Celebrated Author Abdelouahab Aissaoui Joins Abu Dhabi International Book Fair for Virtual Session

Celebrated Algerian author Abdelouahab Aissaoui discussed his novel The Spartan Court, winner of the 2020 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), during the latest Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) Virtual Session.

Organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), the session was streamed on ADIBF YouTube channel yesterday, as part of the ADIBF Virtual Session Series, which was launched following the postponement of the 30th edition of ADIBF due to the current global health crisis.

Aissaoui kicked off the session by stressing the great honour of winning the IPAF, which stands among the world’s most prestigious fiction awards, taking into consideration its exceptional evaluation system and promotional strategies.

“Winning this prize only marks the beginning of a new chapter for the winning title, ensuring global coverage and a chance to be published in other languages,” he said.

The author underlined how The Spartan Court engages readers urging them to reflect on Algeria’s situation during colonial rule and its current situation simultaneously. He believed this alignment of past and present was the building ground for his historical novel.

“We must search beyond historical facts and researching how a number of current societal issues and concerns took shape due to past events by considering specific patterns that have arisen throughout history,” he said.

“Accordingly, the novel delves into many questions that the average Algerian citizen faces, including questions about identity, affiliations, and the multicultural structure spawned by cultural concepts from Eastern, Western, Mediterranean and African civilisations, as well as other important cultural interactions.”

Aissaoui believes that historical fiction plays a complementary role in creating history, as most of the documented history of the Arab world was written as per an academic methodology; it often comprises political historical facts about countries that have risen and fallen rather than being written in societal or academic contexts.

“Historical novels seek to reveal side-line events that highlight the views of individuals of that time who had succeeded in portraying the living systems in these countries away from political views, forming an interwoven network of multiple historical narratives, each based on a personal perspective, instead of a unidirectional historical narrative.”

The session touched on Aissaoui’s use of eloquent words and expressions to describe the events of his novel, demonstrating his strong passion for the Arabic language, despite him being an electrical mechanical engineer by profession.

“This deep passion stems from my taste for Arab heritage books and writers including Al Jahiz and Abu Hayyan Al Tawhidi, and ancient poets, ancient Arab narrative journals and biographies,” he said. “There is a need for an intimate relationship between the author and the culture of his language of choice. This relationship with the language in all its elements and utterances is what makes a seasoned writer, not only in artistic literature, but also in science, medicine, thought and other writing-based fields.”

When asked about modern writers who influenced his writings, Aissaoui cited Saudi author Abdul Rahman Munif, highlighting Munif’s prevailing theme of an unidentified Arab figure with multicultural traits, as well as Algerian writers such as Waciny Al Araj, Abdelhamid Benhedouga and Al Taher Wattar.

Previous ADIBF Virtual Sessions have featured the Swedish behavioural expert Thomas Erikson, military survival specialist John Hudson; Lemn Sissay, the award-winning British-Ethiopian poet; Annabel Karmel, the children’s cookbook author; educator and environmentalist Stephen Ritz; and Saudi filmmaker Shahad Ameen.

The next Virtual Session, titled ‘Maitha Al Khayat and Naqshun’, will be held online on Sunday, June 7, 2020, at 5pm, featuring Maitha Al Khayat, a well-known figure in the UAE’s children’s literature scene, as well as readings from her book Naqshun.

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