Here is a list of works of fiction based on memorable women in art.
An international bestseller with over two million copies sold, this is a story of an artist’s desire for beauty and the ultimate corruption of innocence.
17th Century Holland. When Griet becomes a maid in the household of Johannes Vermeer in the town of Delft, she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry and the care of his six children. But as she becomes part of his world and his work, their growing intimacy spreads tension and deception in the ordered household and, as the scandal seeps out, into the town beyond.
Tracy Chevalier’s extraordinary historical novel on the corruption of innocence and the price of genius is a contemporary classic perfect for fans of Sarah Dunant and Philippa Gregory.
In 1913 an orphan girl boards a steamship bound for Wuhu in South East China. Left in the hands of her soft-hearted but opium-addicted uncle she is delivered to The Hall of Eternal Splendour which, with its painted faces and troubling cries in the night, seems destined to break her spirit.
And yet the girl survives and one day hope appears in the unlikely form of a customs inspector, a modest man resistant to the charms of the corrupt world that surrounds him but not to the innocent girl who stands before him. From the crowded rooms of a small-town brothel, heavy with the smoke of opium pipes and the breath of drunken merchants, to the Bohemian hedonism of Paris and the 1930s studios of Shanghai, Jennifer Epstein’s first novel, based on a true story, is an exquisite evocation of a fascinating time and place, with a breathtaking heroine at its heart.
From extraordinary highs - patronage by the Medicis, friendship with Galileo and, most importantly of all, beautiful and outstandingly original paintings - to rape by her father's colleague, torture by the Inquisition, life-long struggles for acceptance by the artistic Establishment, and betrayal by the men she loved, Artemisia was a bold and brilliant woman who lived as she wanted, and paid a high price.
Gustav Klimt, one of the great painters of fin de siècle Austria—and the subject of Helen Mirren’s latest film, Woman in Gold—takes center stage in this passionate and atmospheric debut novel, which reimagines the tumultuous relationship between the Viennese painter and Emilie Flöge, the woman who posed for his masterpiece The Kiss, and whose name he uttered with his dying breath.
Vienna in 1886 was a city of elegant cafés, grand opera houses, and a thriving and adventurous artistic community. It is here where the twelve-year-old Emilie meets the controversial libertine and painter. Hired by her bourgeois father for basic drawing lessons, Klimt introduces Emilie to a subculture of dissolute artists, wanton models, and decadent patrons that both terrifies and inspires her. The Painted Kiss follows Emilie as she blossoms from a naïve young girl to one of Europe's most exclusive couturiers—and Klimt's most beloved model and mistress. A provocative love story that brings to life Vienna's cultural milieu, 'The Painted Kiss' is as compelling as a work by Klimt himself.
by Rana Asfour
Last week, after I had settled myself into one of the white leather couches arranged elegantly at the Icelandic stall at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair awaiting Nordic author Jón Kalman Stefánsson to arrive for our hastily arranged interview, I quickly leafed through his book ‘Heaven & Hell’ in its Arabic edition "جنّة وجحيم". It is the first book of his trilogy, and the recent translation into Arabic, by Dar al-Muna, makes it the 20th territory in which he is published.
Born in 1963 in Reykjavik, Stefánsson owes his international breakthrough to his Trilogy About The Boy; A story about a boy whose friend, Bardour, dies while out on a fishing boat in stormy winter weather. Bardour had forgotten to wear his waterproofs, too engrossed in a reading of a borrowed book titled ‘Paradise Lost’. The boy, highly affected by his friend’s passing resolves to return the book to its owner and then join his friend in death. This resolve takes ‘the boy’ on a perilous yet spiritual journey that changes much of what he had initially set out to do.
This is the author’s first time in Abu Dhabi, and as such it was a no-brainer that the weather would be the first thing that we would discuss as we both settled into our chat with a coffee that seemed to materialise as if out of nowhere thanks to his doting agent Monica Gram.
‘Stepping off the plane in Abu Dhabi is quite an exceptionally memorable one for me. It honestly felt like hitting a wall of heat. It was possibly because I arrived on a night flight and wasn’t expecting it to be so hot that I was so ‘surprised’ by it. However, in spite of the heat, I have managed to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and the nearby market and enjoyed them very much’.
Due to time constraints, I jumped right in and enquired how he was feeling regarding the release of his book in Arabic taking into consideration the cultural differences between Iceland and the Arab World and whether that would have any impact on Arabic speaking readers appreciating his books?
‘First of all I am very excited naturally. As a nationality, I am an Icelander and a big part of that will come through my writings. But as a writer I have come to realise that people are the same everywhere. Besides, when I write, I do not think about who my reader is or where he/she comes from. I only think about the writing itself and how good I want it to be. That is what readers really want. Whether or not the story is well written and whether or not it has made them learn something new about others or their themselves'.
However, I interject, doesn’t a translation always take away something from the original? Does that not bother him?
‘I am actually very keen on translations and some of my really good friends are translators. I believe they are very important people in the world because they are the bridges between worlds and they help us to understand each other. I also find that translators are poets in their own right because they have to understand and deeply feel and connect with a language. As such it is important that a translator be very good. Undeniably, something is always lost in translation but there is also much gained as well’.
Moving on to writing techniques and the characters of his novels, I am keen to know how much control he has of his writers or whether they eventually take on a life of their own. In other words, has a character ever forced him to change an ending?
‘That’s a good question’, he answers, ‘There are some instances, like when in my book ‘Summer Light, And Along Comes the Night’ the ending was very sad and I had not wanted it to be so, but I absolutely knew that I had to finish it like that. There was no other way, and so I followed my heart although if I had listened to the characters it would have ended differently’.
‘While writing you have to expect the unexpected and accept the fact that you cannot control what you write. Everyone has something buried inside them that I think will unexpectedly come out in the writing. The writer must accept that. I sometimes feel that the book is writing me and not me writing the book’, he adds with a shrug of the shoulders.
As if as an afterthought he adds, ‘I cannot control what characters I like and I think that a book only starts to exist when the reader arrives. They set it free’.
I ponder his words for a few seconds and decide I like the active role that he’s assigned the readers in bringing the book into existence and am as such spurred on to ask how many more readers one can recruit to the cause. There is the constant harbinger from various sources that reading is on the decline. So what can be done?
‘Children’s books have never been more important as they are now. If you can offer children today well-written, exciting, funny books then you create a generation that will read. Additionally, and something that is very important to the process is that the parents should read to the children. This interaction imprints an enjoyable memory in the mind of a child that will always be linked to books. Once they are adults, reading will come to mean a positive, happy time and they are more likely to turn to it to relax or de-stress. To develop future readers, work must start in childhood’.
Having read Stefánsson’s first two books of the trilogy, in English, and found them to be very enchanting, lyrical, almost poetic (he has indeed described himself in one interview as a poet writing prose) I had already formed the idea that his writings were indicative of someone quite spiritual and in tune with the universe. As he answers my questions, I find that indeed Stefánsson conducts himself with the ease of someone who has in fact cracked the code of what humans are all about. I get the sense that he is observant and interested in all that takes place around him. He has been known to urge not only writers but also readers to doubt and question everything around them. He is keenly aware of the effect all this has on his writings.
‘As a writer I am constantly taking in, sometimes without even knowing. I see something, or visit somewhere and then I come back and take notes. Everything I experience comes into my writing one way or another’. A book inspired by the UAE I cut in? ‘Who knows!’ he answers with an amicable smile and was that a twinkle in the eye? ‘Maybe one day’.
About the author:
Jón Kalman Stefánsson is an Icelandic author born in Reykjavik in 1963. Over the last few years he has created an individual and enchanting fictional world in a series of related novels and short stories. Two of these works, ‘Summer Behind the Slope’ and ‘Of Tall Trees and Time’ were nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize, and in 2005 Jón Kalman received the Icelandic Literature Prize for his work ‘Summer Light, Enter Night’, an unusual collection of related stories and fragments.
Stefánsson had his international breakthrough with the trilogy about the boy, that includes the titles ‘Heaven and Hell’, ‘The Sorrow of Angels’, and ‘The Human Heart’ for which he gained international recognition and numerous prizes and which is going to be turned into a feature film.
It is no secret that the largest growing sector in the Arab book market today is that concerned with education, particularly children’s and young adults. As such, it has amassed much attention either by publishers seeking authors of the genre, or even commissioning established ones primarily for the purpose of writing books that will definitely sell at schools and universities. Some publishers are turning to translations of bestsellers from other languages into Arabic hoping to entice the growing number of young Arab readers in the region.
However, a session that took place this week at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair as part of its professional program has shown that a lucrative market in the MENA comes with a plethora of distinct regional considerations.
Professionals feel that the time to establish standards aimed at elevating the form of Arabic writing for children has never been more imperative but even that may not be as straightforward as one might first assume.
‘Publishers and authors should aim to produce the timeless book; that which is layered and deep, and carries messages and themes that remain relevant for generations to come. As such, it might be challenging not only to set the criteria for what books fall under that category but it is also important that the criteria do not take away from the main objective of children’s books which is that a book has to be entertaining as well’, stated Amina Hachimi Alaoui, founding member of the Moroccan Association for Book Professionals and director of Yanbow Al Kitab publishing house, which specialises in literature for children and adolescents.
Alaoui was joined on the panel by Tunisian author and storyteller Wafa Thabet Mezghani, who moderated the session, as well as award winning author from Lebanese publishing house Dar al Hadaek, Nabiha Mheidly who pointed out the important role publishing houses play in promoting sound practices when it comes to producing children’s books in the region today.
‘It is time that publishing houses were more particular, even picky, when it comes to choosing what children’s works to publish’, she says. ‘The market is being flooded with works that are not up to standard, but sell nonetheless either because they are low in cost or because they have been tailored to match the school curriculum or to follow of-the-moment trends.’ She continues that ‘when an error in judgment occurs regarding a publication, the mistakes must be acknowledged and corrected and the work must be stopped even if it means binning the work in progress. Good intentions are not enough when writing for children.’
Although there was much emphasis on the need to find Arab writers to write for Arab children for the obvious reason that they are more likely to produce characters and storylines that children of the region can relate to, it was agreed across the board that translations are also important because they increase a child’s awareness of global issues as well as introducing internationally acclaimed works of literature’.
So, what makes for a successful Arabic children’s book? Well, it turns out it is pretty much the same as what makes a children’s book a success everywhere else in the world. It is one that invokes joy and makes children want to read it over and over again. It is one that expands the mind through its words, illustrations or ideas, stimulating imagination, and creativity and promoting an acceptance of others’ different worlds and experiences. When I asked this panel, they all agreed that it is one written not only with humour but also with love.
Popular children's books at ADIBF:
'Tales of the United Arab Emirates' by Iwona Taida Drózd (2015): A recently released series of three books containing themes and characters particular to the UAE reminiscent of those found in Western fairytales. The Turkish-Dutch artist Ufuk Kobas Smink, who conducts art classes and workshops in the capital, has provided the illustrations. Great for all ages.
Books by Lebanese author Samar Mahfouz Barraj were flying off the shelves. All copies of the Waseem series was sold out at the Dar Al Saqi book stall at ADIBF.
by Rana Asfour
Tonight Abu Dhabi International Book Fair ends. And by the time you get to the end of this article, most of its honorary guests, speakers and even some of its organisers will have packed their bags and boarded their designated planes home.
On a personal note I attended the last of the professional program sessions last night; sessions that included speakers from all around the world like digital publishing guru Richard Nash as well as visionary Peter Armstrong. The aims of the program are to offer unique insights into the Middle East Market and culture, provide networking opportunities with decision makers in the publishing industry, create the opportunity to sign exclusive deals with new books, writers and illustrators from the region, as well as to meet content developers and service providers showcasing their products, services and know-how. It is in particular, as the ADIBF is in general, concerned with promoting the literature of reading to the public.
Project manager for the ADIBF professional program, Andreas Hägglund, believes that the success of the program is in large part due to its targeted audience of professionals whether as speakers or attendees from the field. Although the program does not turn away anyone eager to sign up to it, it is according to Hägglund designed and structured in a way that will be of more appeal, interest, and benefit to those in the business of books than to members of the general public.
This year in particular, the professional program inaugurated its first edition of the ADIBF Academy that provided candidates with academy certificates that are meant to 'showcase their 21st century skills'. Certificates were only given out to those who attended at least 4 sessions (bronze certificate), as well as to anyone who attended 6 (silver) and 8 (gold) sessions. Attendance stamps were issued on a daily basis to keep track of the session sat by each attendee.
Asked about the significance of these certificates Hägglund stated that although the efficacy of the certificates was difficult to determine in its first year, the long term benefit was in no doubt significant.
'Today the certificate doesn't directly help you secure a job in the book industry, but it does help demonstrate that a person holding them is serious about the industry and willing to put in the hours to get to know it better. These sessions are like training courses, the more you attend the more aware you will be of the market and all it involves. Basically, it demonstrates to those already veterans in the field how committed and serious you are to enter as a contender'.
Asked on what room for improvement he saw in further pushing the program forward, Hägglund, who is a Lean Management advocate, stated that although the speakers 'were generally happy with their sessions' there was always room for improvement and lessons to be learned.
'We are always trying and learning. One should always look at what one is doing and whether or not it is adding value to the total work. If not, then the effort should go to stopping that which does not add value and concentrating on finding ways that will move things forward. As long as today is better than yesterday and tomorrow is better than today, then you are on the right track'.
'Silent Voices IV' is the fourth annual exhibition of art created by residents of EWA'A Shelters for Victims of Human Trafficking. The exhibition is the result of a series of workshops with 24 hour EWA'A residents led by artist Jennifer Simon over six months at shelters in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras al Khaimah.
A total of 17 Ewa’a residents participated, creating 82 artworks on canvas, plus interior design objects, decorated plates and a stunning skittle installation.
Located at Pearl Court in Yas Mall, the exhibition continues until May 14 and all proceeds from the sale of the artworks will be donated to EWA'A.
The skittle installation, pictured above, was first conceived two years ago. According to the artist the idea behind the installation is 'No matter what life bowls at you and knocks you down, you can get back up and face it again'.
Human trafficking is an international, cross-border crime. It is the modern form of slavery. It is the world's third largest crime after drug and arms trafficking. Its most vulnerable victims are women and children.
Here are three of my favourite: to see complete artworks, click HERE.
The approaching weekend will be an an exceptional one at Zayed University campus as the university opens its doors to the public to attend the Zayed University Middle East Film Festival 2015 (ZUMEFF).
Following five successful years since ZUMEFF's establishment in 2010, the university has decided that for its 6th year, it will extend its invitation to include all film lovers. On offer at the two-day festival are 65 student films from 40 different universities/film schools in 16 countries. To round off this year’s program, there will also be a screening of Ali F. Mostafa’s “From A to B” after the Awards Ceremony on May 18 at 7pm.
Prizes will be awarded for categories in Best of the Best, Best Narrative, Best Documentary, Best Animation, and the NYFA/ZUMEFF Award for Best Aspiring Filmmaker. Winners will take part in a closing event attended by regional filmmakers and celebrities. For this year's finalists, click HERE.
ZUMEFF 2015 is sponsored by Etihad Airways, Park Rotana, New York Film Academy, Fast Rent A Car, Nikon, Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World, Noble Printing, Imagenation, du, Abela & Co., Vital Polyclinic, Aflamnah, Dubai Moving Image Museum, UAE National Film Library and Archive and Zayed University.
For the full 2015 schedule HERE
'A Song for Issey Bradley' has been selected as one of the titles for this year's Richard & Judy Book Club Summer Read. I am thrilled by the news as I was privileged to read this debut novel way before it hit the shelves and I loved it. It has since been shortlisted for the 2014 COSTA First Novel Award. This is a superb book about the resilience of humans against the odds that is deeply touching and so well-written.
For the BookFabulous review, click HERE.
Author Dr. Shukri Makhbout won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction yesterday with his debut novel 'The Italian'.
Born in Tunisia in 1962, Makhbout holds a doctorate in literature from the Arts College of Manouba, Tunisia and is head of the Manouba University.
In his acceptance speech, Makhbout dedicated his prize to 'the women of Tunisia who have always been at the frontline of battling injustice and oppression'.
The debut novel has faced major reactions since its release and the author has found his work banned both in his native country as well as in the UAE, the country in which the award was presented yesterday. Several sources though confirm that the novel 'The Italian' will be available in few quantities at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair which opens today.
In a session that I attended at the New York University in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Makhbout explained that he had written his novel because he was motivated by the idea of the Islamisation of the state and his horror and fear of what that would do to the history of the region. It also stemmed from a genuine interest at how much stat-run media is a powerful tool in controlling the people. He also pointed the utter frustration he feels towards his generation that 'failed to achieve what they had initially positively set out to do- to build nations- and yet managed to end up with the way things are today in the Arab World'.
The author's win means a guaranteed English translation.
For more on the prize, click HERE.
About the novel:
At the heart of 'The Italian' is Abdel Nasser (nicknamed 'the Italian') and his mysterious assault on the man, his neighbour, during his father's funeral. The book's narrator attempts to uncover the motivations behind the attack, reconstructing his friend Abdel Nasser's troubled history from childhood. It looks at Abdel Nasser's time as a left-wing student at the University of Tunis, during the final years of the Bourguiba era and the beginning of Ben Ali's, through to the period of radical changes that subsequently rocked Tunisian society, when the dreams of a generation were torn apart by the fierce struggle between the Islamists and the Left. The novel reveals the mechanisms of control and censorship exercised through the press as well as the fragility of human beings, their secret histories and buried wounds.
At two ends of the spectrum, these memoirs couldn't be more different. One at the laughing, light-hearted side of life and the other a story of survival from one of the most horrific true stories of our time.
'Hope: A Story of Survival In Cleveland' by Amanda Berry & Gina DeJesus
On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry made headlines around the world when she fled a Cleveland home and called 911, saying: “Help me, I’m Amanda Berry . . . I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for ten years.”
A horrifying story rapidly unfolded. Ariel Castro, a local school bus driver, had separately lured Berry and two other young women, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, to his home, where he trapped them and kept them chained. In the decade that followed, the three girls were frequently raped, psychologically abused and threatened with death if they attempted to escape. Years after she was taken, Berry had a daughter by their captor, a child she bravely raised as normally as possible under impossible conditions.
Drawing upon their recollections and the secret diary kept by Amanda Berry, Berry and Gina DeJesus describe the unimaginable torment they suffered and the strength and resourcefulness that enabled them to survive. Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan interweave the events within Castro’s house with original reporting on the efforts to find the missing girls. The full story behind the headlines – including details never previously released on Castro’s life and motivations – 'Hope' is a harrowing yet inspiring chronicle of two women whose courage and ingenuity ultimately delivered them back to their lives and families.
'The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation' by Melissa Rivers
Joan and Melissa Rivers had one of the most celebrated mother-daughter relationships of all time. If you think Joan said some outrageous things to her audiences as a comedian, you won't believe what she said and did in private. Her love for her daughter knew no bounds or boundaries, apparently.
In 'The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief and Manipulation', Melissa shares stories (like when she was nine months old and her parents delivered her to Johnny Carson as a birthday gift), bon mots (Missy, is there anything better than seeing a really good looking couple pushing a baby that looks like a Sasquatch who got caught in a house fire?), and life lessons from growing up in the Rosenberg-Rivers household (I can do tips and discounts and figure out the number of gay men in an audience to make it a good show. That's all the math you'll ever need). These were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to life in the family that Melissa describes as more Addams than Cleaver. And at the centre of it all was a tiny blond force of nature.
'In The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief and Manipulation', Melissa Rivers relates funny, poignant and irreverent observations, thoughts, and tales about the woman who raised her and is the reason she considers valium one of the four basic food groups.
A decade ago, these fiction books were right up there on nearly every publication's 'Best Books' List for 2005. I have yet to read some of them, but it's interesting to note that some are still being recommended on lists ten years on:
In one of the most memorable novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now 31, 'Never Let Me Go' hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, 'Never Let Me Go' is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.
Saturday, February 15, 2003. Henry Perowne is a contented man - a successful neurosurgeon, the devoted husband of Rosalind and proud father of two grown-up children. Unusually, he wakes before dawn, drawn to the window of his bedroom and filled with a growing unease. What troubles him as he looks out at the night sky is the state of the world - the impending war against Iraq, a gathering pessimism since 9/11, and a fear that his city and his happy family life are under threat.
Later, Perowne makes his way to his weekly squash game through London streets filled with hundreds of thousands of anti-war protestors. A minor car accident brings him into a confrontation with Baxter, a fidgety, aggressive, young man, on the edge of violence. To Perowne's professional eye, there appears to be something profoundly wrong with him.
Towards the end of a day rich in incident and filled with Perowne's celebrations of life's pleasures, his family gathers for a reunion. But with the sudden appearance of Baxter, Perowne's earlier fears seem about to be realised.
Set in New England mainly and London partly, 'On Beauty' concerns a pair of feuding families - the Belseys and the Kipps - and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching questions about what life does to love. For the Belseys and the Kipps, the confusions - both personal and political - of our uncertain age are about to be brought close to home: right to the heart of family.
In a vase in a closet, a couple of years after his father died in 9/11, nine-year-old Oskar discovers a key . . . The key belonged to his father, he's sure of that. But which of New York's 162 million locks does it open?
So begins a quest that takes Oskar - inventor, letter-writer and amateur detective - across New York's five boroughs and into the jumbled lives of friends, relatives and complete strangers. He gets heavy boots, he gives himself little bruises and he inches ever nearer to the heart of a family mystery that stretches back fifty years. But will it take him any closer to, or even further from, his lost father?
Moving, literary and innovative, perfect for fans of Lorrie Moore and Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was made into a major film starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, released in 2012.
Los Angeles, 1991. Maximilian Ophuls is knifed to death on the doorstep of his illegitimate daughter India, slaughtered by his Kashmiri driver, a mysterious figure who calls himself Shalimar the Clown. The dead man is a World War II Resistance hero, a man of formidable intellectual ability and much erotic appeal, a former United States ambassador to India, and subsequently America's counter-terrorism chief. The murder looks at first like a political assassination but turns out to be passionately personal. This is the story of Max, his killer, and his daughter - and of a fourth character, the woman who links them all. The story of a deep love gone fatally wrong, destroyed by a shallow affair, it is an epic narrative that moves from California to France, England, and above all, Kashmir: a ruined paradise, not so much lost as smashed.
This Thursday the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair opens its doors to the public. This year's Country Focus is Iceland whereby the public will have the opportunity to discover the rich literary scene of what some might call 'the most western of all European countries'. The program line-up promises a host of poets, novelists, illustrators and academics who will meet with the visitors and sit for book signings.
Here are some not to miss sessions:
Book author and iIlustrator Áslaug Jónsdóttir: (Sat. 9 May, 14:00 – 14:45)
She is an illustrator and children’s book writer from Iceland. She studied visual arts in Reykjavik and Copenhagen and graduated as illustrator and graphic designer in 1989. Her first children’s book was published in 1990 and since then she has written and illustrated numerous picture books and taken part in exhibitions in Iceland and abroad. Moreover, she has written children’s plays for The National Theater in Reykjavík, where she also was responsible for the stage design. Áslaug has received numerous awards for her works, including the Dimmalimm Prize, on two occasions. Her work has twice been selected for the IBBY Honour List, and she has received nominations for the Nordic Children’s Literature Prize and the Hans Christian Andersen Awards. In 2014 Áslaug received a nomination to The ALMA award 2015, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for her illustrations. Áslaug Jónsdóttir lives and works in Reykjavik.
Jon Kalman Stefansson: (Sat. 9 May, 20:15 – 21:00)
He is an Icelandic novelist, born in Reykjavík in 1963, who has created an individual and enchanting fictional world in a series of related novels and short stories. Two of these works, Summer Behind the Slope, and Of Tall Trees and Time were nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize. In Summer Light, Enter Night Jón Kalman continues to expand his fictional world, this time with an unusual collection of related stories and fragments. The setting is a small village in the west of Iceland where one inhabitant after another wanders bewildered among the labyrinthine paths of the human heart. Jón Kalman was awarded the 2005 Icelandic Literature Prize for this novel. In 2011 he awarded the prestigious P.O. Enquist Award. Over the last years Jón Kalman has been working on the trilogy consisting of Himnaríki og helviti (Heaven and Hell) (Bjartur, 2007) and Harmur Englanna (The Sorrow of Angels) (Bjartur, 2009) and Hjarta Mansinns (The Heart of Man) (Bjartur 2011). The third and final book in the trilogy won the Bookseller’s Prize 2011 and was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize. Stefánsson has most recently won the Italian Grinzane Bottari Lattes Prize for the second instalment in the trilogy Heaven and Hell.
Lani Yamamoto: (Mon. 11 May, 17:15 – 18:00)
Has written and illustrated Albert, Albert 2, Albert 3, and Albert 4, a series of philosophical picture books for young children. The books have been translated into 12 languages. Her most recent book, Stína Storasæng, was nominated for the 2014 Nordic Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature, and won two awards in Iceland in the same year. Lani has a BA in psychology from Bryn Mawr College, a diploma in filmmaking from the London Film School, and a M.St. in the Study of Religion from the University of Oxford. She has a background in documentary film and has designed experimental creative learning workshops for children in collaboration with artists, scientists, and educators. Originally from Boston, Lani lives in Reykjavik with her husband and two teenage children.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir: (Mon. 11 May, 19:45 – 20:30)
She is an award winning international bestselling crime writer from Iceland. Yrsa has written six books in a series about her protagonist, the lawyer Thora, in addition to three stand-alone thrillers. Her horror novel, I Remember You is presently being adapted for the big screen and the Thora series for English language television. The latest book to be published in the UK is Silence Of The Sea, preceded by Someone To Watch Over Me, chosen by the Sunday Times as the best crime novel published in the UK in 2013.
Ragnar Jónasson: (Sun. 10 May, 18:45 – 19:30)
He is the author of the bestselling Dark Iceland crime series, set in the northernmost town in Iceland. He also currently works as a lawyer and is a teacher at Reykjavik University Law School. The first two titles in the series, Snowblind and Nightblind, will be published in English by Orenda Books in 2015 and 2016. Two books in the series have also been published by Fischer Verlage in Germany, Schneebraut and Todesnacht. Before becoming a writer, Ragnar translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had short stories published in Germany, UK and USA. Ragnar is the co-founder of Iceland Noir International Crime Festival in Reykjavik. He has taken part in panels at festivals in England, Scotland, USA and Iceland and in 2015 he will appear at Edinburgh International Book Festival, Crimefest in Bristol, Newcastle Noir, Bloody Scotland and Shetland Noir.
Contemporary author Ruth Rendell, who also wrote under the pen-name Barbara Vine, passed away yesterday. She was 85.
A thriller and psychological murder mystery writer, she is best known for the creation of the well-known character Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, a character that first appeared in Rendell's book 'From Doon With Death' published in 1964 and which was later to come to life on TV screens.
But that, of course, is not her only success. She has written more than 60 novels, with the most recent published only last year called 'The Girl Next Door'. A new novel, 'Dark Corners' completed just before her stroke in January will appear in bookstores in October.
Ms. Rendell, who lived in London, was a Labour Party member of the House of Lords and was known more formally as Baroness Rendell of Babergh. For more on her books, click HERE.
“People are different in reality from the way you've seen them while making scenarios in your mind. For one thing, they're less consistent. They surprise you all the time.”
'The Girl Next Door' by Ruth Rendell
When the bones of two severed hands are discovered in a box, an investigation into a long buried crime of passion begins. And a group of friends, who played together as children, begin to question their past. 'For Woody, anger was cold. Cold and slow. But once it had started it mounted gradually and he could think of nothing else. He knew he couldn't stay alive while those two were alive. Instead of sleeping, he lay awake in the dark and saw those hands. Anita's narrow white hand with the long nails painted pastel pink, the man's brown hand equally shapely, the fingers slightly splayed.'
Before the advent of the Second World War, beneath the green meadows of Loughton, Essex, a dark network of tunnels has been dug. A group of children discover them. They play there. It becomes their secret place.
Seventy years on, the world has changed. Developers have altered the rural landscape. Friends from a half-remembered world have married, died, grown sick, moved on or disappeared. Work on a new house called Warlock uncovers a grisly secret, buried a lifetime ago, and a weary detective, more preoccupied with current crimes, must investigate a possible case of murder.
In all her novels, Ruth Rendell digs deep beneath the surface to investigate the secrets of the human psyche. The interconnecting tunnels of Loughton in The Girl Next Door lead to no single destination. But the relationships formed there, the incidents that occurred, exert a profound influence - not only on the survivors but in unearthing the true nature of the mysterious past.
To read a review, click HERE.