Category: Film & Fiction

Salt Houses Review: Making Magic out of Exile

Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been woman-crushing on psychologist, poet and writer Hala Alyan for years now. So I was especially pleased to see the Palestinian-American’s debut novel, Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2017), receive heaps of well-deserved praise from everyone including the LA Review of Books to the National.

The book has garnered so much attention in literary circles, it’s even made it on to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s summer reading list. (Note that I interviewed Alyan about her book for Al Jazeera English. The Q&A, which I was ridiculously thrilled to put together, is here).

At its core, Salt Houses is a family drama about the multigenerational-trauma triggered by displacement. The novel, which starts in Nablus with the Six-Day War of 1967 and ends in Beirut with the Lebanon War of 2006, tells the story of the Palestinian diaspora through one well-to-do family, the Yacoubs.

Salt Houses takes us on multiple journeys with eight members of the family as Alyan expertly shifts generations and voice with each chapter. We move with the Yacoubs from Kuwait City and Amman to Boston and beyond, experiencing the intricacies of the aftermath of forced (or self-imposed) exile. Continue reading

50 Books by Arab & Muslim Writers to Read This Year

Artwork by Etel Adnan


Earlier this month, I stumbled upon this fantastic, comprehensive list of recently published books by authors and poets of Arab, Middle Eastern and/or Muslim descent put together by Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar (originally posted on Facebook).

Akbar, whose poetry was published in the New Yorker’s special fiction issue, very graciously said I could repost the brilliant list here.

I’d like to think this compilation signals a new nahda in Arab & Muslim writing, with, as a friend recently put, Hisham Matar sitting up top (I tend to agree as I’m biased on Matar & his Pulitzer-prize winning book, THE RETURN.) Continue reading

Eshtebak (Clash) Film Review on 7iber

JFYI I wrote this review of “Eshtebak” (Clash) for 7iber. (Originally published here on May 6). TL;DR: Watch this film immediately.


In August 2013, Egyptian security forces raided a sit-in camp in Cairo filled with hundreds of protesters supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi. According to Human Rights Watch, the ensuing clashes between the army and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood at Raba’a Square left at least 817 civilians dead.

It’s near-impossible to imagine — let alone depict — the chaos and hatred that must have permeated the air in the weeks that led up to that horrific massacre. And yet, Mohamed Diab, the talented director of “Eshtebak” (“Clash”), somehow manages to do just that, in a superb 97-minute film that’s expertly shot in and from one location: the back of a run-down police van.

Continue reading

Hisham Matar Takes Home Pulitzer for ‘the Return’


YES. The inimitable Hisham Matar just nabbed the Pulitzer Prize in Biography or Autobiography for his exquisite book, the Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House).

The writer beat out some tough competition from Susan Faludi for In the Darkroom and the late Paul Kalanithi for When Breath Becomes Air.

Continue reading

London Stands Against Trump in Solidarity with Iranian Director

thesalesman_landscape_875.jpg


All (well, a lot of) eyes were on Hollywood a-listers and the Oscars last night, particularly in the aftermath of envelope-gate.

But in London, thousands gathered at Trafalgar Square in the freezing cold for a special open-air screening of The Salesman, in solidarity with Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the Oscars due to Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan organised the event to tell the world that London is open (and seemingly to give Trump London’s middle finger). In a speech, the UK capital’s first Muslim mayor noted that Trump would “not silence” him and that we must mobilise to oppose the US president, not simply by protesting, but by organising events that celebrate our diversity, whether we’re from “Lebanon or London.” (See part of his speech in the video below. You’ll also get to hear me cheering Khan on. #SorrynotSorry). Continue reading

AlJazeera English Q&A With Lebanese Poet Zeina Hashem Beck


I put together this neat little interview with Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck for AlJazeera English when I was back home a couple of weeks ago. I adore Zeina’s poetry, and am convinced her career will continue to flourish, so this was a real treat for me (we had a fantastic discussion — thank you, Zeina). I’ve pasted the entire interview below, but you can see it as it appeared on AlJazeera English here.


Beirut – To say Zeina Hashem Beck is an emerging poet would be an understatement. At 35, the Lebanese writer has already clinched multiple awards. To Live in Autumn, her first collection, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize.

This year, Hashem Beck won the Rattle Chapbook Prize for 3arabi Song, which fuses her passion for Middle Eastern culture with the destabilising forces of war and displacement in the region. She has also been praised by UK Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Rattle describes 3arabi Song as “a tribute to the Arab world and Arab singers, to refugees and refusal, to hope and home, to sorrow and song”, adding, “like no other collection we’ve read, these poems feel absolutely necessary”. Continue reading

The White Helmets: A Netflix Documentary Worth Watching


Documentary: White Helmets (2016)
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Available on Netflix globally
★★★★

For all of the coverage of the White Helmets  in western media over the past few months, nothing comes close to this documentary brought to your living rooms by Netflix.

The short film explores the quiet yet remarkable group of some 3,000 Syrian volunteer rescue workers as they risk their lives to search for survivors at bomb sites across opposition-controlled areas of the country.

Over the past five years, the group is said to have saved more than 60,000 lives, capturing the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee (and, of course, conspiracy theorists/trolls*).

The makers of the documentary spent over five weeks with 30 White Helmets along the Syrian border in Turkey as they received first-responder training, filming intimate moments of their day-to-day lives. (Director and producer Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara document the experience in this piece for Indiewire.) Continue reading

Aleppo is Burning: Join the Worldwide RED Protest for Syria

red


On Tuesday, May 3, protestors in London will gather to demand action be taken for the innocent civilians of Aleppo, who are being crushed by the brutal Syrian regime.

If you live in the UK, join the Student Union of King’s College London at the Quad, Strand Campus, from 6 p.m. BST. For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page.

We’ll be there, and we’ll be wearing red.

Global protest destinations include NYC (in front of the UN, May 1), Beirut (also May 1),  Berlin (May 2) and Geneva (May 4). A demonstration was held in Paris today. Continue reading

I Say Dust: A Whimsical Tale of Lust, Longing and Identity


Film: I Say Dust
DirectorDarine Hotait
Starring: Hala Alyan, Mounia Akl
Available on Vimeo on Demand


It’s taken me some time to get around to reviewing I Say Dust, a short, sweet film directed by the promising Darine Hotait.

Partly because, life. But also because, despite the fact that it’s just about a quarter of an hour long, it flirts with vast topics including homosexuality in the Arab diaspora, dual identity, lust and love. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s not the easiest watch as a result. But that’s precisely the point.

Set in New York City, Hal, a broody, big-haired Arab-American poet (played poignantly by Hala Alyan) wanders the streets of Brooklyn to pin up flyers advertising an upcoming reading. She catches the eye of Moun (the stunning Mounia Akl), a bored and beautiful saleswoman at a Chess store.

I like your curls,” Moun flirtatiously says to Hal shortly after they meet. “Where you from?Continue reading

Why Jordan’s Theeb Should Win That Oscar

theeb

(…assuming we should actually care about the Oscars — in the award ceremony’s current state — considering its “diversity” problems..)

Every so often, the Academy nominates foreign-language films that put some of the movies listed in the best-picture category to absolute shame. Theeb, directed by newcomer Naji Abu Nowar, is one such example (side note: Timbuktu, of 2015, and Omar, of 2014, are a couple of others).

Set in the the vast Hijaz province of the then Ottoman Empire during World War I, Theeb (Wolf in Arabic) portrays the complexities of colonialism, death, grief, survival, isolation and loyalty through the subtle lens of one curious Bedouin boy. Continue reading

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