Interview with longlisted author Haji Jabir


When did you start writing The Abyssinian Rimbaud and where did the inspiration for it come from?

I got the idea of the novel after reading an objectionable phrase in Alain Borer’s book Rimbaud in Abyssinia, when the friends of the French poet said: “He had an Abyssinian female lover whom he treated well”. It immediately seemed odd to me to refer to “treating well” as a benefit, a generous act. The absence of the name of the lover also struck me as strange. This deliberate obscurity led me to the idea of trying to shed light upon that Abyssinian lover, and through her to see the Abyssinian Arthur Rimbaud. I started writing the novel in earnest at the beginning of 2020, having formed an idea of the artistic structure I would adopt.

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

Unusually, writing The Abyssinian Rimbaud was difficult and disjointed, because it coincided with the peak of the spread of the pandemic and the psychological stress that brought, even though I had finished all the planning for the book beforehand. I was only able to get out of that mood by writing on my mobile phone. This may seem strange, but this novel was actually written entirely on the notes page of my phone. As soon as I finished a paragraph, I would transfer it to the computer, until I had finished it. That was the effective remedy for writer’s block!

As for the time it took, the actual writing took nearly a year, but getting the idea and planning the book, designing the artistic shape, took more time and happened long before the writing itself. I wrote it in Doha, where I live.

How have readers and critics received it?

I think it has been well received, as it is in its third edition in five months and encouraging reviews have been written about it.

What is your next literary project after this novel?

I haven’t decided yet. There are a number of ideas, all of them within the remit of my fictional project to write about Eritreans and the region of the African continent. But my habit after each book is to rest and get busy reading, leaving ideas to float slowly above my head. When one of them appeals to me, I rush to grab hold of it and start gradually building it in my mind, until it has come to maturity and is ready to be written.