Monthly Archives: February 2011

Finishing

I’m about a month behind on my New Yorker reading (when am I not?). This morning, during an unusual 30-minute window of quiet, I read Adam Gopnik’s article on dessert, which appeared in the January 3 issue. It’s a great piece of food writing, and an interesting meditation on art-making. Gopnik bookends the piece with his attempts to recreate his mother’s apricot souffle. And he ends on an inspiring note that could be applied to novel writing:

Ferran’s question still counts: How do we finish the meal? But then how do we finish anything? At least I know now that if we beat hard enough, and long enough, and do both more than we ever thought we would have to, we might yet arrive at a lighter end.

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What does novel writing have to do with the protests in Egypt?

I’ve often heard fiction writers admonished not to have an agenda in their writing. The story’s the thing, we’re told, and everything we write should serve the story.

Of course, a lot of great writing has an agenda (Dickens, anyone?), but it’s best when it’s organic to the story, not shoved down our throats.

All of that is to say that in my writing and my aspirations as a writer, I do have a bit of an agenda. I try not to write from that agenda, to let it just be there, part of me the way my knowledge of how oranges smell is part of me and what I bring to my writing.

Here’s my agenda: I want to write about Arab and Muslim peoples in a way that is true, in a way that reflects the diversity of who we are and the complexity of our societies.

I want to show readers who don’t know us that we aren’t all angry, woman-hating, suicide-bombing, humorless, louts.

The best way to do that, I’m learning, is to ignore it. To just try to be as true to my story and my characters as I can.

There are loads of reasons that the protests in Egypt have moved me. I’m not Egyptian, but growing up in the Middle East I saw Egyptian movies and TV, watched Egyptian comics, heard Egyptian music. So, looting and huge uncertainties about the future of the country notwithstanding, I’ve been feeling a sense of joy. Joy that the Egyptian people are able to show their true nature to their leaders, to the rest of the world, to each other.  That they are able to request dignity, change, and freedom. And that they have the opportunity to demonstrate that Egyptians–and Arabs generally–want the same things in life that anyone does.

The protests have enabled the rest of us to be transported to Egypt, the way a novel transports us to another world, and to see a truth there that’s reflected in all of us.