Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Reading

A young friend formed a book exchange, and invited me to come, and I did. At the book exchange, I discovered the Twit Book Club. The name refers to the fact that most of the members tweet about what they're reading. (As someone who refuses to Facebook or tweet, I can only attend the monthly meetings at Wild Pita, a restaurant that's part of the Dubai World Trade Centre. They meet on the third Saturday of every month, if anyone in Dubai is reading this and wishes to join an English-language book club.)

Every month, they vote on four books to read, which is more than most of the members have time to read in a month, so, in many ways, it's like the book club depicted in The Simpsons, where no one ever read the books, it was just an excuse to get together. But, at the Twit Book Club, one gets four books recommended every month, and some of the selections have been excellent (even though I haven't had time to finish the insanely difficult book by Eco or Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway).

Yesterday, we discussed Alexander McNabb's Olives, A Violent Romance and Mr. McNabb himself was there to autograph copies. Olives is an excellent book, and I can't recommend it enough.

Olives is a self-published book because McNabb couldn't find a publisher, and also because he says that publishers no longer provide any services to authors, they just reject most manuscripts and keep most of the profits from the few manuscripts they accept.

But it's more complicated than that.

Olives is a spy thriller in the style of Le Carré, showing MI6 in a very cynical light. (McNabb said he didn't see any similarities between his novel and Le Carré's, but I put that down to authors having a poor perception of their own work: After all, the plot is completely different from The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, because The Spy was set in Berlin, while Olives is set in Jordan. But to a literary theorist, the sense of place is independent of the plot.)

What would make Olives a major work (in the unlikely event that it ever gets published and widely read) is that it presents the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the Palestinian point of view, something I've never read before (being limited to English-language publications). Mr. McNabb said that Lawrence Durrell has written 'objectively' about the Palestinian-Israeli problem, but I'm sorry to say I'm not familiar with the works of Mr. Durrell.

Most of what I've read about the conflict has been similar to Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, which was about Palestinian terrorists who get a nuclear bomb and use it against the US because the US supports Israel (in the movie, the terrorists are Nazis, because Nazis are always more PC villains than Palestinians).

McNabb says that Olives is not pro-Palestinian, but is a very fair, balanced view of the conflict that favours neither side. Again, an author's failure to objectively view his own work. It is true that the Israelis in Olives are not all mindless monsters trying to perpetrate genocide against the Palestinians, which McNabb thinks makes it fair and balanced, but Olives is strongly pro-Palestinian, for reasons I can't really explain without giving away spoilers.

The Palestinian side of the story has seldom been told in English, and has never been a major, widely read work in English, so Olives desperately needed to be written.

And desperately needs to be read by the English-speaking audience.

It's available at many bookstores in the UAE and from Mr. McNabb's website.

So, more in hope than expectation, I recommend that every English speaker who reads, read it.