British Muslim Fictions by Claire Chambers

British Muslim Fictions by Claire Chambers

Author:Claire Chambers
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

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Robin Yassin-Kassab

British Syrian novelist Robin Yassin-Kassab was born in London, and grew up in Merseyside and Scotland, spending another year in England’s capital before studying at the University of Oxford. After university, he worked abroad in Pakistan, France, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco, Turkey, and Syria, mostly teaching English to adults, but in 1994–5, he again lived in West London. In 2008, he moved with his Syrian wife and their two children from Oman, where he had taught for five years, to the Scottish Borders where his mother lives,1 but he remains fascinated by London, to which city he has a sense of belonging which he says ‘isn’t logical’. His first novel, The Road From Damascus (2008), was taken up by Simon Prosser (the publishing director who gave Zadie Smith her break), published by Hamish Hamilton and Penguin, and translated as Il Traditore [The Traitor] by Saggiatore publisher in Italy. He is marketed as a writer of ‘postcolonial London’,2 and the hardback dustjacket to The Road from Damascus features a drawing of Harrow Road in West London, replete with the migrant-run fried chicken restaurants humorously discussed in the novel.3

Yet the novel provides more than just a glimpse into the lives of Arabs in London (a topic already explored in Hanan al-Shaykh’s Arabic-language novel, Only in London,4 inter alia), addressing issues relating to migration, faith, identity, love, and politics. As well as writing occasional book reviews for the Guardian and other publications, Yassin-Kassab is a co-editor and regular contributor to PULSE, a collaborative web-based magazine which can be found at pulsemedia.org. He is currently working on his second novel. In a textbook example of what Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin call the ‘framing’ of Muslims,5 in 2010 Yassin-Kassab’s comments to a Scottish Mail on Sunday reporter were isolated and taken out of context in such a way as to present him as a supporter of 9/11 and suicide bombing,6 which, as my interview makes clear, is a distortion of his gradated, yet radical politics. The Daily Express picked up the story and ran with the headline ‘Fury at traitor who backs our enemies’,7 bringing great anxiety to Yassin-Kassab and his family. It seems likely he was targeted in this way because of the sentiments expressed on his blog, qunfuz.com (so named because qunfuz in Arabic means ‘porcupine’, and the blog is certainly spiky, especially in relation to the occupation of Palestine). The issue of blogging is discussed in this interview, which was conducted before the Mail/Express smear.

The Road from Damascus opens in early 2001 with the protagonist, Sami, visiting relatives who live, unsurprisingly, in the suburbs of Damascus. Sami has been trying for over a decade to write his doctorate on Arabic poetry, following in the footsteps of his late father, Mustafa, a secular, pan-Arabist intel lectual, who made his academic name in Britain. Sami hopes that this trip to Syria will help him to find the central idea for his thesis which he badly needs and, with this in mind, he



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