Ibrahim Nasrallah / “Every kind of literature allows one to discover something new”

Novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah discusses how his IPAF nominated sci-fi fantasy novel The Second War of the Dog was influenced by the unrest in the Arab world

Ibrahim Nasrallah's novel The Second War of the Dog is his third nomination for the IPAF award. Photo: Supplied

by Maan Jalal / Translation: Ennis Jalal

Culture 7 April 2018

Celebrated Jordanian-Palestinian poet and novelist, Ibrahim Nasrallah has been shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) for his latest novel The Second War of the Dog.

‘I was really happy,’ Nasrallah told The Arab Edition about being shortlisted for the esteemed literary prize, ‘because the prize is important and also because the novel is different.’

Nasrallah has previously published 14 books of poetry, 13 novels and two children’s books. His novel The Time of White Horses was also shortlisted for the IPAF in 2009 and Lanterns of the King of Galilee in 2013.

Known for his epic family sagas, seeped in Arab history, The Second War of the Dog takes readers into previously uncharted territory by Nasrallah. 

‘The novel takes place in the future and speaks of a harsh life in which people are living under the shadow of violence, greed and the lust for control,’ Nasrallah says, ‘it speaks of the collapse of nature and of human civilization.’

 The Second War of the Dog sees our anti-hero protagonist within a fantasy sci-fi setting. Acting as an opponent to an oppressing regime that cherishes power we see him transform into to an extremist. Parallels are obvious in the novel to what the Arab world has witnessed from social and political unrest over the last few years.

‘I was definitely influenced,’ Nasrallah says, ‘the bloody reality that we have witnessed and lived in for last few years has left a large impact on me. This was the exact reason that I wrote this novel.’

The Arab Edition spoke with the prolific author about his third nomination for the IPAF, the process of writing and why readers are intrigued by the anti-hero.

How did the idea for The Second War of the Dog come to you and how long did the first draft take?
The idea came to me and played in my mind for many years, ever since violence started to sweep the Arab nation and many countries in the world. The novel speaks of the point that we will reach if this violence continues. As for the writing, it took me a year.

What is your process of writing? Do you have a plan or is it more organic?
I always plan my novels. Every novel I’ve ever written I had thought of the idea at least five years prior to writing it. Some of my novels I wrote twenty-two years after planning them.

Readers may be surprised by how different this novel is compared to your previous work. Why did you want to explore the sci-fi fantasy genre?
The subject matter lends its self to the writing style and the appropriate form. One cannot talk about a strange world in a style that is artistically traditional. In this novel there are aspects of sci-fi, frivolity, fantasy, black comedy and also exoticism.

Do you think this genre allows you to make certain points or explore characters in specific ways that family epics or historical fiction can’t?
Every kind of literature allows one to discover something new and I like being varied within my literary experience. As well as that, I also enjoy experimenting and also discovering new places within my mind and imagination.

A writer shouldn’t be revealed within his text. He should leave sympathy, or it’s opposite, to the reader.

What was the experience like to write the journey of an anti-hero? Did you sympathise with him?
A writer must put all his effort and attention to every character he writes in order to create an effective and influential character. I’ve always written about characters who are anti-heroes, I enjoy it. I cannot say that writing the character was hard, but the strange reality that he lives in was something that was psychologically tiring for me as a writer as was the writing of the novel, which was exhausting. As for sympathy, it’s a complex issue. A writer shouldn’t be revealed within his text. He should leave sympathy or it’s opposite to the reader. What was enjoyable however, was creating and inventing the sci-fi and fantasy devices (within my writing) to suit this future world.

There is something that attracts readers to anti-heroes or characters that self-destruct. Why do you think that is?
I think these types of characters are full of internal struggles, conflicts and contradictions. So they form a kind of lure for writing and for the discovery of something new about the human soul, the opposite of characters who are typically self-assured.

How important is an award such as the IPAF?
It’s important because it’s the most interesting Arabic (literature) award. Intellectuals, people who are interested in literature and also readers across the Arab world follow it, as well as other countries around the world.

How would you describe the state of Arab literature at the moment?
Arab writing today is varied and in every country there is writing, which has a special and beautiful taste, specifically with novels.

The 2018 IPAF winner will be announced at a ceremony in the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi on 24 April. The winning author will be awarded $50,000 while shortlisted finalists will receive $10,000.

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