Interview with 2021 Winner Jalal Barjas


How did it feel to win?

It was a different kind of feeling that made me take a few minutes for myself and listen to the voices of the characters that made up Notebooks of the Bookseller. From among them all, I distinguished Ibrahim’s voice. I saw him holding up the novel with his right hand before a flash of lightning in a spiritual sky. This victory is for the word, this word which seems to me like a bird that each of us sees from our own perspective, and the universe’s perspectives are endless.

You mentioned in the press conference that “women are the center of the universe and are present in all my novels.” Tell us more about that. What challenges do you face writing about female characters?

Of course, women are the center of the universe and of its balance. No work of fiction is complete without her, nor is any word. No life is complete without her sun which takes away any form of coldness within us. If women are absent from something it becomes lacking. When I write a female character, my reference is my mother, in whom I have endless faith. I know her dreams, her brokenness, her perspective. I even know what she thinks to herself. When I write about a fictional woman, I look at her through the window of my mother’s heart, and I most probably succeed in seeing her.

Notebooks of the Bookseller is seen as tackling the crises of estrangement and lost dreams. Do you agree?

In some of its aspects, the novel tackles man’s estrangement in this phase, but its characters and informative discourse do not lack dreams, but rather celebrate them, and spread hope despite everything. When the novel raises questions, it definitely seeks answers that fall into the category of dreams of more open spaces.

Also, the novel comprises elements of thriller, romance, political, religious and psychological fiction. How would you categorize it? How do you want it to be read?

I can say that Notebooks of the Bookseller aspires to be a new genre of fiction, one that does not overlook dominant fictional elements but that at the same time resorts to new techniques. What some consider thriller elements, I consider suspense, to keep the reader in a state of reading alertness, in order to get the idea.

What advice would you give to a young Arab writer?

Anyone who plans to put pen to paper should only listen to their inner voice and write. Write as if the words will become a bridge that will save them from falling into the abyss.

How will you celebrate?

I will travel to a quiet spot suggested by a friend and will spend time there writing. This form of celebration seems fitting for me, after I have celebrated with family, friends and readers.