Author of the Week | Youssef Rakha

The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars by Youssef Rakha translated by Paul Starkey has been awarded the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
Paul Starkey & Youssef Rakha will be in conversation with Gaby Wood @woodgaby on Thurs 18 February at 6.30 for 7pm Waterstone’s Piccadilly Bookstore, London W1J 9HD @WaterstonesPicc It is a free event, but please reserve your place by emailing piccadilly@waterstones.com

Youssef Rakha is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the only child of a disillusioned communist and a woman who struggled against incredible odds to go to university. I speak English with a slight accent and Arabic like a native Egyptian. I can think of at least three separate people I’ve been since I went to university in Hull, returning to Cairo once I graduated. All three worked in journalism and wrote, and the last two took pictures as well. I’m interested in the meaning of people’s words and actions, individually and in groups, in my part of the world: how the disorder and duplicity of human behaviour can resolve into something meaningful and also presumably beautiful. I’m interested in the way language can reflect and alter reality. I have a French-speaking three-year-old daughter I’m utterly besotted with. I’ve been urged to stop smoking cigarettes, which I do voraciously, and I’m planning on it but I haven’t yet.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At a certain point I thought I was a prophet, a messenger of God. I must’ve fantasized about being a doctor and an architect and a spy, but all I consciously remember is wanting to be a writer. Continue reading Author of the Week | Youssef Rakha

Book of the Week | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars @Sultans_Seal

Rakha’s tale of a man’s “transformation during twenty-one days from a Europeanized intellectual to a semi-madman who believed he could perform magic deeds to resurrect the Islamic caliphate” is a very readable feast — taking in love, friendship, work and (in)sanity . . . identity, faith and the nationalist movement . . . Ottoman Turkey, neoliberalism, politics . . . digital photography, the internet and Cairo café life . . . Amgad Salah’s conversion from a lost hobo into an unarmed terrorist . . . laced with a smattering of zombies, camels, masturbation and ecstasy (chemical or otherwise). The Book of the Sultan’s Seal is one helluva read.

Part confessional, part letter to a friend, part philosophical treatise and a journey of self-discovery: Mustafa Çorbaci’s stream of consciousness carries the reader along in a weird and wonderful coherent swirl of words that conveys his thoughts, impressions and emotions as his world is turned upside down. “My marriage had been a Greek tragedy, which begins and ends within twenty-four hours. Blink and it’s over.” A journalist for over a decade, “in the last seven years he hadn’t budged from in front of the screen.” He eventually leaves his job and travels, ending up in Beirut. Continue reading Book of the Week | The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars @Sultans_Seal

Indie Publisher of the Week | Michel Moushabeck, founder of Interlink Books @InterlinkBooks

Michel S. Moushabeck is a publisher, editor, writer and musician of Palestinian descent. The founder of Interlink Books, he is also the author of several books including Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa and A Brief Introduction to Arabic Music, Most recently, he contributed a piece to Being Palestinian: Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora.

He is the recipient of NYU’s Founder’s Day Award for outstanding scholarship (1981), the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Alex Odeh Award (2010) and The Palestinian Heritage Foundation Achievement Award (2011). He serves on various boards – notably the board of trustees of The International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), an annual literary prize administered by the UK’s Booker Prize Foundation. He plays riqq, tabla and daff and his recording credits include two albums. He has performed at concert halls worldwide.

Michel Moushabeck is exclusively interviewed by Georgia for The BookBlast Diary.

Were your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents and my grandparents were very bookish. They lived in Palestine, in the literary neighborhood of Katamon in West Jerusalem, until their forced exile from their home in 1948. I was born in Beirut and grew up there until age 19, when the 1975 Lebanese Civil War shattered my family’s life again and sent us in search for a new home. My parents ended up in Jordan, my brother in Athens and then California, my sister in Montreal, and I managed to find my way to Brooklyn, New York and then Massachusetts. Growing up in cosmopolitan Beirut, I was brought up on a healthy diet of good books, classical Arabic music, Oum Koulthum, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Egyptian cinema, and American westerns. Continue reading Indie Publisher of the Week | Michel Moushabeck, founder of Interlink Books @InterlinkBooks