Interview with Shortlisted Author Ismail Fahad Ismail


Where were you at the shortlist announcement and what was your reaction?

My reaction to Al-Sabiliat making the shortlist was a big surprise and celebration at the same time.

The surprise is because this is a short novel that didn’t require as big an effort as my previous novels. So it appears that the judges’ criteria is not linked to the size of the work.

What does it mean to you to be shortlisted?

It felt strange given my age; I am 77 and competing with young, or at least younger, writers.

What are you reading now? Which writers influenced you as a novelist?

I am currently reading The Sheikh of the Calligraphers by the Kuwaiti novelist Hammoud El Shaygy in addition to going back to Aristotle’s Poetics. The writer who has influenced me the most is Jose Saramago, I have often reread his two novels All the Names and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reese.

Is Um Kassem based on a real person?

Um Kassem is a real person that I knew very well. What I tried to record was but a tiny part of her life story.

The narrator of Al-Sabiliat is a woman. How did you prepare yourself to write from a female point of view?

My opinion is that writing from a female point of view is easier than writing from that of a male because a woman is more stable and honest with herself and her issues compared to a man.

Um Kassem’s travel companion on her difficult journey is ‘Kadam Elkheir’. What is the secret for this choice?

Kadam Elkheir is a donkey, embodying wisdom, patience and the ability to withstand difficulties when compared to human beings. For this reason, he was compatible with Um Kassem.

One of the main themes of the novel is the strong link between man and place. Do you agree with this reading? How do you see the relationship between man and place?

Man is the child of his environment, and the environment is the place including everything that it holds.