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• The beginnings of reading and writing

On reading your early stories one gets a strong impression that a story is born inside you “mature” and “complete”. Does this relate to the famous saying “The perfection of art is in hiding the craftsmanship”, or is it because you started reading early on in life?

I left school when I was 13 and started reading without any guidance from anyone. No one in our household read. It was an environment proud of its ignorance. The first time I saw a book that was not a school book I felt enchanted. I think that was in the school library. I don’t remember whether it was a story book or a novel, but I remember the words, one word next to another, and how they introduced me to cities, men and women, which I found to be pure magic. And when I started to read I read not only literary books but everything that was in print, and I don’t know what led me to do so. I sometimes believe in hereditary traits, and the first time I listened by chance to western classical music, when I was ten years old, I appreciated it instantly although it was relatively difficult for me. The music of Haydn or Bach. I wonder how a young child from an ordinary Damascus environment could enjoy such a foreign kind of music as if it were part of his environment. I have no explanation for that.

How did your writing start? Did you make a decision to become a writer?

I started writing in 1958 but had a real terror of the short story, for I saw it as a skyscraper whilst I was an ignorant construction worker hardly able to attach one stone to another. I believed from the beginning that there is no such thing as a real life story, that there is only the ability of the writer to persuade his readers that what they are reading is true and real, and that it really happened. There are stories full of the names of places, streets, cities, villages and people but their readers are not convinced they are real, while if the same reader watched a film about space he would be certain it was real even though his reasoning was telling him it was no more than imagination, fantasy and lies.

I also believed that if the writer did depict the world in a different

118 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015

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