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Since I was a child the world has looked to me ethemeral, and it was up to everyone somehow, to give this world its certain, defined features. I used to lie down on the ground for hours on end, watching the late autumn clouds: how they formed and changed shape, how they "played" I wished I could do the same. And since that early time, I imagined that I could reshape the world, that somehow it was demanded of me to do so. When I was no longer a child, as a youth, "power" became the formula that could help reshape the world; I was driven to reshape my own body through sports, and through challenge; also, through the effort to become part of a group. The results were too humble to convince me, so I began my search for that certain "power" that could alter things.

Perhaps my father's poverty, which I had inherited, marked me from the start as one of the millions of poor people who try to eke out a living in the Arab lands, so rich and so severe at the same time.

Identity and belonging

Because of all this, I was full of rebelliousness and refusal from an early age, and I still am. I have been travelling with an Algerian passport, or one from Yemen, or one from Iraq, since 1963 until today I've been unable to solve this problem, which is overwhelming, if only for the sake of my children, not mine. Where others look for sustenance alone, I search for identity and belonging which are part and parcel of my character and work.

After the death of my father, while I was still a boy, I was obliged to study and work at the same time; my brother insisted on sending me to school, while I persisted in gazing at the sky where I painted galloping horses to ride. Thus, I rode around aimlessly until the day when I got bored with all that stupid meandering and began to seek for a just and rich saviour who would avenge his people, or for princesses who gaze longingly at the horizon, or for jewels hidden at the bottom of rivers.

Finally, all this search came to nothing and I decided to learn how to read. This was my agonised beginning, after which I found my way, with help from my brother, into the world of pocket-books; I immersed myself in reading for years until I'd discovered Al-Manfalouti, Gibran, Taha Hussain, Tawfiq alHakeem, Abdul Haleem Abdullah and Naguib Mahfouz.

I would like to emphasise that my father comes from Najd, in Saudia Arabia, which he had to leave, like a lot of others, in search of a livelihood, especially when water and pasture had become scarce in the area where he lived, which was where Bedouins raised sheep at that time. He emigrated to Iraq, then Syria and Palestine, then Egypt and el ewhere. When he got tired of this constant travel, he yearned for ajd again, and decided to go back.

But going back was e en harder: in Syria where he settled down for a while, he married and had children, then he stopped in Amman before going back to Sauill Arabia' here he rued; at this last top of his journe I was born. It is po sible that I inherited this trait of constant tra elling from my father, althou h there are a lot of differences heh een his tra els and mine.

I came to fiction rather late in life. I started writing after I got bored with the political game that' as dominant during the sixties. I came to the novel as a refugee, thinking that it would be a short rest before going back into politics to carry on my share in changing the world with others. But I soon discovered that my coming to the novel late was not, in the final analysis, so very wrong because the novel,' alone among all the other methods of expression, demands a lot of preparation, a lifetime's experience including failure; my political ex-periences made, ultimately, the most significant part of my learning.

A final choice

It seems to me, sometimes, that he who falls in love with the novel will not be satisfied with any other substitute; he might move on to something else, but will not be able to live without it, for it will have become a goal and an end in itself. Even the subjects of a novel, any given one, may not be in many instances more than an excuse for the narrative to go on. For, if silence were to spread its wings and reign, nothing would remain except emptiness, desolation,

and the end. The novel, then, is a final choice. It is homeland, and, before everything else, a labour of love.

But I have no definite answers, maybe because the novel means remaking the world within more harmonious contexts and forms. Maybe also, in the end, life itself is not more than some kind of novel, a tale by which man tries to amuse himself, or to convince himself that life is just a story added to the endless pile of stories that has shaped human life through the ages. And maybe, again, that life is so rough and cruel it should be passed with the least possible difficulty, and so man creates for himself illusions or dreams to which he clings in order to create an equation that makes survival and communication possible.

Courageous and aware

My main impulse in this life is to scribble, to make people uneasy, to tell them how this life which we live now is full of bitterness and disappointment, with a few stolen pleasures, all of which should oblige us to be more courageous and aware in order to achieve a different kind of life, one not ruled entirely by taboos.

My impulse is to live and to be useful, to want and be wanted at thesame time. As long as man lives on earth, he has to try, as much as he can, to amuse himself and others, to scribble on paper or stone or clay, because this is what enables him to remember, what makes him communicate with others, and he must be serious, which doesn't mean that he must be gloomy at all. A good joke, or a well-turned phrase can out-last all the false speeches delivered by glowering leaders and politicians.

I must confess that the real imperative that made me choose the novel, after politics, was the desire for change. Among the many factors that made the Arab novel takes its place as the main method of expression, we can cite the major defeats that began in 1948 up to the present time. These defeats had the effect of deflating many illusions to make us see reality in a new way

They stirred the stagnant waters of the Arab swamp and gave rise to endless questions. Thus, we saw the novel, faced with real life, generate it~ own questions without claiming that it could provide a ready answer.

~~ i~IP'~l October 1998 9

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