Friday, 29 April 2016

London Launch of Dust of Promises by Ahlem Mosteghanemi

Ahlem Mosteghanemi graced Alef Bookstore in London on Thursday 28 April to celebrate the launch of her novel عابر سرير translated into English as Dust of Promises (translation by Nancy Roberts, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016).

Dust of Promises is the last of the three novels which form the renown trilogy of the author. The first,  ذاكرة الجسد , published in 1993 in Arabic, became a massive best seller, turning the author into a household name and a cornerstone of romance literature in Arabic. ذاكرة الجسد was translated by the American University of Cairo Press (2000) as Memory in the Flesh but the translation was, it has been said, a disapointment for the author.

Bloomsbury Publishing then took on the task of retranslating into English not only ذاكرة الجسد , now The Bridges of Constantine (2014, translated by Raphael Cohen), but the next two novels, Chaos of the Senses released in 2015 (فوضى الحواس) and now Dust of Promises (عابر سرير) published in January 2016, with both latter works translated by Nancy Roberts.

On Thursday evening, Alef turned their bookstore into an intimate and warm setting to welcome the internationally acclaimed author.

After being introduced by Alef's team, Ahlem Mosteghanemi told an audience of about 50 people, how she began to write, and how The Bridges of Constantine came to be a novel, one that was to open the way to a trilogy.

She recounted how she would come back home and write everyday, putting to pen the story of an impossible love "I used to read to my Moroccan nanny what I'd written and was so happy when she praised it. I hadn't yet realised that what I was writing was a novel, and that this novel would be Dhakirat El-Jassad (ذاكرة  الجسد)".

The trilogy opens with Khaled Ben Toubal, a former freedom fighter, now a photojournalist, who falls in love with Hayat, the daughter of his commander. In this first part, it is he who narrates, and speaks about Hayat, a young novelist, who is about to follow a path quite different to that which he'd initially thought she would. That is when the impossible begins. Hayat picks up the narration in Chaos of the Senses, and recounts her life, and the affair she eventually has with Khaled. 

Why continue on with the story with a third novel? "I once met a reader who was so distressed that Khaled died she told me "you had no right to kill him"". While Ahlem Mosteghanimi found the reaction and remark touching and funny, it made her think that Khaled could continue on with the story in a follow up, and closing volume.

Ahlem Mosteghanemi spoke about her writing style, one not bound by how critics feel she should be writing but by how she wants to write, and the place of historical facts in her fiction. On that subject, she told us that she felt the history to which she refers should be accurate, especially as regards to Algeria "my novels are the subject of studies in universities, I therefore feel that facts about Algeria should be accurate, not made up".

Her relationship with Algeria, which she visits every two months or so she said, extents to the symbolism of the characters in her trilogy and in her other works. Hayat, who of course represents Algeria, is torn between marrying a military man, staying true to the ideals of her father, a hero and martyr of the war of independence, being influenced by her brother Nasser, a reference to Arab nationalism, freely loving Khaled her true love, or finding herself.

Asked if she would consider writing, at a later stage, a novel whose characters would be living in present day Algeria, she replied that she may do, and that, if so, the way women have changed but society and men's view of them have not, would be part of the account.

The celebration of the launch of Dust of Promises was a wonderful opportunity to meet a world-renown author, who remains an eloquent, warm and approachable woman attached to her readers.

The event was conducted exclusively in Arabic, with summaries of the discussion and main points done in English by the members of Alef. While it made for a thorouhly enjoyable encounter, another event now needs to take place in which the translated novel, and the brilliant and fluid work of translator Nancy Roberts, are placed to the fore.

No comments: