I was browsing through the “Arab Market Insight” brochure that the UK-based Book Brunch put together for the Sharjah International Book Fair, and found this delightful reminder from Arab Scientific Publishers’ Bashar Chebaro.
The Beirut-based Arab Scientific, which was founded in 1987 and began by working with scientific and technological texts, later branched out into literature. This year, they published three of the books on the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) longlist: Jana Elhassan’s I, She and Other Women, Ibrahim Nasrallah’s Lanterns of the King of Galilee, and Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk, and also cooperated in the publication of Muhsin al-Ramli’s The President’s Gardens. Only Dar al-Adab also had three titles on the 2013 IPAF longlist.
In any case, Arab Scientific is a publishing house that has long dealt with Western publishers — licensing books for and from Arabic — and when asked: How do you think links can be strengthened between western and Arab publishers?, he said:
Western publishers should acknowledge that Arab publishers don’t own oil wells – they are simply a bunch of educated people trying to spread knowledge and information among their fellow citizens whose percentage of literacy is low and whose interest in reading books is diminishing by the day. Arabs are usually interested in translating works that pertain to their history, culture, and society – subjects which scholars are constantly studying and which western publishers need to investigate.
Chebaro, as you might guess from the above statement, was not optimistic about the near-future of Arabic-language publishing, which has seen a number of disruptions in recent years (not to mention the serious disruptions that have hit Iraqi writers, readers, and publishers).
Book Brunch also asked: What Arabic literature is not yet available in the West that you think should be explored further?
There is a grand heritage of literary works from the era before and after Islam in addition to modern literature to which western readers haven’t been exposed, and which need to be explored and published to show the West the true face of Arabic culture.