Goodbye to Muscat

June 20 2008

This is the title of an article just published in the UAE newspaper The National by Robin Yassin-Kassab. There was also an interview with him there a few days ago.

I’ve been reading his blog, qunfuzcreation, since last September. I was impressed by it, so there are references to it here: search under qunfuzcreation or Yassin-Kassab. Or, better, go to his blog. Qunfuz means porcupine or hedgehog.

His novel, The Road from Damascus, was published in London (not yet the US) earlier this month. I haven’t read it yet, but will and will review it. It’s set in Damascus and London.

Yassin-Kassab was born in Britain to an English mother and a Syrian father, grew up in the north of England and in Scotland, and studied at Oxford. He has spent time in Syria, and also lived (as we are told) in Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Oman. In Pakistan he was a journalist. In Oman, it seems until only last month, he taught English.

He has now left Oman, hence the title of that article, to move with his wife and young son and daughter to Scotland, where he has started on a second novel. He says that his wife, who is Arabic (Syrian?), is more conventionally devout than he is. I hope that Scotland feeds him as a writer. This article is full of nostalgia for Oman. And understandably, he wants to avoid the London literary scene and the tag of “multicultural writer”.

The article in The National isn’t also a post on his blog. Did he stop writing it on leaving Oman? I and many others hope not. qunfuzcreation was a university of the Middle East, through a particular sensibility.

His move to Damascus was, so The National says, “an attempt to get in touch with a part of himself that had long been missing: his Arabic heritage”. You only have to read him to know that that quest was sincere and not a sentimental visit to roots. His blog is informed by anger, regret and love. Anger at what has happened in the Occupied Territories and sympathy for the armed struggles of Hamas and Hezbollah, emotions which are not at all at odds with a sophisticated political sensibility. Yassin-Kassab calls himself an angry man. Occasional regret that the ways of pre-consumerist and pre-globalised societies are passing, but he’s living in the present. He’s a man of positive, not negative, opinions. Negative opinions are unattractive in print. The only excuse for them is great satirical ability, which Martin Amis doesn’t have.

It bothers me that this blog is still one of the first things you get if you Google him; it ought to be sinking faster in the ratings. Yassin-Kassab emailed me in March to say that he’d read something I’d written on Egyptian writers and I was able to reply that – for the first time in my life – I happened to be in Muscat. I could have met this new writer, but decided not to: I’d have had nothing to say; but I’m glad to have plugged him even if a torrent of reviews hasn’t yet drowned me out yet.

One Response to “Goodbye to Muscat”


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