“It’s quite a title, ya!”

Rana Haddad, author of The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor, was invited recently by BBC Radio presenter Amanny Mo for an Instagram Live on her coffeeandconvowithamannymo page. The two women talked about the novel, drank coffee, and shared some good laughs. Here is the extract of most of their conversation.

Dunya means world in Arabic. How on earth did you come up with that title for your novel—The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor?

It’s quite a title, ya! When I try to write something I let myself write a lot of rubbish for a month, or two, or three. . . . I can’t write a book unless I get the name—I knew it would be a girl. So I came up with a lot of names but I wasn’t convinced by any of them. And then at some point, just randomly, suddenly I don’t know where it came from, this name came—Dunya Noor. I used slightly the surrealist approach, automatic writing, writing anything, and then I read what I wrote and in that I found “the unexpected love objects.” I thought that had a ring to it and actually the title helped me to write the book. So it was the name first. Dunya is not real but to me, I felt like she was a person who existed somewhere. This name has a reality in my imagination.

The novel is set in Syria but also partly in the UK. There is a slightly socio-political side to it and the feisty protagonist Dunya, the lead character, is very strong-willed and strong-minded. Tell us a little bit about the story.

What is interesting about the story is that everyone says Dunya is very feisty—definitely she is—but a lot of people are surprised . . . . Maybe they think it is unrealistic; that I am making her up. But I grew up in Syria. (I came to England when I was fifteen and a half). Most girls were very very feisty actually. But in the West when you hear about Arab women you only hear about how oppressed they are, which I think they are but they are also very very feisty, which is interesting. They have a lot of strength. I don’t know how to describe it but maybe because they have to fight for everything! It is not handed to them on a plate so they have to be quite strong. Of course there are some very submissive people and girls . . . . But in my class at school, there were lots of very cheeky, rebellious girls. Their parents really had their hands full to contend with. I think [Dunya] expresses the reality of a lot of girls.

“In my class at school, there were lots of very cheeky, rebellious girls. . . . I think [Dunya] expresses the reality of a lot of girls.”

Do you reach back into your childhood days to get elements and the essence of that independent young woman and a real connection and authenticity to the story?

Yes, definitely! [W]hen I was writing I was of course using memories from my own childhood. I had been living in England for a long time and I myself got brainwashed. I started thinking of Syria the way a British person thinks about Syria. But when I write I don’t use my head, I use my heart so I just let things come out naturally . . . . Syria in many ways, before the war, is almost like Greece. Before the war, it was a beautiful country. . . . I went with the BBC team to Syria to do a historical documentary. They were all really surprised because they thought it would be the ‘Axis of Evil,’ a terrifying country. They were taken aback. We were in Damascus. There were beautiful cafés, people wearing nice clothes . . . . Whenever a journalist goes there, they don’t film that. They go and look for the things that fit with what they think and then they film that and repeat the same story, which is very frustrating. It is dehumanizing!

“When I write I don’t use my head, I use my heart”

You have moved a lot, Rana. You have a beautiful mix in you. You are Armenian, Syrian, Dutch . . . . Also you travel a lot as well . . . . You are in Athens and you were supposed to come back to the UK but you can’t do that for the moment. What are you currently doing?

I am writing another novel. This one is set in London, not in Syria. Normally speaking, I do freelance work from the UK but because of Covid it really stopped. So meanwhile I am helping a friend of mine who is half Greek but from the UK, who also moved here, set up a gallery. It’s very exciting.

Also I worked in television in England for over twelve years. Here in Athens I met a filmmaker and I am now trying to do a documentary with her about the Tunisian blogger, Lina Ben Mhenni. I am also working on writing workshops. A lot of things are in process.

Athens is a smaller city than London so it is easier to collaborate with people. There is less sensory overload. What is lovely about Athens is also that it is international, multi-cultural, like a melting pot. The Greeks are wonderful.

At the end of the conversation, Rana Haddad was asked a few random questions—as part of Amanny Mo’s “game.”

Q: “Are you sensible or adventurous?”
A: “I am a risk-taker. I like to jump and see what happens.”

Q: “Who was your first crush?”
A: “It’s a secret and it continues to be a secret—somebody older, a literary person. It’s someone famous. After that I had crushes on boys and girls.”

Q: “Would you prefer a classic car or a contemporary car?”
A: “I can’t drive but I’d love a classic car.”

Posted on 02/11/2020 in FICTION Political


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