Please join us in welcoming guest Maha Gargash to Writer Unboxed. An Emirati born in Dubai to a prominent business family, Maha studied abroad in Washington, D.C., and London. With a degree in Radio/Television, she joined Dubai Television to pursue her interest in documentaries. Through directing television programs, which dealt mainly with traditional Arab societies, she became involved in research and scriptwriting. Her first novel, The Sand Fish, was an international best seller. Her second novel, That Other Me, is out on January 26 via Harper Collins.
“I’m writing for a Western audience.” It’s a thought that sits quietly in the back of my mind as I write. Sometimes I’m aware of it; other times, I’m not. Always, I find myself adjusting the narrative—whether it’s to do with structure or flow—in order for the story to be absorbed more readily by a Western reader. Recently, I’ve been wondering why this was so and felt the need to examine the matter more closely—culminating in this article.
Connect with Maha on Facebook and through comments to this post—but please note she will be responding from her home in Dubai and because of the 15-hour time difference from the U.S. there may be a delay in her replies.
Writing for a Western Audience
It’s easy to understand why Western readers might be interested in a novel coming out of the Arab world. No longer is the region as remote as it once was. With the ease of travel and increased integration through the interchange of views, products, and ideas, Western readers seem keen to take a peak through a window that remains largely opaque.
And here comes the challenge. Yes, there are many novels from the Arab World that tackle all the familiar themes, whether these be the Palestinian struggle for a homeland or the effects on children growing up in war torn countries. But not all are written with the Western reader in mind.
It’s not only that the Arabic language is complex and poetic, a reservoir of beautiful words. To the Western mind, Arabic thought also renders a complexity and contrariness hard to digest. To add to that, not all Arabs think the same, or express themselves the same way, or even dress the same way. This is hardly surprising for it is a vast region expanding from the Atlantic ocean in the west to the Gulf waters in the east.
Although I always keep in mind the readers of my stories, rarely do I think of them as being wholly Western or Eastern in thinking. Instead, I concentrate on producing a story well told that presents a different reality. Ultimately, it’s the conflict within the story and the interaction of the characters that keep the pages turning.
Still, there are bound to be concepts that might alienate a Western reader. The test is in telling the story without allowing it to get bogged down by over explaining things: customs, traditions, and a people’s outlook. [Read more…]