In 2008, I came to Paris from Lebanon to attend the annual Salon du livre, for a book launch and signing of my second novel, Wild Mulberries, which had at that time just been translated into French (published by Verticales).
The day of my book signing, I read in the media about Arab calls to boycott this book fair because Israel was the guest of honour.
Arab publishers were absent from the book fair that year, as were many Arabic literary works and academic books. The mood was calm but odd that day; there were a lot of security guards and very few guests. Fewer than ten people came to my launch, four of whom were friends of mine. Fifteen minutes or so after we had started the event, security guards arrived and asked all the guests to evacuate the building. They’d received a threat by telephone saying that there was a bomb at the book fair. We learned later that it was simply an empty threat.
I left the salon du livre and stood outside in the March cold, waiting with everyone else for the security guards to finish searching the premises. I experienced a vulnerability unlike any I had before. Living the Lebanese Civil War for fifteen years, and also Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, I had never before felt this vulnerable. While waiting in this place far from home, it seemed that everything happening was somehow linked to a larger historical background of unresolved conflicts, our history since the end of the First World War through the Second and until today; I am now rereading this history through my own writing.
What happened at the 2008 Salon du livre in Paris took on meanings that challenge our understanding of what is happening in the Middle East and what this reflects in the world.
This challenge forces us to return to history and the violence that goes with it, rereading and unpacking questions of identity. This murderous identity, as the French writer of Lebanese origin Amin Maalouf called it, is linked to the history of the peoples of the entire Middle East, whether they are Kurds or Iranians, Palestinians or Mizrahi Jews, Arabs or Turks.
Questions of identity began to take on new dimensions when I was connecting to a new place and existing within it as a writer. They are also linked to the challenges of how to use and relate to my own language and writing in a place that does not understand them.
© Iman Humaydan
Translated by Michelle Hartmann