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Kirkus Review – Desert Rhapsody by Ameen Basheh

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A historical generational saga set in the Arabian Peninsula.

Basheh’s debut opens with a scene of the young, but great and mighty Harb preparing for battle. Harb’s victory cements his reputation and brings his army glory and wealth. The victory, however, is bittersweet as the warrior loses his closest friend. Among Harb’s spoils of war is Fareedah, a captive woman who later becomes his wife. She vows never to love him, a vow she is in danger of breaking until Harb cruelly murders their young daughter. Soon enough, the two become parents to two sons, Sakhr and Mazin, as well as another daughter, Itimad. A boy from the village Imru spends time with Sakhr and Mazin and becomes a sort of adopted son to Harb and Fareedah. As Harb, thanks to his fondness for drink, becomes more or less complacent, the story follows the new generation in their exploits. But a dark stain hangs over this family: It causes Sakhr to die after falling from a horse, and it causes Harb, in a rage, to slay Imru. Murder, treachery and jealousy abound in this world that is so unlike and yet in some ways very similar to our own. Poetry excerpts appear at the beginning of most chapters, and at times, Basheh’s writing has a poetic style to it: “The wind was humming a melody with the sand. It was a song that only virgins who were in love sang in secret.” This shorter novel spans decades of time, shifting viewpoints throughout. As a result, some characters seem more sharply drawn than others. That said, all the characters have a complexity that makes them compelling if not always likable.

Sixth-century Arabia comes to life in this novel about a powerful family and the heartbreaks they endure.

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Book Review – A World without Maps by Jabra and Munif

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** spoiler alert **

3 Stars

For the first one hundred pages of this novel, I was going to give it two stars. Because it mainly consisted of backstory and world building. The authors put forth some questions that should’ve encouraged the reader to keep reading to find out the answers. But because I did not care for the characters at the time, I had no interest to find out the answers. I started enjoying the story when it focused on “Husam al-Ra’d” and later on the murder of “Najwa.” So I think the book should have started immediately with Husam’s story, rather than the backstory. This brings to mind Vonnegut’s advice to start a novel as close to the end as possible (or something like that).

In the beginning we are introduced to the family that seems very different than other Arab family, but in reality it is stereotypical. We have; the religious person, the aunt; the non-religious, (usually the “scholars” of the family)  Husam and ‘Ala’; and everyone else, whom I call the traditionalist. The beginning has a lot of subplots, which, frankly, I don’t remember. And based on that, I say that it was quite uninteresting.

The next part was that of Husam, and I enjoyed it, because Husam was the most interesting character. Husam is bohemian, he falls in love, and out of love, he spends his money, he gets drunk, he spends his money. He lives for the moment and probably believes in high universal principles. Even though his character was well drawn, the authors missed a great scene with his death. I wanted to cry, to feel sad, and angry while he was dying, but my feelings were very subdued. That scene was a missed opportunity.

The end part was good, nothing fantastic. We eventually find out who the real Najwa is (or do we?). The narrator have been telling us that she’s this angel that will save him from his destructive and sinful ways, but it turns out that she’s just human. The novel ends with ‘Ala’, the narrator, believing in a new lady in his life. But the reader knows that ‘Ala’ had made this mistake before. There’s also Najwa’s murder, which we never find out who did it.

The novel would have been much better shorter. Had the backstory (around 100 pages) been intertwined in the main plot. Some parts of the novel are worth reading to those who have the time.

Similar review in Arabic on my goodreads page.

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Arabic Fiction and the Exclamation Mark

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First, I must admit that I have not read a lot of Arabic fiction. But from what I read, and especially what I’m reading right now (A World without Maps by Jabra and Munif), there seems to be an overuse of the exclamation mark. It’s an excessive overuse!

A quick google search about exclamation marks and fiction will result in a barrage of articles and pages recommending to avoid using it, never to use, or that using it is a sign of a lazy author or an amateur.

So why is it still used in Arabic fiction?

One would assume that Jabra and Munif who are professionals by every definition, if not masters of the craft, would have been able to convey exclamations without relying on the dreaded mark.

I would like to leave you with a couple of questions. Is there an overuse of the exclamation marks in Arabic fiction, or is it just a case of an availability bias based on the very little I read? Is this overuse indicative of the (for lack of a better word) inferiority of Arabic fiction, or is it simply a product of the Arabic language?

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Book Review – “Them” by Ghazi Algosaibi – هما” لغازي القصيبي”

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الكتاب عبارة عن حوار بين”هما”، بين هو وهي. يحاول المؤلف من خلاله عرض معلومات “ثقافية” وبذلك التعرف على الشخصيتين.

اعتقد أن إحدى الروايات التي ألهمت المؤلف هي “عالم صوفي” التي نجحت في امتاع القارئ بسبب الحبكة المثيرة والأسئلة الكبرى التي طرحها المؤلف ومن ثم حوال الاجابة عليها. فبعكس “عالم صوفي” لا توجد حبكة مثيرة في “هما” ولا توجد أسئلة كبرى يتوق القارئ إلى الوصول إلى اجوبتها (أكبر سؤال هو الفرق بين الرجل والمرأة أو تحرير المرأة بشكل أخص. وهذا موضوع مهم يستحق الطرح والنظر فيه. وهو أكثر شيئ عجبني في الكتاب).

فيما يتعلق بموضوع تثقيف المؤلف للقارئ عبر الاشارة والتحدث عن كتب ومفكرون ورموز مختلفون، فقد فشل الاستاذ القصيبي هنا فشلاً ذريعاً. حيث إنه لم يتطرق إلى هذه الأمور بعمق واكتفى بذكرها بشكل سطحي (مثلاً اكتفى بذكر هوس فرويد بالاحلام والعقل الباطني ونظرته السلبية للمرأة فقط. وهذه، في نظري، معلومات سطحيه يعلمها الكثير وإن لم يعرفوها فإنها لا تكفي لإعطاء صورة واضحة أو حتى شبه واضحة عن فرويد).

حاول السيد القصيبي فعل شيئين هما كتابة رواية من دون حبكة تذكر وحاول تثقيف القارئ، والنتيجة (للأسف) هي الفشل. فكان من الأحرى به إما كتابة رواية دون حبكة مع النظر بعمق في المسائل المطروحة (كتاب يتمتع به المثقفون في الاحرى)، أو كتابة رواية بحبكة مثيرة ومعلومات ومسائل سطحية (وبذلك تكون رواية تجارية). أشيد بمحاولته كتابة رواية ثقافية للعامة ورواية تجارية للمثقفين لكن في النهاية النتيجة هي رواية مملة وغير مفيدة.

The novel consist of a dialogue between “Them,” him and her. Through which, the author tries to “educate” the readers, and help them get to know the two characters.

I think that one of the novel that inspired the author is “Sophie’s World,” in which, its author succeeds in entertaining the reader by having a captivating plot, and by putting forward big questions, which he tries to answer. As opposed to “Sophie’s World,” “Them” does not have a noteworthy plot and the the author does not put forward big question (the biggest theme/question is the difference between men and women, or, more specifically, freedom of women, which is a noteworthy theme and the thing I liked most about the book.

With regards to the author’s attempt to “educate” the reader by making references to different books, thinkers, and (historical) figures, he had failed miserably. Because he did not delve deep into the thoughts of these figures (for example, he kept mentioning that Freud was obsessed with dreams, the subconscious, and his negative opinion on women. These are issues that almost every reader knows, and if they don’t it’s not enough to give a clear, or even semi-clear, image of Freud).

Algosaibi tried achieving two objectives: writing a novel without a plot, and educating the reader. Unfortunately, he failed in achieving both objectives. It would have been better to try to write an (experimental) novel without a plot while delving deep into the educating aspect (a more literary novel), or writing a novel with a captivating plot while semi-“educating” the reader (a commercial novel). I upload his effort to write a literary novel for the public and a commercial novel for the literary crowd, but the result is a novel that is boring and un-educational .

2/5 stars.

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How to Edit Your eBook File (.ePub and .Mobi) on Mac

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So, you just self-published your novel after spending weeks (or months) carefully combing over it to make sure it contained no typos.

Your friend takes you out to celebrate, and in between drinks, she takes out her phone to show you a couple of typos she highlighted.

“It’s no big deal,” she assures you. “I barely caught them myself, and it’s an ebook, so you can fix it quickly.”

You stare at her like a deer caught in the headlights. You have no idea how to edit your already published work.

Well, here’s how I did it on my mac for my novel, Desert Rhapsody. You’ll need these programs:

1. Sigil.

2. Adobe Digital Editons.

3. Calibre.

4. Kindle for Mac.

For .ePub files:

1. Locate your .ePub file: if you don’t have it, or if you lost it, just download it from the website you published it on. I published on smashwords, so I downloaded it from there.

2. Open Sigil, and then your .ePub file (Go to file-open).

3. Edit the book using Sigil (the program is pretty much self-explanatory).

4. Save your revised work, by clicking file-save, or file-save as (if you don’t want to overwrite the original .ePub file).

5. Open the ebook on Adobe Digital Editions to check if your work was saved correctly or to see if the book in general is acting normally.

6. Go to the website you uploaded the book on and upload the new version: for smashwords, go to Dashboard then “Upload new version” (under “Operations”).

For .mobi files:

1. Locate your .mobi file: I couldn’t download it from amazon. The version they have is not .mobi and it’s locked (i.e. you can’t edit it).

2. Open Calibre and convert your .mobi file to .epub: Simple enough. Select the book, then click on “convert individually” under the “convert books” button. In the window that pops up there is an “input format” and “output format” on the top-left and top-right corners respectively.

3. Edit the new .ePub file using Sigil (the aforementioned steps 2-4) then check if it is correct using Adobe Digital Editions (step 5 previously).

4. Use Calibre to turn the revised .ePub file back into .mobi. Just reverse the input and output format on calibre.

5. Open the .mobi file on kindle to see if everything is running smoothly.

6. Go to your KDP page, select your book, then select “edit book details” under “actions”. Upload the revised .mobi file just as you uploaded the original.

And that’s how I did it. Simple.

Hope this helped.

* Update: You can actually upload an epub file directly to KDP without converting it to mobi, so step 4 is moot. As for step 1 for mobi files, you can locate your mobi file after clicking on your book on your bookshelf KDP page, then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “Download Book Preview File.” This file will be an unlocked mobi file. Cheerios.

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The Best of the Best List

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Needless to say, I love lists (who doesn’t? It’s like someone not liking ice-cream. Madness!) So I’m very excited to share this list by a reader who combined 11 different lists to see “what books are most recommended.”

I never agree with everything on these lists, but I still take great pleasure in combing through them (not to mention the countless of sleepless nights I spend fuming about the addition of some books. Ayn Rand? Really!).

So what do I think of this new list?

I hate it (Rand? Again? Really!!!), and love it.

I think the lists chosen here suffer because they are mostly of modern literature, and they are usually English (if not American) centric. And, some of the lists are based on users/consumers rather than critics.

So I would be very interested to see the same process done but only using critical lists of all-time world literature (as opposed to the last century or any specific era).

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