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An Interview with CKUT: Feminism, Freedom and Humanity in Naim Kattan’s Farida

faridaIn a recent interview interview with Rana Alrabi from CKUT, Naim Kattan and Norman Cornett speak about Farida, Naim Kattan’s fifth novel to be translated into English. They discuss the life of Naim Kattan, the main themes of the novel, and the commentary which these themes provide on universal topics and issues.

The English translation of Farida by Naim Kattan trans. Norman Cornett and Antonio D’Alfonso was published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2015.

Naim Kattan speaks about his experiences in the three cities where he’s lived throughout his life: Baghdad, Paris and Montreal. He begins by describing his early life in Baghdad— a city which, before the Second World War, was largely multicultural and multiethnic.

“My mother tongue was Arabic and everybody spoke with a dialect… the Christians, the Jews, the Kurds, the Muslims…we spoke all together and we could understand each other.”

Prof. Norman Cornett explains that this multicultural and multiethnic reality of Baghdad is portrayed in Farida:

“You see [the different dialects] throughout the book..people are shifting dialects depending on the different religious, ethnic or cultural communities they are dealing with.”

Furthermore, Naim Kattan and Prof. Cornett point to the ways in which Farida explores feminism.

Prof. Cornett explains:

“What makes the English translation of Farida so timely?…the book explores different models of feminism. And it’s quite prescient in that respect. [Naim Kattan is] dealing with archetypes. In fact, the beginning of the book really addresses the conception of the prostitute…Then the book deals with the mother figure…the sister…and there is the woman, Farida, of unattainable beauty. [It addresses] the questions of how to negotiate those relationships, [and] how to deal with those different feminine archetypes.”

Kattan points to the relationship between feminism and freedom, and shows how he sets out to portray this connection in his novel:

“One of the things that maybe I unconsciously tried to express in Farida is that if there is [to be] any liberation of the societies of the Middle East it has to [be started] by women and [be] done by women. Women are going to liberate these lands. It can take a lot of time but I think there is so much courage now expressed by Middle Eastern women. They don’t take arms, they don’t kill…but they speak and they act. I hope they will be successful in bringing a new society.”

He explains that this concern is central to the Middle East, but not only— the importance of promoting Feminism is universal, and crucial in countries across the world. He elaborates on the role which Farida plays in bringing these issues to light.

“What I expect now is that the English speaking people would find in that book some of the notions of what is happening in the Middle East and what are the possible issues. I don’t say that they are ones to be solved— I don’t have a program to solve these problems. But at least [I want] people [to] know that when women are not free there is no hope for a country to be free. It’s a way of dealing with what’s happening in the world and especially in the Middle East…but also wherever I went in the world, I found out that the relationship between men and women are essential to the freedom in society— to the future of humanity [and] the future of society.”

Moreover, Kattan and Cornett stress the crucial role of the English translation of Farida in opening up dialogue about feminism, multiculturalism and multilingualism to a wider audience.

Prof. Cornett elaborates:

“The western world is moving towards interculturalism, multiculturalism…this book has to appear in English. How do we deal with the other, with different religions?…Right here in Quebec, we remember very well the kind of debate, the public discourse that was taking place here in Montreal in the wake of the Taylor Bouchard commission, in the wake of the Charter of Values…Farida constitutes a template, it becomes a text on ‘how do we live together when our neighbours are from different religions, different cultures, different ethnicities?’ ”

In the end, the novel voices the importance of humanity, and of the ability to coexist with others.

“The focal point of Farida is human relationships, personal relationships– it comes down to the relationships between individuals.”

Posted in Fiction, Interviews.

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