Robin Yassin-Kassab

Posts Tagged ‘Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival


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Malta is a speck or three of rock distantly cradled by the Tunisian-Libyan coastline, south of Sicily, midway between Gibraltar and Suez. It’s an ideal location for a Mediterranean Literature Festival.

Megalithic people built temples here six thousand years ago. The Phoenicians established a trading colony. The Greeks and Romans valued the place for its honey (and the Greek word for honey-sweet – Melite – is one possible origin for the name). For a few centuries Malta was ruled by Arab dynasties; a foundational period of immersion in that civilisation which brought in the Siculo-Arabic language, precursor to modern Maltese.

The language is Malta’s idiosyncracy: half Arabic in vocabulary, more than half in structure. The verbs, prepositions and pronouns are Arabic. The rest is mainly Italian. The air hostess asked us to store our bags ‘fowq raasikum’. When we landed she said ‘saha wa grazia!’ In the airport before the return flight I needed no translation for ‘Wait Behind the Yellow Line’ – Stenna Wara l-Linja s-Safra. (The only word there which isn’t Arabic is ‘linja’.) There is, I think, controversy over the extent of Arabic influence on the language. Our tour guide was certainly downplaying it. On the other hand, the Maltese prose writers and poets I met seemed very proud of the heritage. The writer Albert Marshall called Arabic ‘the mother’, and told me how, as he saw it, the gutturals of Semitic jostling Romance language softnesses offer a tremendous sound range for the poet.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 7, 2011 at 10:29 am

Maltese Interviews

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© 2011 Joseph A Borg

I was invited to the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. Malta is a fascinating place, with a fascinating Arabic-origin language, and I met many fascinating writers there. I’ll write about it soon. In the meantime, here are a couple of interviews with me from the Maltese press.

First, from the Times of Malta.

Albert Gatt discusses hedgehogs, dictators and parricide with author Robin Yassin Kassab.

As the crackdown in Syria continues, and the revolution in Libya inches towards resolution, another blow is dealt to the grand narrative of the Arab nation which various dictators – self-styled fathers to their people – used to justify their rule. Can literature offer a nuanced view that counters this narrative’s deadly simplicity?

This year, the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, organised by Iniżjamed and Literature Across Frontiers, will focus on the Arab Spring.

One of the guest writers is Robin Yassin Kassab, who appears courtesy of the British Council (Malta). Born in West London of Syrian descent, Yassin Kassab is a regular contributor to the press and blogs on http://qunfuz.com – qunfuz is Arabic for hedgehog or porcupine.

In his first novel, The Road from Damascus (Penguin, 2009), Sami, the son of Syrian migrants in London, struggles to carry the mantle bequeathed to him by his father, a staunchly secular Arab intellectual.

But the turmoil of his own private life and the havoc wreaked by 9/11 force him to challenge the worldview he has inherited, in whose name his father committed the ultimate betrayal.

I’m intrigued by the name of your blog – Qunfuz. In what sense is the writer a hedgehog?

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm