Interview with longlisted author Taissier Khalaf


When did you begin writing The Slaughter of the Philosophers and where did the inspiration for it come from?

I began writing it in the middle of 2015, although the idea had been revolving in my mind since 2014. Because it was a big concept, it remained murky and undefined until I started work on it in June 2015. To be precise, I started writing after Palmyra was occupied by the barbarians of our age. This utopian city was destroyed by legions of other barbarians 17 centuries ago.. I didn't want my hero to be Zenobia or Odaenathus. I was interested in the new Platonic philosophy and I began the hard work of research, attempting to capture something of the spirit of the time in which the events occurred, in the third century AD. I knew a great deal about that period, and especially about Platonic philosophy. I had spent years reading Plato, Porphyry, Yamlikhus and Damaskius, so it seemed it would be an easy task. The matter of linguistic structure preoccupied me for a while and as much as I could I tried to use structures and forms of narration which were prevalent at the time.   

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

It took about five months and I was living in Dubai, where I still am.

How have readers and critics received it?

It has been warmly received by critics and many articles have been published about it in major Arabic newspapers. I don't know about readers, but I have had messages praising the novel, and others from people who had difficulty understanding what happens in it, although they enjoyed the way the story was told.

What is your next literary project after this novel?

I am trying to decide between two fictional subjects. One is set in the period of the first world war in the Levant and the other at the time of the Islamic conquests. The idea of writing historical novels appeals to me.

(This interview can be read in Arabic here)