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No Need for the Great Arab Spring Novel

news editor3 February 2012

Abdelkader Benali and Hisham Matar discuss literature and revolutions at an event attended by Stefanie van Gemert.

With Time Magazine recently choosing ‘The Protester’ as Person of the Year 2011, it seems a relevant question to ask whether art is capable of protest, of revolting against tyranny.

On 26 January the authors Hisham Matar (In the Country of Men and Anatomy of a Disappearance) and Abdelkader Benali (Dutch Writer in Residence 2011-12 at UCL, Wedding by the Sea) discussed this topic at ‘Time Travels in Literature and Politics’: literature and its response to political suppression.

The event was timely – as chair Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship, pointed out: it was exactly a year after the uprising in Egypt. Matar and Benali are both rooted in the Arab-speaking world: Benali was born in Morocco, before moving to the Netherlands in 1979, aged four. His first novel, Wedding by the Sea (1996, English transl. 2000), discusses a theme that he would often revisit, that of the intermingling of East and West, aptly visualised by his latest title Oost=West (2011, ‘East=West’).

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