Interview with Longlisted Author Yaa’rab al-Eissa
When did you begin writing The White Minaret and where did the inspiration for it come from?
When the corona curfew measures came in, in March 2020, my daughter Babel aligned herself to the right of the fiercest of extremists and watched me extremely closely, preventing me from leaving the house at all.
That prison was an ideal opportunity for me to sit in front of the computer for long hours and write without stopping about an idea which had started revolving in my mind in July of the previous year.
If we can correctly call it “inspiration”, the moment of inspiration came from a gleam in the eyes of a woman and her two children.
I had agreed with a female friend of mine to take her daughter and my son (who are friends) on a walk around the old city of Damascus, to buy them notebooks, pens and crayons there. I said to her on the phone: “bring the children with you and I will wait for you at the white minaret”. We lost each other for a few minutes before she called me and asked: “which white minaret do you mean?” I told her: “the original one, where the Messiah will descend, in front of Bab Sharqi” [one of the gates of Damascus].
When I found them, I stood and pointed to the minaret above Bab Sharqi and said to her: “Don’t you know that this is the white minaret which…” and I told her the story in a few sentences. Six eyes were glued on me as I spoke, gleaming as though hearing an astonishing tale.
That day, I said to myself: “Someone has to tell this story.”
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
I wrote the novel in five months, or a bit less, then I sent it to a group of friends and listened to their comments and suggestions. I edited the final version based upon those comments, and that took about another two months. This question is a chance for me to express my thanks and gratitude to them for their loving and responsible comments, which made me get rid of around a hundred pages that were not needed, in the first edition. They led me to correct several mistakes which I had made, with the stupidity which comes when you are in a hurry.
When I began writing and when I finished, I was where I always am: between Bab Sharqi in Damascus and one of its western gates.
How have readers and critics received it?
So far, readings by literary critics and journalists have managed to reassure me and calm my fear of facing the world with a book. As for readers, they gave me an incredible experience at the book launch and signing of the novel in Damascus, when a thousand people came to Bab Sharqi and we launched the novel under the eye of the white minaret.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I am writing at the moment. I have a project for a novel entitled: “The Tail of the Peacock”. It is a book which tries to answer an age-old question: why do men do what they do?