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.