Interview with longlisted author Hussein Yassin
When did you begin writing Ali, the Story of an Honourable Man and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I began writing it at the beginning of 2013. I had read in the work of a German historian (Dr. Gerhard Hopp – dean of the College of History in the University of Leipzig) that Arabs took part in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39, fighting with the Republicans. Some of them were Palestinian. Two were killed at the front and buried in Spain.
This information refutes the lie about the Arabs that they were reactionary allies of Franco. I read literature and Arab history and found no mention of their support for the Left. But later, when I had gone deeper in my ideas and research, I found that Najati Sidqi had mentioned the participation of Palestinians in the Spanish War, in the ranks of the Republicans.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
The search for sources, investigation of the facts and writing took four years. As part of that, I visited Spain several times, as well as doing research in the Russian archive [in Moscow].
I am from Jerusalem, where I live. I have family in Nazareth and spend long periods with them there. The novel was written between Nazareth and Jerusalem.
How have readers and critics received it?
The novel has a good reputation among readers. It has sold well and is in its second edition. Many seminars have been held to discuss it in various Palestinian cities. Because the novel has been longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, no doubt there will be more readers, critics will be more interested, and more editions will be printed.
The subject has not been tackled before in Arab writing – the historical background to the novel. What has also not been written about, or what is a taboo subject, is the relationship of Arab and Jewish [Communist] “comrades” in Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s.
Many critics have written a large number of articles about the novel.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I have a project – a novel. It is in the beginning stages.