Three novelists join architectural expert in third day panel discussion
Sharjah, November 5, 2017: Speaking to a packed room of literature enthusiasts at Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), cultural experts from across the world gathered for a discussion on the burning topic of national identity. Taking place on the third day of the fair (Friday), the session saw popular authors from Pakistan, Iran and Argentina join an expert in Islamic architecture to delve deep into the issue of belonging, highlighting how literature and building construction can both promote culture.
Comprising Bina Shah, a novelist from Karachi, Pakistan; Shahed Saleem, an architect and design studio leader at the University of Westminster’s School of Architecture in London; Elsa Osorio, an Argentinian writer and Najem Wali, an Iraqi novelist, the panel discussed and shared what it was that influenced and inspired their respective works on national identity.
Highlighting how followers of Islam were able to continue with their religious practices and customs in the UK, Shahed Saleem said; “Muslims have migrated to the UK from many different countries, initially converting existing buildings into mosques to practice their faith. Most of the mosques present during these early times were converted from old houses or libraries and not purpose built. This process helped them create their identity in a new country.”
When asked about the role of literature in helping find the answer to the problem of national identity, Bina Shah, said, “Being a novelist is about finding common ground. The purpose of literature is to bridge the gap and help us relate to each other. When our writings are able to reach people across the borders, it raises the question of humanitarian identity above national identity. We find out that all of us are looking for the same things – emotionally, physically and socially.”
Talking about Arab literature in Argentina, Elsa, whose book titled ‘My Name is Light’ has been translated into Arabic said; “There was a big wave of Arab immigration that Argentina experienced. We all know 'some Arabic literature - of course everyone has read or heard about 1001 Nights. This is my first visit to the Arab world and I am very happy to be here because it gives me a chance to be on the inside and experience an important part of our own culture and community.”
Speaking on the issue of what makes for a good story of national identity, Najm said; “For me, national identity is about the small details that define the culture you leave behind when you go to a new country, especially so in my case as I had to flee my country due to war. My inspiration was that I wanted to show to other people what it means to search for your identity when everything around you changes. So the art of novel in this sense is also the art of searching for yourself.”
SIBF 2017 is hosting a number of thought-provoking sessions on important societal issues and aims to highlight how literature can help to make the world a better place. The 36th edition of the world’s third largest book fair runs until November 11 at Expo Centre Sharjah.