Iraqi novelist Alia Mamdouh has a message for the West: "How can
you expect me, an Iraqi, whose country is being subjected to
destruction, to trust Westerners - Americans - and to accept that
they're the only ones on Earth and in the universe to possess the
truth, when they don't take a step toward my culture, my existence,
my language?" she asked in an interview with the International
Parliament of Writers, a support organization for persecuted
Ms. Mamdouh is trying to bridge that cultural divide. She was one
of 200 Arab authors who presented works at the Frankfurt Book Fair
this fall, the world's biggest annual publishing event.
Since then, she has been touring Europe to promote her newest
novel, "Passion." Set in England, where four Iraqi exiles meet after
the US invasion of Iraq, the book explores the relationship between
a polygamous man and his second wife. It's just one of 50 Arabic
novels translated into German this year.
Far from the geopolitical battlefields that have brought Islam
and the West face to face since Sept. 11, 2001, Arabic literature,
unexplored in Europe just a decade ago, is making significant
inroads here - and is helping to break down long-held stereotypes.
While still relatively small, the number of Arabic works
translated into German, French, and English has been rising.
Previously confined to specialized publishing houses, Arabic
literature is now reaching mainstream publishers. "For the first
time in the history of German publishing, there is a public debate
about what Arab literature is," says Peter Ripken, director of the
Society for the Promotion of African, Asian, and Latin American
literature, in Frankfurt.
Since 9/11, books that deal with Arabic and Islamic issues have
abounded. But they are often written by European experts and present
"a false image of the Arab world," says Hachem Moawiya, head of
Avicenne in Paris, one of Europe's biggest bookstores devoted to
"There is not only very latent but also very manifest racism when
it comes to Arab literature," says Mr. Ripken. "That's why it's so
important to read books by Arabic authors, because they have a
different perspective than the Arab 'experts' who explain the Arab
world to us."
The heightened profile of Arabic literature comes against a
backdrop of controversy following complaints by the Wiesenthal
Center, an international Jewish rights groups, that at least eight
books at the fair contained blatant anti-Semitic messages. …