Exclusive: Interview conducted by Samah Adel
“Nabiha Al-Essa” is a Tunisian writer, born in the Tunisian city of Nabeul. She has a professorship from the Faculty of Arts in Sousse. She is a first-rate professor of Arabic, a member of the Tunisian Writers’ Union. She has published two short story collections and two novels, and the novel “Mirrors of Absence” won the Kumar Gold Award 2016 for the Tunisian novel.
To the dialogue:
** When did your passion for writing begin and how did it develop?
My passion for writing began in my teens when I began to feel a degree of maturity in myself thanks to the accumulation of my lectures. If I remember that period, I remember writing a story in the baccalaureate year and presenting it to the then Arab professor, and he gave it back to me and did not bother to flip through it, and when I told him asked about the reason, he sternly replied that I should take care of my studies. That reaction was to me a slap that disrupted my desire to involve others in what I wrote, but it did not hinder my desire to write, which remained a form of thoughts and diaries.
A while passed, during which I specialized in the Department of Art and practiced education, so I happened to decide that I had joined a literary club. And found in the “Dr. Muhammad Al-Badawi “based on it is a listening ear and encouragement that motivated me to write and produce. At that time, my first attempts at storytelling came to light and won local prizes in various competitions.
** I won the 2016 Golden Kumar Award for Tunisian Fiction. What do the awards achieve for you and does it support you in the way of writing?
The creator is a child, and the first prize he wins is the joy of playing, and then comes the pleasure of the reader’s interest in and participation in his text. As for the third monetary award, it comes through evaluating his work in a reading committee This award recognizes the value of his text and increases his confidence in what he creates. On the other hand, the prize makes the readers accept the award-winning text.
The award was seen as a boost to the fate and recognition of professors that I respect and respect for their courage because I was awarded that award, and I am not yet known in the literary arena, so it was my first experience in the novel. However, the issue of evaluation remains relative and complex, especially when it is subject to the authority of relationships and the Brotherhood.
** In the novel “Intersecting Dreams,” a love story was written thirty years after its appearance, told by the heroine. Despite this, the hero’s voice was present and alternately present with the heroine’s voice. But you did not justify his presence in diaries or discovered diaries, even as he told during and after his death. Can it be said that he is the expert narrator who questioned the hero and imagined his feelings, feelings and thoughts?
In the novel, the hero infiltrated the electronic pages where “Zahra” wrote her biography to share the writing of the story with her. An anxious spirit infiltrated from the other world that did not find peace to be as the victim over his own vision of the So he wrote the story and it and did not leave a pleasant trace of him – because he is haunted. Only the reader was aware of his presence. Zahra herself was ignorant of this. It is a personal narrator of presence and action exactly what is “flower”. Although the justifications for that presence go beyond rational logic.
** In the novel “Intersecting Dreams,” the juxtaposition of the hero’s voice with the heroine’s voice enriched the story, as it conveyed my two views on that stormy love affair and provided justifications, thoughts, and feelings for both parties about a thorny love affair. Jamal’s justifications for what he did to her were logical, which showed him in the victim’s position. The hero and heroine were victims of society and its circumstances. Tell us about it?
In the text, the two voices of “Zahra and Jamal” intersect to tell the story from two different angles, opening the door for interpretation. Even if the event is one, reading it will be multiple due to its number of senders, and the story that is the subject of disagreement in the text is a love story. Love is one of the thorny topics that are kept quiet because it is mostly feelings that can not be justified or explained. Because people in love look at tomorrow and do not look after them. However, the past soon catches up with them. The past of “Jamal and Zahra” is fraught with personal, social and political concerns. Zahra is haunted by the past of her father, a political prisoner. And “Jamal” is plagued by a sense of guilt towards a family that helped him as much as they could and gave them nothing back.
So many questions appear on the surface of the text, including:
– What is love? Do we really choose whom we love?
What is the line between love and desire to possess?
Can love survive in Arab societies affected by crises?
** What is your assessment of the state of culture in Tunisia, and did it differ after the Jasmine Revolution?
Evaluation comes from outside to take its credibility. I am part of this cultural landscape in which I do and do. Despite this, I have an opinion on the matter, namely that culture in general was and still is a directly unproductive sector for the authorities. Moreover, it is a confusing sector that seeks to confuse the postulates that the various authorities want to establish.
In short, it is an opposition sector that requires a democratic spirit to find its place through expression. Therefore, I imagine that the cultural sector will not progress except with what intellectuals and creators present to it, and it existed before and after the revolution. The freedom of creativity does not need a revolution to announce its existence. True freedom is rather what shines through in captivity and in chains.
** Have you had any problems publishing? What do you think of a publication that takes on a commercial nature?
At first, I had trouble publishing due to the refusal of some publishers to adopt a text whose author was unknown in the literary arena, or whether the book was poorly produced or difficult to distribute. In my view, the issue is not related to the commercial nature of the publication, as much as it is related to the issue of professionalism in the work and the extent of the parties’ commitment to the agreed contract. Publishing is basically a contract about a specific product that is in the status of a book. If the two parties are committed to what is stated in the contract, the goal is achieved and the attempt is successful. But if the publisher deviates from what has been entrusted to him due to subjective considerations (conditions..desires ..), then the contract will be broken.
** Do you think there are differences between women’s and men’s writings?
I think women’s writings differ from men’s writings. Difference does not mean gender discrimination or disagreement. It is merely a diversity justified by the identity and memory of the author. In this the man does not look like the woman. So naturally, what comes out of it will be different.
For years, women’s writings were scarce in our Arab world. The woman was a picturesque subject for the man, who expressed it from his perspective and shifted it with his language and memory. Then there were a large number of women’s writings that talked about women in a woman’s pen, and women no longer needed a strange eye to visualize them. She writes the body of the text with her body and her senses. She remembers what was said in her memory. It is in my opinion more credible and more capable of editing.
** Are you looking in your texts to plead for the issue of women or to monitor their problems and discrimination, especially since your first novel dealt with a thorny subject?
I’m interested in the issue of women, and I think there are many stories in women’s lives that have not yet been told, especially those related to violence inflicted on them by men or by the woman herself. I am interested in reading the forms of violence, especially since it is now invisible and not necessarily revealed by blue bruises or a wounded body. Today, violence has taken soft forms. The woman tried to normalize with her in an attempt to flee forward, but the results were dire. This is how Amna Al-Sharqi in “Mirrors of Absence” picked up the results of normalization by force. Thus, Zahra’s steps were scattered in “crossing dreams” because of her striving to adapt and be content with negative reactions to freedom, such as hatred that froze her actions and disrupted herself.
** What does the short story represent to you and what does the novel represent? What do you think is the difference between them?
In my opinion, both are a creative race and a way of saying the problems of existence that can be forgotten or ignored if we do not talk about them. However, the motives for writing the story differ from our motives for writing the novel.
The story is like a photo taken by a photographic artist. A single image is taken from a special angle and reduces an existence due to its density and compactness. In the story, a cry, a rebellion and a coup. It is life in its fullness and splendor. The novel is another field for creativity. The world is full of voices and visions. There are many events and different angles, a diversity that opens the door to a dialogue that embodies the current world in its various social, political and cultural dimensions.
In both sexes, the time alarm is returned to a problematic moment, and then I return to the manipulation of time to break down that moment. The issue of imagination between the two sexes remains a safe distance, a neutral ground that enables the reader to reflect on its reality and think about changing it.