Interview with shortlisted author Jalal Barjas


Where were you when the shortlist was announced and what was your reaction?

I had just left the hospital after receiving a COVID vaccination and they had asked me to stay for half an hour to make sure there were no immediate side effects. To be honest, while getting the shot, I was smiling to myself and thinking what a coincidence that it happened at the same time as the shortlist announcement. It was a good omen. I was delighted that Notebooks of the Bookseller made it to the shortlist, and to feel protected against the virus that turned our lives upside down.

There is a lot of intertextuality in the novel with other works of fiction which affected the bookseller’s character. Why did you choose these works, or did they impose themselves?

Resorting to fictional characters was just to monitor the movement of time in man’s life journey and I found that this movement has only changed superficially. Saeed Mahran’s crisis in The Thief and the Dogs is the same as that of Ibrahim the bookseller, which is the same as that of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Here I can say that calling up these characters does not constitute intertextuality so much as it is a verdict on the moment for both characters. Ibrahim spent the course of his life reading but he belonged to those characters who were similar to him in many ways, that’s why impersonating them was easy.

You employed multiple narrative voices in the novel which led to a multifaceted reading. What does this technique add to the novel?

One of the most important benefits of multiple narrative voices is that it allows for a democratic narrative, giving the characters the freedom of expression and movement. I can even say that it helps them reach their own fates freely. Here perhaps these factors come together to hand the reader a genuine, convincing work that also leaves plenty of room for the reader to write, through reading, his own novel.

Which authors influenced you as a novelist?

I have loved many novels, but on the global level, I was influenced by Marquez and on the Arab level, I was influenced by Ghalib Halasa.

What are you reading now? Has your reading list been influenced by the Coronavirus stay at home recommendations?

Isolation gave me a huge opportunity to read which should ultimately pour into writing. During this time, I read a large number of books, most important of which was a re-reading of A Thousand and One Nights.