Interview with longlisted author Haji Jaber


When did you begin writing Black Foam and where did the inspiration for it come from?

I remember that I started really writing Black Foam in June 2015, but before that, as with the rest of my books, I spent a lot of time building the text in my head, and at the same time doing research and investigation into the material needed to construct the novel properly. Before I wrote the first sentence, I had travelled, read a number of books, watched hours of documentary films and news reports, and listened to the testimonies of people connected to the subject and compared them. Then came the stage of writing, of turning all that research and investigation into a coherent story, which contained all the information, but which was still enjoyable and didn’t just convey the facts in the manner of a newspaper report.

This novel is part of the project I have been working on from the beginning of my writing career. The aim is to throw light on Eritrea and the horn of Africa; on human lives in the region, their past and present, their culture and concerns. I don’t know exactly when the idea came to me, but it took time before I mustered the courage to begin. 

Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?

I prefer to describe everything related to the novel I’m working on as “writing”. Research is writing, thinking night and day is writing, withdrawing from the book for a while is also a type of writing, etc. On this basis, one can say that the novel took a long time, but it was definitely a pleasurable time. Everyone who writes knows the feeling of living a parallel life, which the writer experiences while he is working on a novel. They know the sadness which overcomes the writer when he finishes and loses that delightful feeling

How have readers and critics received it?

With all my works, I usually show the text to a large number of friends before sending it to the publisher. I am not ashamed to admit that. You can see this from the long list of people I thank, at the end of Black Foam. This helps me a lot to pare down the text and to get it into a reasonably satisfactory state.

I am a writer who fears the reader and who gives him very careful consideration. I believe that fear must remain when I write every new work. For this reason, I was delighted by the positive reactions of readers on the goodreads website and from critics who wrote about the book. Perhaps its reaching the final stages of the Prize have helped. And especially when we consider that the subject is controversial, like walking on a fine tightrope between two buildings.   

What is your next project after this novel?

Eritrea and the region surrounding it is still not investigated or revealed as it should be. I once visited the island of Dahlak in the Red Sea. There I saw ruins scattered all across the island. The government had taken what it needed to fill the national museum and left the rest. Ideas in that region resemble those remains, strewn across the roads. All that is needed is to find the right artistic form to bring them forth to the world in the shape of a novel.