Here Comes The Groom!

Fadi Zaghmout; Jordan’s blogger turned novelist.

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(Picture: Fadi is wearing a vintage knitted sweater from Thornton Bay 
Clothing. Photographs by Hiba Judeh. Make-up by Amer Atta. Hair by 
Ahmad AL Sa'ady. Making of video by Ala’a Abu Qasheh. Photo edited by
Jawad Qumsieh. Styled and art directed by Kali. Special thank to H&M. 

 

By Mike V. Derderian

 

You can’t judge a book by its cover or word of mouth for that matter. A book is not good or bad until you have read it. “Excuse me but are you Fadi Zaghmout the writer? Sorry to intrude but I saw the book and over heard some parts of your conversation,” explained the young Jordanian lady. “Your book spoke to me! My mother could not believe it was written by a man,” in an excited tone she added before leaving us, Fadi Zaghmout and myself, to the few words we had left in our interview at one of Amman’s busy coffee shops. I came across the hype surrounding it. I saw it on bookshelves around Amman. I eventually added Fadi Zaghmout on Facebook. Why? He was addressing issues that mattered in a society plagued with backward thinking men posing as university professors, thinkers, writers and greedy fat-assed politicians.

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(Picture: Fadi is wearing a purl-knit marled jumper in organic cotton with
roll edges at the hem and cuffs with a slim low-rise jeans in washed 
stretch denim. All from H&M.)

 

 

 

   A few weeks ago I finished reading it in one sitting, as the following day I had to meet with Mr. Zaghmout and play the journalist. Well, I can finally say that Aroos Amman, The Bride of Jordanmy unofficial translation of the title— is a good novel.

Of course, don’t just take my word for it! It is a brilliant social commentary on an Arabian society filled with mothers, daughters and sisters; working women; married women; divorced women; women pursuing academia; sexually active women; and forlorn spinsters dreaming of the perfect Arab catch. Of course it also sheds light on the misogynistic Arab man; the oppressive father; the married man; the cheating husband; and the self-righteous cousin, who is looking for an excuse to burst the bubble of any of the over-achieving females in his tribe. The main controversy surrounding Aroos Amman most probably erupted from within the pages of the chapter in which a man thinks aloud after making love; making love to another man. I have to admit it was a shocking instance to read in a book written by an Arab Jordanian writer; almost as shocking as the rape scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, back in 1994.

Anyone reading Zaghmout’s book knows from the manner with which the scene was written that it wasn’t just a sexual thing, as his book addresses homosexuality in a rather mature way. Aroos Amman is in no way exploitive literary fiction, an aspect that can be traced to the thinking process that drives Zaghmout’s words and observations. Before writing the much hyped novel Zaghmout was known for his blog, The Arab Observer, and according to My Kali he is one of the most followed Tweeps in Jordan. Homosexuality is a tip of the iceberg that the young Jordanian’s worded ship runs into.

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(Picture: Fadi is wearing a Long-sleeved shirt in checked cotton poplin with 
a button-down collar. Wool jacket. Low-rise jeans with a hard-washed denim 
look. All from H&M.)
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Abuse, of children and adults, rape, pedophilia, violence against women, sexuality, religious coexistence and personal freedom are the themes that you will come across in his book; and even though he says he wasn’t intent on becoming a mouthpiece to Arab women he has become one; and a rather loud one too. The manner with which a complete stranger, the young Jordanian woman, intruded on a conversation between a writer and a journalist in a crowded cafe, introducing herself as a woman, who finds his words comforting and reflective of her existence, is proof of his craftsmanship as a writer. “Excuse me but you are the writer of 3aroos Amman! Sorry for interrupting. I overheard the conversation. When I learned it was written by a man I was shocked and I said to myself that it is impossible to have been written by a man. Thank you for writing such a novel! It very much expresses how we feel and think! The way you wrote it just voices us,” said the young woman to Fadi, who replied with a smile  “thank you”.

Once you read past chapter two you will forget the name Fadi Zaghmout and experience the lives of Hayat, Salma, Laila, Rana and Ali. You will forget and not mind, actually you won’t care, that Aroos AmmanThe Bride of Jordan, a celebration of womanhood, life and coexistence is written by a man. The following are the questions and answers from Fadi Zaghmout’s interview for My Kali magazine.

 

Who is Fadi Zaghmout?
After Aroos Amman got published I started introducing myself as a writer. Before that I was a blogger; my main work revolves around social media.

 

When did it come to your mind to write your novel?
I had some short stories and many ideas. I started writing it in 2009. Eventually I had to quit my job so I can be able to publish it.

 

I sensed that your novel is more in line with you being The Arab Observer. It is a novelized observation of the society in which you live in. One big social commentary that is reflective of realities that many deny their existence in a society that is a blend of Muslims and Christians. Do you think you over did it in terms of the events that unravel themselves as one turns the pages of each chapter?
Each character tells a story. Some people might say this of some characters and events. It is more a work of activism than just a novel. It all depends on how people perceive it. A woman once told me that she wasn’t able to quote anything from it. On another occasion another woman said she couldn’t leave the marker down. Not everyone understands what literature is and what is not. Even though this is my first novel I wouldn’t go around saying ‘this is my first shot at writing so be nice to me.’ I would never do that.

 

This brings me to my next question: What can you tell us about your tumultuous night with a local book club?
I think they were the only ones who did not like it. A lot of women thanked me because they identified with some of the characters. The overall feedback was great. I went to this event. There were over 60 people attending. The manner with which the Q & A was conducted was more against the book than about the book. The moderators were talking about the negative aspects and assessing my work without allowing anyone to interact or discuss what they were pointing out as I was in contestant in Arab Idol. I was left to discuss everything at the end of the session. It was a negative evening. It was shocking as I got a lot of positive feedback from everyone. One went as far as telling me not to write again. Another chided me for going on television to talk about the book. A woman said it was like Abeer’s Stories.

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(Picture: Fadi is wearing a Long-sleeved shirt in checked cotton poplin with 
a button-down collar, as well wrapped on his waist. A slim low-rise jeans in 
washed stretch denim. All from H&M.) 
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After finishing your book i felt the overall theme was a call for tolerance. Having experienced such an evening what would you tell anyone who wants to become a writer
You have to have a thick skin of course; and lots and lots of patience. It is not easy to commit to a period of a year or two of your life writing a novel. In the end when the book is out there you will be hearing a lot of comments. One of the most bizarre comments came from a Christian Jordanian family, whose members objected to the serving of alcohol by the Christian family in the novel. They loved the book and that was there only objection. The overall feedback helped shape my thinking process regarding my second book and how I am going to approach it.

 

You have a Christian woman eloping with a Muslim man and a Gay Muslim, who is hiding his homosexuality by getting married. Did you get any harsh criticism regarding such depictions in your book?
Christian readers from Jordan were somehow more tolerant about my book. There was also positive feedback from Muslim readers—especially the moderate ones. There was a lot of bad mouthing of the book in order to prevent it from gaining attention in Jordan. Most of the issues I brought up in my book were avoided during the Inkitab session. Someone even said that such issues do not exist in our society.

 

“Real life, at times, is far weirder than fiction. There are a lot of stories with different endings than the ones we would hope for.”

 

Did someone actually say you are a ‘’Feminist Mouthpiece’’?
There were a lot of people who said that, however, there were women who said I voiced them. I am not offering as solution to sexuality as someone said. The book is about the things we face in our society.

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(Picture: Fadi is wearing a Long-sleeved shirt in checked cotton poplin with 
a button-down collar, H&M.)

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How many drafts did you go through with Aroos Amman?
I didn’t go through a lot of drafts. I was going back and forth between the original manuscripts, doing edits after the writing of each chapter.

 

You have a lot of characters with interconnecting lives. Were you constantly reminding yourself not to use any clichéd characters?
Yes, I avoided doing so. I tried to bring into the light new characters. Like with the Circassian man who eloped with a Christian woman. They stayed together and did not yield to the pressures of society that wants to split them apart. Society is constantly trying to shatter the trust that exists between a man and a woman. Another example was how the wife decided to stay with her husband, who turned out to be a homosexual. A lot of people did not like that plot twist. I did not like doing so but I wanted to draw sympathy towards this character. I wanted readers to realize that women get subjugated to all sorts of ordeals.

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(Picture: Fadi is wearing a purl-knit marled jumper in organic cotton with 
roll edges at the hem and cuffs with a slim low-rise jeans in washed 
stretch denim. All from H&M.)

Do such marriages ‘’Velvet Marriages’’ exist in our society?
They do! 

 

Hayat is quite liberal in her approach to life and men. Did you give her the name “Life” on purpose so as to pit life against life, and by doing so are you announcing to the world you, each and every one of is a life by itself?
She is hope. In spite of everything she went through she managed to achieve happiness. My novel is about marriage and how much importance it is given in our society, especially to women. She was not a virgin yet she managed to get a man to love and marry her.

 

Do you think by not choosing to have Hayat kill her father gave the situation more realism that is reflective of how an incident in which a father, or a brother, rape their sister would be handled in our society?
Not all cases go unnoticed. It is a rather complex situation. He is still her father. I heard of a real story in which the woman involved has a rather normal relationship with her father. Real life, at times, is far weirder than fiction. There are a lot of stories with different endings than the ones we would hope for.

 

“Not everyone understands what literature is and what is not. Even though this is my first novel I wouldn’t go around saying ‘this is my first shot at writing so be nice to me.’ I would never do that.”

 

What do you think constitutes a popular blog like your blog?
There are many issues that are not covered, as they should be in traditional media, and this is rather frustrating. You need a liberal voice; a voice that is in Arabic. The issues that I cover/ed through my blog were new on the scene. I think what helped me was the boom in blogging. I sense that the issues that I  covered were issues that mattered.

 

What about you being one of the most popular Tweepers in Jordan?
Having many followers, even if we were talking in numbers, like 300, 000 followers, gives you a lot of leverage. The best way to get good following on Twitter is to follow other Tweeps and interact with them.

 

What other countries you got published in?
Beirut!

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(Picture: Fadi is wearing a Long-sleeved shirt in checked cotton poplin with
a button-down collar. Wool jacket. Low-rise jeans with a hard-washed denim 
look. Brown leather shoes. All from H&M.)

 

 

 

What about Egypt?
Not yet! I don’t know why we haven’t published it there. Let us say I am working on that. There is a problem in distribution in Jordan.  

 

You had an interview on Ro’ya TV during which you corrected the interviewer when she used a derogatory term to describe homosexuals; do you believe Arab societies will come to accepting homosexuals as part of their society? 
I do think there will be. I don’t know how far we are. People are now learning more about homosexuality. People are becoming more aware. Everything is out there, however, as a society we haven’t fathomed how much the world is changing.

On a different note our schools should introduce sexual education as children grow up without knowing what sexuality is.

 

How much of Fadi Zaghmout exists in Aroos Amman?
A large portion of me is in there. My voice is definitely in there and as we have discussed it is a work of activism.

 

Are you working on a new book?
It is called Heaven on Earth. I am writing the final chapter. It is a social science fiction novel about life and death. I am writing it because I fear death a lot. I was trying to build a utopian world but I ended up creating a dystopian world. If 3aroos Amman was bold this one is insane.

 

Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?
Write. A lot of people hesitate by saying, “we don’t have the time.” Just sit and write. Some are also afraid to voice their own thoughts. You also need a lot of patience; a lot of patience.

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The End

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(Credits: Photographs by Hiba Judeh. Article by Mike V. DerderianMake-up by Amer AttaHair by Ahmad AL Sa’ady. Styled and making of video by Ala’a Abu Qasheh. Photo edited and art directed by Kali. Cover/promo design Atef Daglees. Special thank to H&M.) 

 

Watch behind the scenes of Fadi’s shoot

 

– Read Mike V. Derderian’s cover story of our November/December 13′ cover guy Haig Papazian of Mashrou’ Leila (here)
– Read Fadi Zaghmout’s interview with My.Kali in our July/August 2012 issue (here) 

 

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– Follow Fadi Zaghmout on Twitter (here)
– Follow Fadi on Instagram (here)
– Subscribe to Fadi’s blog, ‘The Arab Observer’ (here)
– Check out Mike V. Derderian’s illustrations and art updates through his page on Facebook (here)
– Follow My.Kali on Facebook (here)
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