You can learn a lot about a nation’s history, culture and aspirations by reading its literature. A number of Qatari authors have made their work available in the English language, making it easy for a global audience to read the country’s historical fiction, magical fantasy and folk tales. Qatari author Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud’s writing depicts the period in Qatar’s history before the establishment of the state as a political entity. Al-Mahmoud’s novel The Corsair, which takes place on the Arabian Peninsula in the early 19th century, revolves around the historical figure of a pirate whose agenda clashed with Britain’s goal of maritime peace in the region. This novel portrays a significant period in the history of Qatar and the Arabian Peninsula, a time when Britain sought to secure its presence through maritime peace treaties with regional sheikhdoms to safeguard the sea routes for its East India Company ships.
written by Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud,
translated by Amira Noweira
(2013) Bloomsbury USA
Al-Mahmoud’s novels have also historicized a period seldom addressed in fiction written in this region: the period between the 15th century and the 16th century when the Portuguese seized Qatar and neighboring provinces on the Arabian Peninsula. His novel The Holy Sail depicts the Portuguese spice trade in India and efforts to secure trade routes through the Gulf region. The plot features themes such as Arabian tribalism, nobility, honor and the strife between foreign powers like the Portuguese and regional powers like the Ottomans in the region. This makes Al-Mahmoud’s novels the right choice to learn about the history and culture of the Gulf region and Qatar.
written by Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud,
translated by Karim Traboulsi
(2016) Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing; UK
Apart from historical fiction translated to English, Qatari authors such as Kummam Al-Maadeed have also written in a manner that is directed to a larger audience than their region. Kummam, who wrote her first novel in English, represents an authorial aspiration to target an international audience. The fact that she first published her work in English in 2016 and then later translated the novel to Arabic in 2018 speaks to this ambition. Her first published work, The Lost Rose, in the genre of magical fantasy, tells the story of Clara, who lives in a fairy-like kingdom with wanderers and sorcerers who try to enslave her by casting spells. Kummam followed with another fantasy novel, Calling Magic, which also revolves around a magical world of wizards. Both of Kummam’s novels target young adults, and it is worth noting here that she is the only female Qatari author who writes fiction in English.
The Donkey Lady and Other Tales from the Arabian Gulf is another recent English publication from Qatar. This collection represents ongoing attempts to document Qatari and regional oral folktales and lore. It includes the bedtime stories that past generations used to tell children, which often aimed to teach moral lessons. The stories sometimes feature magical fish or talking animals that intends to teach humans virtues. It is important to note that these folktales and lore are part of the regional culture in the Gulf and are not exclusive to Qatar. Reading these stories can tell a lot about the period prior to modernity and the discovery of oil, and how people of this region perceived the world around them.
By: Patty Paine
(2013) Berkshire Academic Press
Reem is an information Services Librarian at Qatar National Library, specialized in Literature. Reem holds a bachelor degree in English Literature and Linguistics, and a master degree of arts in contemporary Muslim thought and societies.
#QatariLitMonth is curated by Abeer S. Al-Kuwari
Abeer works as director of Research and Learning Services at the newly established Qatar National Library (QNL). Abeer’s work focuses on engaging library researchers in the Qatari community to explore archival and libraries as memory institutions and documentary heritage.