Vice magazine has just published an excerpt of Fawwaz Haddad’s Solo Piano Music (trans. Max Weiss), as well as Weiss’s introduction to the work:

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Fawwaz Haddad, as Weiss notes, was a “late bloomer.” Although Haddad told Syria Today that he began writing at the age of 14, he published his debut novel, Mosaic Damascus 39, at the (ripe old) age of 44.

“To write a good book you need a lot of intellect, reading and life experience,” Haddad told Syria Today in 2009.

Haddad has since made the rolls of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction twice: shortlisted in 2009 for The Unfaithful Translator and longlisted in 2011 for God’s Soldiers. 

The Damascus-born author has not yet been published in English translation, outside of this excerpt in Vice and another in Banipal, but he told Syria Today that he thought such a project was important:

I think it’s important to translate Syrian novels into English, not only because it will give foreign readers an insight into Syrian literature, but because it will allow them to get a different image of Syrian society than the one that is created within the international political debate. This, in turn, will create a connection between Syria and the West and make us realise that we are more similar than we thought.

Indeed, until a sudden boom in 2012-13 (which saw the publication of Samar Yazbek’s Woman in the Crossfire and Cinnamon, Khaled Khalifa’s In Praise of Hatred, and Nihad Sirees’s The Silence and the Roar) few Syrian novels had appeared in English.

Haddad also told The National in 2009: “Stagnating in tragedy is like relaxing in optimism. Not only do we have not to forget, but also to bring about a situation that will put an end to all that may be an impairment of people’s rights.”

Haddad, however, has not been active in the Syrian uprising of 2011-2012. Weiss writes in his introduction to Solo Piano Music:

images (2)Like much of the literary elite in Syria, the novelist Fawwaz Haddad has watched his country disintegrate over the past 20 months without explicitly taking an outspoken position for or against the regime. As an author, he evinces a fusion of clear-eyed realism and careful optimism in his assessment of the Syrian situation. He signed off one recent email to me expressing his wish that we would see each other soon, “once peace arrives in my country.” But as his homeland falls deeper into civil war, Fawwaz’s neutrality may have reached its limit. He has left the country, although he intends to return to Syria, as much of his family is still there.

Read the excerpt:

Solo Piano Music, trans. Max Weiss

An earlier excerpt:

From Haddad’s 2007 novel Passing Scene, trans. Paul Starke