By Ibrahim al-Koni
International Booker Prize finalist and “one of the Arab world’s most innovative novelists” (Roger A…Read more
Amelia Smith from the Middle East Monitor interviews Libyan author Ibrahim al-Koni about his novel The Night Will Have Its Say, translated by Nancy Roberts (Hoopoe, 2022).
“It is the seventh century CE and the Ummayad forces are advancing across North Africa. Their rapid expansion is fuelled by treasures and riches, their dynasty defined by opulence and debauchery. Amidst the fighting, the Berber warrior queen, AlKahina, is resisting. It is from her perspective that Libyan writer, Ibrahim Al-Koni, presents his new novel, ‘The Night Will Have Its Say’, in this retelling of the Arab conquests, translated by Nancy Roberts. Libyan writer, Ibrahim Al-Koni, was born in the north-west of the Sahara Desert, in Libya in 1948, and only learnt to read and write Arabic at the age of 12.
He has written over 80 novels, short stories and poems, all inspired by the desert and, in 2015, AlKoni was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. In this Q&A with Amelia Smith, Ibrahim Al-Koni explains what Al-Kahina symbolises to him, his connection to the desert and trusting a translator with his writing.
Where did you find inspiration for The Night Will Have its Say?
The source of our inspiration is our stance on human values, because it is from such values that we derive the great questions of existence. Seen from this perspective, Al-Kahina was a hero not by the power of worldly authority, but by the power of sacrifice for the sake of the values she had embraced as her religion. Since courage is a virtue we are accustomed to associate with manhood, then Al-Kahina was a hero twice, because she was not a man, but did what even men have been unable to do: that is, defend that which has been ‘the holy of holies’ in all cultures: the homeland. More than this, she did not ‘lose her head’ as it were when fighting her opponent, knowing, as she did, that going to extremes in self-defence is itself a kind of aggression.
“The source of our inspiration is our stance on human values, because it is from such values that we derive the great questions of existence.”
She chose to fight the aggressor without losing the ‘antennae’ of truth, which consists of love. She fought the enemy with love; otherwise, she would not have adopted a descendant of strangers as her own son after having nursed him with her own milk via that miraculous rite.
She did not retreat from upholding the principle of brotherhood even when this son betrayed her, choosing to spy on her on behalf of the enemy. This paradox alone can serve as the basis for tragedy, which is what inspires people down the generations.”