Seeking truth in his writing and fractured past

Acclaimed Palestinian novelist Rabai al-Madhoun was invited last month to attend the Shubbak Festival in London. The author of The Lady from Tel Aviv and Fractured Destinies (translated by Paul Starkey, Hoopoe, 2018) participated in a discussion entitled “Telling The Past: “Contemporary Arab Historical Novels,” held at the British Library in the English capital.

According to a follow-up article published in Al-Fanar Media, written by Marcia Lynx Qualey, founding editor of the website ArabLit and co-host of the Bulaq podcast, who attended the Festival:

for al-Madhoun, there was no way to avoid representation, politics or the past. “There is no time like Palestinian time,” he said. “You live this life in the present time while the past is dominating your life and trying to force the definition of your future. So what time are you living in? You don’t know.”

Al-Madhoun’s novels are political. They delve into the present and the past history of Palestine. In The Lady from Tel Aviv, the protagonist Palestinian exile Walid Dahman returns home to Gaza after many years in Europe and ends up sitting next to Israeli Dana Ahuva, on the flight into Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport. His latest novel Fractured Destinies, explores Palestinian exile and exposes the tragedy of everyday Palestinian life.

Hoopoe caught up with the 74-year-old writer and journalist, born in al-Majdal, in southern Palestine, to ask him about his dreams, his favorite words, and his life motto. Here are his Seven Answers.


The author next to the Separation Wall in the town of Qalqilia, in the West Bank

What emotion(s) bring(s) out your best writing?

al-Madhoun: All feelings come out of my memory, either by recalling big and small events that have shaped my life through decades, or getting in touch with Palestinians who live under racial discrimination in Israel, or under the Israeli occupation in the West Bank since 52 years, or those in the besieged Gaza Strip including my big family, Al Madhoun, who lost four family members, including a pregnant women, during the recent Israeli aggression. Every single story I hear stirred up my anger and sense of historical injustice and persecution. But I have also been moved by dreams of peace, justice, and returning home. The best writing came actually from the feelings that surfaced during my visits to the Palestinian cities we lost in 1948: Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and most of all, my city of birth, Almajdal Askaln (now Ashkelon), where my memory collided with the reality. Most of the city was destroyed; the Madhoun’s neighborhood was razed.

Do you have any favorite words and how do you use them in your narrative?

al-Madhoun: My favorite words come actually from the dictionary of my mother’s dialect. I love the way she talks, the words she uses in her daily life, especially when she gets angry or feels happy. The Palestinian dialect is very rich in its significance; it can outdo the Arabic language when used in dialog in a novel. I have been inspired by my mother’s character also. That appears in Walid Dahman’s mother, Amina, in both of my novels The Lady from Tel Aviv and Fractured Destinies.

How much of yourself do you think is in Fractured Destinies?

al-Madhoun: I am in all the pages, but not as myself; I am among all characters but I am not any one of them. I am in the fold of the narration, implanted in words scattered among the prose.

Did you have second thoughts about how to end the novel?

al-Madhoun: Actually no. First of all, I do not believe in certainty, which gives a unique answer for uncertain reality. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict (the main topic of the book) has no answer yet, and we do not see an end to it, in the near future at least.

The open ending gets readers involved in the same process, in search for answers to an unresolved conflict.

What is your life motto?

al-Madhoun: Telling the truth, even in fiction.

At Dozan Cafe in Haifa, the author presenting two of his novels to Ayman Odeh, member of the Knesset and head of the Arab-dominated Hadash party (center); and al-Madhoun’s publisher in Haifa, Saleh Abbasi (left).

If one of your dreams could come true, what would it be and why?

al-Madhoun: Visiting my birthplace Al Majdal Askalan as a Palestinian, with the full right to return. If I died before, perhaps to have my body buried there.

Is writing hard for you?

al-Madhoun: Somehow yes. I work to develop my own techniques, to create a new style and a plot, and a narrative beyond what is traditional and conventional.


Posted on 06/08/2019 in FICTION General, FICTION Historical, FICTION Political, tagged as Acre, exile, fiction, Fractured Destinies, Hoopoe, Hoopoe Fiction, International Prize for Arabic Fiction, IPAF, novel, Palestine, Paul Starkey, Rabai al-Madhoun, translation, West Bank


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