Doha-based author explores mixed heritage issues in her latest writings

April 13, 2011 - 10:22:10 pm


Displacement and mixed heritage can be both beneficial and disadvantageous to an author as he puts on paper various subjects of personal and universal concern, says acclaimed writer Leila Aboulela.

She was speaking about her latest novel ‘Lyrics Alley’ at the Northwestern University in Qatar in commemoration of World Book Day yesterday.

Born in Egypt, raised in Sudan, spent much of her adult life in Scotland and now living in Doha, Aboulela said she is trying to explore her mixed heritage having a Sudanese father and Egyptian mother and these are reflected in her writings.

She said she started writing when she was in the UK and her writings were driven by a desire to voice out her opinions.

“When I started writing, I had the tendency to put my point of view forward about certain issues. But a writer is not supposed to explain to people about these issues when she writes about fiction,” she explained, adding she has encountered people who differ on the views expressed in her novels.

It took her many years to finally start writing ‘Lyrics Alley’ based on her father’s story related to her when she was younger about her uncle Hassan Awad Aboulela, who shaped his creative talent in poetry after a nearly fatal accident.

“Unlike my previous novels, this is different because here the story builds on several characters, some are real, while some created,” she said, stressing the novel was not biographical.

Through her novel she proved how real-life stories passed on from one generation to another can be expanded into a fictional masterpiece which combines a dramatic family saga with socio-political realities. The story was set in the backdrop of Sudan in 1950’s and traces the main character Nur’s progress in poetry and his relationship with his wives.

Apart from the outstanding storytelling techniques and vivid language, Aboulela’s latest novel is rich in dichotomies which according to her ‘goes deep into the novel’ triggered by her mixed heritage and experiences living in different countries.

Also evident is the fusion of fiction and poetry as the novel resonates the poetry written by Hassan, which Aboulela translated loosely to achieve the desired effect in shaping the story.

Aboulela won the first Caine Prize for African Writing. She is the author of two other novels: The Translator, one of The New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year, and Minaret- both long-listed for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award. Her collection of short stories Coloured Lights was short-listed for the Macmillan Silver PEN Award.

Her work has been translated into twelve languages and included in publications such as Granta, The Washington Post and the Virginia Quarterly Review. BBC Radio has adapted her work extensively and broadcast a number of her plays including The Mystic Life and the historical drama The Lion of Chechnya. The five-part radio serialisation of The Translator was short-listed for the RIMA (Race In the Media Award).