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Interview with Rabee Jaber

26 March 2012



Q: Your novel, The Druze of Belgrade, is set in a different era, different landscape to the one you live in. How did you manage to do that? Did you rely on research or imagination?

A: I am very familiar with the 1860 Beirut. This may sound strange, but I spent years (from 1992 to 1995) researching in a basement library in the American University of Beirut. I spent hours scanning the archives  of ottoman papers. This  gave me an idea about what life was like back then. This is not the first time I write about the 19th century Beirut, many of my novels were set in the 19th century Beirut.

Q; you based your novel on a historic event, the 1860 Mount Lebanon war, but the reader feels you hardly touched upon the war itself. Is the civil war theme a sensitive one in Lebanon? Did you deliberately avoid it?

A: The events in the novel start right after the civil war ended, a group of Druze were deported to Belgrade, and the protagonist, the Christian Hanna Yaqoub had to be  among them, for some reason. The novel follows their journey, their relations with each other, and the stories told by the prisoners tell the story of the war itself. By the way, I didn’t avoid the civil war theme, few of my novels tackled that very theme. As a matter of fact my latest novel is set between 1975 and 1977, during the civil war. It’s a six hundred page novel about a city divided into two. I have no taboos in writing.

Q: While in exile, the protagonist tried to live among his family, in imagination at least. When he was set free and went back to his family he found his little  daughter had become a young woman, his young wife a middle aged woman. Will he live in a different kind of exile while among his family?

A: I feel you are trying to write a second part of the novel, which makes me happy. I love it when my novel stay with the reader even after he finishes reading them. Novels are like this, their world interferes with ours. What will happen to my protagonist? I can answer this question like any other reader.

Q; so you believe a novel belongs to its readers, they can read it , interpret it the way the want?

A: Exactly

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You can find a complete history of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction here. Information on all the winners, shortlisted and longlisted...

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Translations

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