Interview with longlisted author Salim Barakat


When did you begin writing What About the Jewish Lady, Rachel? And where did the inspiration for it come from?

About six years ago, I wrote an article in one of the newspapers about the situation in Syria, and I touched on the state of the Jews in my city, Qamishli. I knew two Jewish students there who had had to choose between “Christian religion” and “Islamic religion” lessons, if they wanted to do the end of year exam in religious studies. After that article, I began to write down a few “observations” about the Jews in the city during the 1967 war between the Arabs and Israel. I went back to these later and laid out the overall plan of the book.

Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?

I wrote it in Sweden, where I live, in two years, helped by my special knowledge of the history of my city and what was happening there at that time.

How have readers and critics received it?

The novel has been well received, since its subject is intriguing, new, and very sensitive: it deals with the crisis of the Jews in an Arab, Muslim society, and the rise of the Ba’ath party to power more than half a century ago, which has done nothing for the country, except cause the fragmentation of Syrian society into sects and ethnic groups.

What is your next literary project after this novel?

Two months ago, I published a book of poetry entitled The Gains of Athletes and the Instructions They Followed. It is a book encompassing all different kinds of sport, from boxing to bullfighting, to football. I am currently working on a new novel which may be published next year.