Madian Al Jazerah memoir is a tale of hope in a world of colliding identities. A must read!


Are you this? or are you this?: a story of identity and worth.

When Madian’s agent Lara from Hurst Publishers approached me in early April to provide a book blurb for this superb memoir of Madian, I felt honored. I knew Madian for a long time, and I consider him a good dear friend. I have always respected him and looked up to him for what he did for the gay community in Amman. To be chosen as one for the few people to provide a book blurb for his book meant a lot to me.

I was intrigued to know more about this great man and expected a good read, but once I started reading, I could’t stop. It was a draft version of the book that I read on my phone screen, and it hooked me till I finished it. It wasn’t only a good read but a great one.

Few days later I emailed Lara the blurb, which she thankfully edited to appear at the back cover of the book as:

This is the story of a great man, full of emotions, pride, dignity and determination. A tale of hope in a world of colliding identities; a must-read!’

Fadi Zaghmout, blogger and author of ‘The Bride of Amman’
Back cover of the book

These two lines of-course don’t do it justice, as it is much more than that. Madian takes us on an emotional journey of a man who is as delicate as a flower and as strong as a rock. A man who grew up in a world of colliding identities, carrying them over his shoulders, molding them into a beautiful mix, and riding them to turn every ugly incident he faces in his life into a colorful ray of light. Madian grew up as a Palestinian in Kuwait, a moderate Muslim in world that have seen Islam drift into extremism, and a gay man in a homophobic surrounding.

The combination of these three identity pillars might not be an exclusive identity to this man, but the way he handled it and lived it, is what makes his story gripping. There is an undeniable tone of pride in Madian’s words. He is a man of integrity and love, and his human side shows in every decision he takes along his life journey.

What makes this read enjoyable is that it is honest and intimate. Madian doesn’t shy from telling personal stories related to him, his family and his close friends. He talks about his life in Kuwait, and what meant for him to grow up in a country that he doesn’t hold its citizenship. How the security of his childhood home gets shattered when Iraq invades Kuwait, forcing him and his family to move to a different country. How he ends up living in a country where he holds its citizenship yet it is not the country of his origins. How he faced his own fears and came to terms with his sexuality. And how he navigated all this misfortune by holding onto the anchor of the loving family he has.

He might not have always made the best decisions, and at times, he let fear guide him, but he has also shown much talent, and it is here where we can see his utmost pride. Most of us know him from the haven he created in Amman – Books@cafe. The first internet cafe in the region that grew to be a hub for tolerance and acceptance. A place that shaped Amman in the past 20 years and empowered many of us to stand up and fight the exclusionary culture that tainted our lives.

Are you this? Or are you this?” might be the active expression his mother used when she asked him about his sexual preference. A reflection of how mainstream thinking in Jordan and around the world used to define what is an acceptable sexual behavior and what is not. But the title is more than that, and the story is more than that. It is the story of all of us, of how we tend to categories and place people into neat boxes to complete and perfect our views of the world around us. We feel comfort with simple stories, black and white ones that either accept people or reject them. We tend to ignore the complexity of the human condition and focus on one simple characteristic – are you this? or are you this?

The world is full of choices, and the nature of things are seldom binary. If you are to choose today, I’d advise you to choose to read this book. It is an emotional enjoyable read and there is much to learn from Madian and his life.

I wanted to be one of the first to review this book. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

The book is out for orders. You can order your copy now from publisher’s website directly by clicking here.

A new review and 5 stars for LAILA!


Happy to receive this new review for Laila today on goodreads by Lana Swaiss.

A review for LAILA on Goodreads

Another provocative book by Fadi!


After reading ‘Bride of Amman‘ as a citizen of Amman myself, I remember reading the book from the eyes of the different characters. Each character is so real and depicts true struggles people face in Jordan everyday behind closed doors. It made me connect to a book in a way I never had. The same applies to Laila. Without giving too much away, Laila is the main character, a strong woman who has found strength and courage to be true to her sexual desires, her strength as a provider for her family and fought the gender stereotypes within her home. This character resonated with me deeply, because I know there are so many Laila’s in Jordan that are just as hidden as she is. As an avid reader, I read a lot of books, and reading about sexual fantasies or dominant women in the bedroom is quite common in many English books. But to read about an Arab woman is quite different, because this issue, like many others, is taboo in this country. Fadi so openly talks through Laila about what it is like to be a strong woman in Jordan, what it is like to be a scared yet masculine man like Tariq, and what gender roles look like in a Jordanian family.

 As an avid reader, I read a lot of books, and reading about sexual fantasies or dominant women in the bedroom is quite common in many English books. But to read about an Arab woman is quite different, because this issue, like many others, is taboo in this country. 


I am proud to be a somewhat far relative of Fadi’s, and I remember when members of our family read the book (Jordanian family members), they warned me about the explicit language and uncomfortable events that take place throughout the book. I didn’t find them uncomfortable or strange. Instead, I found this book liberating, and it is very naive to think that the events within the pages of this book are uncommon, strange or unheard of.

 I found this book liberating, and it is very naive to think that the events within the pages of this book are uncommon, strange or unheard of.


I would highly recommend this read, if not for women to find strength within themselves, but for men and women to redefine what masculinity means, and that dominance is by no means a measure of masculinity or superiority, whether in or out of the bedroom.

L’Epouse d’Amman is out in French!


Originally released in Arabic in 2012, “Arous Amman عروس عمّان“، was deemed controversial for it depiction of a main gay character and support of women’s sexual freedoms and body rights in Jordan. For me, it was a work of activism where I combined stories of people I know, events I witnessed, scenes I developed, and narratives I have discussed for years on this blog.

Best Seller Virgin Megastore Amman 2015

I was pretty much happy about its success, and overwhelmed with people’s reactions. From women calling me and thanking me for expressing their feelings, women who felt empowered after reading it, other women who endured same situation of different characters and gay men thanking me for helping them accepting their sexuality. It was like talking about the elephant in the room, everyone wanted to talk about “Arous Amman“, and they wanted others to read it. It was our story and it spread fast, getting sold out in few months, a second print release in October by Jabal Amman Publishers, and hitting the top 10 best sellers of Jamalon’s that year.

The book’s success wasn’t only local, and soon after, Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp was in a trip to Amman where she picked it up and loved it. She contacted me, asking me for permission to translate and excerpt to submit to Words Without Borders Magazine, which she did. I was happy with her translation and recommended her when I talked to Marshall Moore from Signal8Press who was interested in getting the book translated and published in English.

Gays the world bookshop London

The English translation of “The Bride of Amman” was released in 2015, and Ruth arranged for me a great launch schedule in the UK. She did a great job in marketing the book when it first came out, and contributed to its exposure and success big time. The book seen success in English as much as it did in its Arabic version, getting a wider audience and being added to the reading list of students in different universities around the world.

Like Ruth, Davide Knecht, read the book few years back and he approached me stating his interest in translating it to Italian. At the time he couldn’t secure an Italian publisher, but he was able to secure a French one – L’asiatheque. I was happy to sign with them, and after two years of work, the book is finally out in French as L’Epouse d’Amman. And like Ruth, Dave has been doing a great job in promoting the book. The publisher as well did a great job in getting the book out in an amazing shape, securing the rights for the a brilliant mural painted by the famous German artist Akut. A huge mural located in Downtown Amman, with a message to promote gender equality. Entitled “We are one“, a perfect match to L’Epouse d’Amman.

We are one mural – downtown Amman
Copies of L’Epouse d’Amman

Davide connected me with an Italian publisher too who was interested in the book last year but plans were put on hold due to Covid-19 situation. Other translators have approached me over the years to translate the book to German and Spanish, but nothing came out of it yet. I hope the release of the book in French would open the doors to other translations in the coming years.

The book has its way to success, and seems to have a magical appeal around it. I am so grateful for everyone contributed to its success.

Thank you.

رواية إبرة وكشتبان في قوائم الأكثر مبيعاً في مكتبات عمّان



شكرا لدعمكم وحبكم، ويسرّني أن أشارك معكم الخبر السار عن وصول رواية إبرة وكشتبان لقائمة أكثر الكتب مبيعاً في مكتبة فيرجن ومكتبة ريدرز في عمّان. كنت قد نشرت الرواية بداية كنشر ذاتي وطباعة حسب الطلب من خلال موقع جملون، ثم وقعت عقد نشر وتوزيع مع دار الأهلية للنشر. الكتاب متوفر اليوم للطلب أونلاين من خلال موقع جملون، أو القراءة ككتاب الكتروني من خلال تطبيق أبجد أو كندل أو رفوف. كذلك متوفر في مكتبات عمان كنسخة مطبوعة.
قائمة أكثر الكتب مبيعاً في مكتبة فيرجن في سيتي مول في عمّان
إبرة وكشتبان في مدخل مكتبة فيرجن في عمّان

The Arab Observer interviews Natasha Tynes


Natasha Tynes

It is always a pleasure to see a new Jordanian getting published, and it is double the pleasure when it happens to be one of the fellow old bloggers. I was first introduced to Natasha’ Tynes’s writings around 14 years ago through her blog which I enjoyed and admired back then. And, fast-forward to two years ago, I was honored to read the draft of her first novel when she approached me seeking advice on how to get it published. She didn’t need my advice, as she was determined and passionate, and proud of her work. Eventually she got it done, and successfully released last summer. A book that I enjoyed reading, and loved because it highlighted a space/time that is dear to my heart and is rarely covered in our cultural productions.

It has been a long time since I did any interview on my blog, but I am happy to chat with Natasha, and happy to present this interview that talks about her book, her experience in getting it publisher, and recommendations to aspiring writers. Hope you enjoy reading it!

They Called Me Wyatt

Fadi: Congratulations for the release of the 2nd edition of “They Called Me Wyatt”. I remember reading the draft before you released it and enjoyed all of the nostalgic references to Amman in the 80’s. But lets hear you, tell us more about the book for the readers of this blog. What is the story all about?

Natasha: My debut novel They Called Me Wyatt is a murder mystery set between Jordan and the US, featuring Jordanian student Siwar Salaiha who is murdered on her birthday in Maryland, but her consciousness survives, finding refuge in the body of a Seattle baby boy. Stuck in this speech delayed three-year old body, Siwar tries but fails to communicate with Wyatt’s parents, instead she focuses on solving the mystery behind her murder. Eventually, her consciousness goes into a dormant state after Wyatt undergoes a major medical procedure.


Fast-forward twenty-two years. Wyatt is a well-adjusted young man with an affinity towards the Middle East and a fear of heights. While working on his graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies, Wyatt learns about Siwar’s death, which occurred twenty-five years ago. For reasons he can’t explain, he grows obsessed with Siwar and spends months investigating her death, which police at the time erroneously ruled as suicide. His investigation forces him to open a door he has kept shut all his life, a spiritual connection to an unknown entity that he frequently refused to acknowledge. His leads take him to Amman, Jordan where after talking to her friends and family members and through his special connection with the deceased, he discovers a clue that unravels the mystery of her death. Will Siwar get justice after all?

Fadi: The book has a unique concept and does a great job highlighting issues of identity and rift between East and West. How much of that was built on your own identity as a person, being a Christian Arab and living in the US? I am sure there is a big space to tackle here when one is faced with different identity agencies. It is a rich material to work on and I think you have done it nicely in the book.

Natasha: My book is loosely based on my formative years, my childhood and coming-of-age in Amman, Jordan. My identity as an Arab-American and also as a Jordanian-Christian has definitely shaped my novel since I tend to write about what I know and how I see the world. However, I tried to stay away from the topic of religion in my novel. My main focus is the Arab identity as a whole, and the challenges faced by an Arab immigrant to the US.

Natasha signing her book

My book is loosely based on my formative years, my childhood and coming-of-age in Amman, Jordan.

Natasha Tynes

Fadi: I like mostly about “They Called Me Wyatt” that it captures a part of Amman we rarely see in Literature. The stories of west Amman that seem to fail to find a place in local literature, as if our stories don’t worth documenting because that part of the city is “too westernized” and doesn’t fit with the overall cultural image we have for the country? I also grew up in the same period of the 80s and 90s and I have experienced much of what you mentioned in the book about the life of Siwar. Unfortunately that period of time was dominated by conservative media and didn’t leave much space for such stories to see the light. What do you to say about this?

Natasha: I agree. You rarely see literature, especially literature in English, that tackles growing up in Amman in the 80’s and the 90’s. Amman has changed dramatically since then. I feel part of me still feels nostalgic to the old Amman, to the Amman of my childhood, that’s why I based my novel around it. Life back then was simpler. We really had nothing, but we had each other, the family, the cousins, the friends, the neighbors. We spent our days playing outside, not glued to a screen like kids these days. We had adventures, we formed friendships, we learned life lessons. It was wonderful. I deeply miss it.

Natasha reading from her book

Fadi: I remember the time when you were looking for a publisher for your book. Being a writer myself, I know how hard it is to find a publisher who is willing to adopt your work and support it, especially when it is your first one. You approached it as it is a full time job and were pretty much determined to get it done, and I applaud you for that. There are many writers out there who are struggling to get their first work get published, tell us about your experience and what would you advise them?

Natasha: My advice for you if you want to be a writer, is that you need to develop a thick skin and be ready to be rejected hundreds of times. Buckle up. Your soul will be crushed and you will constantly doubt yourself. Remember that what makes a good writer is not only talent but also persistence, resilience and hard work. Keep applying, keep submitting your manuscript to agents and publishers. Keep getting rejections until you eventually get the acceptance that you have always dreamt about.

My advice for you if you want to be a writer, is that you need to develop a thick skin and be ready to be rejected hundreds of times. Buckle up. Your soul will be crushed and you will constantly doubt yourself.

Natasha Tynes

Fadi: Soon after your book got released, you were faced by a stupid incident that costed you your publishing agreement. I remember being on the goodreads page of your book. Initially I was surprised that you had a thousand reviews in such a short time, which I thought wow, Natasha’s book has picked up, but when I started reading the reviews, I felt shocked with the amount of hatred you received. They were giving you one star review and attacking you personally rather than objectively assessing your work. It must have been a tough time for you. Tell us about the incident and how did you handle it. Did the bad publicity help you in any way or form? You know what they say “bad publicity is good publicity”, you may beg to differ.

Natasha: I was involved in a Twitter controversy after I tweeted about a DC metro employee breaking the rules on the job. In retrospect, I should have used a more private manner to complain, and if I can take this back I would. To my shock, I was seen as racist since the metro employee in question is African-American, although I never mentioned the color of her skin! In addition to all the death threats I received and all the derogatory comments, my novel’s Goodreads page was attacked by thousands of people who left one-star reviews without reading the book, and who also left personal attacks. I contacted Goodreads numerous times, but they never took action. Thankfully, a new publisher picked up the book after my old publisher caved to the online mob and dropped the book. This was really hard on me and I sunk into deep depression. Thankfully, there was a happy ending with the book being republished. The only way the “bad publicity” helped me was that I got a better publisher

Fadi: Do you plan on translating the book and publish it in Arabic? As I mentioned before, I feel that we miss these stories in our local literature. It’s actually part of the reason I started writing myself. I felt that our lives are rarely represented accurately in literature. It would be nice to have your book translated. Do you write in Arabic? Have any plans of writing any of your future work in Arabic?

Natasha: I definitely would love to see my novel translated into Arabic, I have already talked to a number of Arab publishers in the region, but there is nothing concrete yet.

Fadi: I know from experience that working on promoting the book takes same time and effort of writing it. How did you promote your book? You once gave me a good tip to approach “Instagrammers” for reviews. That was brilliant. What other things do you recommend?

Natasha: These days authors do the bulk of marketing, so you need to spend a big chunk of your time marketing your work. Here are some tips:

  1. Create your own newsletter and send it to your subscribers at least once a month. Keep them updated with your latest news. Newsletter is a must!
  2. Approach people who run podcasts. There are tons who interview authors and review books.
  3. Contact bookclubs (there are a number of virtual ones) and ask them if they would be willing to read your book and host you as a guest to answer questions.
  4. Join a writers group Facebook group. They are usually very supportive and offer a lot of help and advice.

Fadi: Who are your favorite authors? and what’s your favorite book?

Natasha: I love the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Ahdaf Soueif and Dave Eggers. I think my favorite book is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Fadi: Are you working on a new story? What is it about?

Natasha: I’m working on a novel set in Amman, Jordan. It’s about a building whose residents all immigrate to the US and all end up facing unfortunate and sometimes tragic events. They all wonder if these unforeseen harsh circumstances were a result of their bad luck, or if they were actually all cursed. Was there a hex (a’mal in Arabic) in the building that never left them? Or was it their own choices?

I am look forward to reading more of Natasha’s work and wish her all the best. For more about her and her work, visit her website http://natashatynes.com/

7 years passed, still a best seller – Aroos Amman (The Bride of Amman)


Yesterday, an old time friend of mine, took a photo for “Aroos Amman” (The Bride of Amman” that shows the book in the best selling section of DNA Lifestyle Store in Al Abdali Mall.

I was happy to receive the photo and rushed to share it on all of my social media channels. The fact that “Aroos Amman” keeps on appearing in best selling lists after 7 years of its release, speaks volume. This is not the first time or place for it to be a best seller, in fact it was one of the top best selling books on Jamalon in 2012, the year it got released. It continuously appears in the best selling books section in the famous Jordanian bookstore “Reader”. It has been a best seller and a “recommended to read” at Virgin megastore for months. The audio version, made it to the most listened books list on storytel and the ebook is part of Abjjad’s all time most read books!

In Virgin Megastore Amman

The book been translated and published to English in 2015, and currently is getting translated into the French language, planned to be released next year.

Jamalon best selling list 2012

It has opened so many door to me, including securing an MA scholarship from the British Council to study in the UK in 2012. Invitation to different conferences and events in global cities from London, to Berlin, Salzburg and Pune

I have always wondered about the reason behind the success of this book. Why it ticks with so many people? It was my first to write, even before doing my MA in Creative Writing and Critical Thinking. It wasn’t perfectly crafted, and critics would point out the simplicity of its language or the shortages of the plot. Yet, it keeps generating strong reactions that surprises me till today, not just from my fellow Jordanians whom I mainly address in the book, but also from Arabs and foreigners from different countries.

For me it was a work of activism and I am more than happy to see it reach such heights. I wanted the voices of my characters to be heard, and they got heard. I wanted to give our youth hope, and for many I did. I remember a gay guy once told me that he keeps the book with him all the time, and place it next to his best when he goes to sleep as he feels protected by having it close by. That’s something I am so proud to hear. I remember a young woman once sending me a long letter stating how empowered she feels after reading the book and promising to stand up for her self and her rights. That’s also something I am so proud of. Even yesterday, after posting the photo of the book in the best selling list, I received a message from a guy who said it is his favorite book ever and that he remembers how he skipped his university classes and stayed home super excited to read it.

رواية عروس عمان بين الكتب الأكثر مبيعا في مكتبة ريدرز
Readers Bookshop

I don’t know what the magic in “Aroos Amman”. Maybe it has to do with giving a voice to a gay man that hasn’t been heard of in our society before, or hearing a Jordanian woman standing up to her body rights and sexuality, or maybe its magnifying our issues of gender and heavy social heritage, and showing how they have been affecting our lives negatively. I always say, I wrote it from my heart, and maybe that’s what made it tick. And I guess, thats what others see in it, like what a friend commented yesterday on the Instagram image, stating that it is successful because it is “honest” and “different”.

Thank you for all of the honest and different people who supported me and supported this book into such success. Hopefully we will seeing it reaching more people and maybe soon we will watch it as a movies on the big screens.. fingers crossed!

London launch for The Bride of Amman

doodle by fido and mlabbas bringing you a line of custom cute kids tshirts


Anyone been with me in a meeting or workshop or any training must have seen me doodling on a paper or a napkin. It has been a long time habit that I love. Just give me a paper and a pen and you’ll see me coming up with different weird shapes topped with dotted eyes, smily faces, chaotic hair, and lines of arms and legs.

It is something that I loved to do since school days. And in my mind, I always thought of how to make something out of this and thus I started last year an instagram account for my doodles (@doodlebyfido). But they were still paper doodles without colors. I wanted to add more life to them and for a long time was thinking about trying digital art. I never got myself to get any digital painting tool until recently when I got my ipad pro and downloaded procreate. And since then, I have been having so much fun, coming with a different colored doodle almost every day. They look livelier with colors and more attractive.. I think.

Mlabbas website
One of my doodles on a Mlabbas tshirt

And yet, I was thinking to myself, how can I turn these doodles to something of more value, since people are loving them. So in my last visit to Amman, I decided to approached Imad Al Shawwa, founder of mlabbas (a tshirt store gone wild as stated on their website). I have always been a fan of them and their work and a regular customer of their Jabal Amman branch. They offer local designer a platform to print their work on tshirts (mainly) but also a list of other items. I thought why not contacting them, and I messaged Imad asking him if we can work together on this project. Thankfully, he welcomed the idea and was very helpful in setting up a channel for doodle by fido on their website.

It is an exciting project for me and I am very happy to work with mlabbas on this. I look forward to see many kids wearing those cool doodles and be happy with the good vibes they project.

So far I am pleased with the reactions and thankful for all of your support.

To visit my channel on mlabbas website and order tshirts for your kids click on: http://doodlebyfido.mlabbas.me/

A happy Palm Sunday long time ago


It is Palm Sunday today. Family celebrating in Jordan and I am here in my office in Dubai. Not complaining here. I haven’t celebrated Palm Sunday for many years now and to be honest, seeing the weather conditions in Amman today, with the heavy rain and hail, I’d rather be in Dubai – sorry folks!

But going down memory lane, maybe 30 years back. I see myself all dressed-up, in proper SHORTS and cute t-shirt, as I recall it has always been *sunny* Palm Sundays with a nice warm springy weather back in the days.

To complete the image of that little boy sitting on the balcony of our second floor apartment in Al Webdeh, and watching the crowd leaving nearby Churches after Sunday Mass while getting into their cars. I’d most probably be sitting on that swing we had, which me and my sister used to fight over with her getting the upper hand often (she was socially smarter than me and always knew how to get things her way – love you Juj).

I’d be happy on that day because mother would be off work. She used to work on Sundays whereas we had Sundays off at school. Without her Sundays were boring. But the day was special with her in house, and also because we usually had a feast on the day (if I recall correctly), with dad coming earlier for lunch and grand parents showing up.

I see that little boy extremely happy for the sight of his Sido Abo Ryad getting into the building. My favorite grandparent who left us early. He usually showed up with a bag of surprises as he used to own a nearby mini-market. And now I just realize how lucky we were to grow up in a neighborhood with grandpa’s mini-market right across the street! I know the street was an obstacle in that young age (there was a time where Juj tripped over her face and heavily bruised it – took months to heal), but hey, it was a place full of goodies, and grandpa was generous! That’s not the only reason I said he was my favorite though, but it makes realize how happy my childhood was. No wonder with such loving parents, beautiful sister, and sweet grandpa, I had it all.

Today I celebrate that Palm Sunday and relive in my memory.

Happy Palm Sunday everyone!

Theeb is off to the Oscars: Interviewing Producer Nadine Toukan


When they announced the short list of The Best Foreign Film for Oscars this year, a national euphoria hit Facebook. It was one of those moments, when everyone felt proud. “Theeb” reached the Oscars, a Jordanian film that has been gaining praise world wide, winning awards here and there and demonstrating how far the film industry in Jordan has gone.

We can make quality films, Nadine Toukan believed, and she delivered. Jordan’s film industry is still in its infantile stage. It was started merely 10 years ago with a governmental plan to establish “The Royal Film Commission”, which was part of a national strategic plan to create a creative industry that would build on the energy of the young population in the Kingdom. Nadine joined “The Royal Film Commission” at the time with a mandate to search and develop local talents in the film industry and she did an amazing job; Today there are hundreds of Jordanian talents carving their way in an industry that is yet to mature. Nadine didn’t only that, but also topped herself by showing everyone that it is possible to make a Jordanian film and pioneered the scene by producing the much loved “Captain Abu Raed” in 2008, followed up by “When Monaliza Smiled” in 2012, and finally the globally celebrated Oscar nominated “Theeb”.

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I am so proud of have the chance of interviewing Nadine and ask her the following:

Fadi: You are going to the Oscars! How does it feel?

 

Nadine: Theeb is off to the Oscars. And don’t forget the BAFTAs tomorrow in London. Exciting. Rewarding. Confusing. So what. How cool. A melange of many feelings, and a good time for deep reflection and taking stock. 

 

Fadi: You believed and you delivered. I remember that you once told me that what triggered you to produce “Captain Abu Raed” is that you wanted to show people in the film industry at the time that we can. Today, you are proving that we can’t only make films but we can also make quality films that can be admired worldwide. I would like to know more about what motivates you? was it your passion for storytelling or your love to your country and your people?

 

quotes3Nadine: I’m generally fed up with a few things: “We can’t, it won’t work, there’s no money, who cares…” Having our stories owned by others, and us almost always bothered at how they end up being told. Defeatist attitudes. Entitlement. Waiting for Godot. I’ve always lived to the tune of, “you want it, go will it into existence”. So in part, the power of imagination pull. Not driven by a major strategic plan, rather through a series of serendipitous events and situations.

 

 

Fadi: I have met you for few times only, but I have always read a side of you that I can’t help not to admire and point out, which is your willingness to help people realize their dreams. I don’t forget the time you tried to help me find a new job in order to be able to publish “The Bride of Amman”, and I remember when I first approached you for an interview on my blog, you wanted to give the spotlight to other people on the crew, like the first assistant director, Yanal Kassay.

 

quotes1Nadine: Listening to your plan for the book and that you needed a job, and reacting in trying to connect you with opportunities, is the result of my built in producer skills. That’s just how I’m wired. Filmmaking is one of the most collaborative industries. There’s no industry without the tribe. We’re used to having directors, actors, producers, and at times cinematographers, front it, but none of us would get far without line producers, ADs, PAs, coordinators, art directors, and the long list of people needed to be able to go the distance, including our generous backers and investors. It’s easy to get caught up in the hero syndrome. I find that scary, and it stops us from understanding through the necessary wider lens. In this industry, there are no heroes, there are heroic collaborations. On Theeb, Naji stood on the shoulders of giants to be able to direct the film this way. We are indebted to each and every single person who said yes at any given stage of this production. Theeb is possible thanks to many people who came together to raise the bar, and simply didn’t settle.

 

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Nadine Toukan with the star Jacir Eid

Fadi: Looking at Theeb’s cast, you gave the starring role to the young bedouin Jacir; that in itself is a fairytale story. You are taking this young man to the Oscars! How rewarding it is being the person behind the success of many others?

 

Nadine: Jacir owes this big break to his father, Eid, whose lazy planning led Bassel and Naji to find Jacir in front of their camera. And then there was magic. I don’t agree with the notion that anyone is behind the success of others. Rather, it’s our continuous motion, and intersections of people and their actions. Speaking of serendipity: One evening while camping at the Ammarin Bedouin Camp in Beidha, a visitor from the area stopped by and sat with us over tea and small talk. Half way through, he stood up and gave me a piece of his mind: “You, all of you with your cameras, the makers of these bedouin TV series we see on the satellites, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Year after year you make one series after the other about our bedouin culture and stories. None of them are accurate, we don’t live that way, nor speak that way, nor do we socialise the way you fantasise. Yet you keep making them about us. And here we are. Still alive. Still living here, but you never come by to do your research right, nor do you speak to us. And you still keep making those silly bedouin series”. While I had never been involved in any of these productions, I knew very well what he was referring to. It was painful, and a much needed wake up call. Representation was broken, and that had to stop.

 

Back between 2003-5, I served on the committee working on Jordan’s submission to the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity program, under the title: The Cultural Space of the Bedu in Petra and Wadi Rum. It was a challenging feat that ended up being proclaimed in 2005 and ratified in 2006. One of the recommendations of the action plan was to create programs that would support the communities in these areas own their culture and oral heritage in their own way, in their voice. Then one day, some of the least likely suspects collaborated on the making of Theeb. A story owned and performed by the community itself, simply because we were open to listening to the situations we found ourselves in, and decided to break free from anything that had been before us. We followed our instinct, and paid attention to opportunities that presented themselves to us. Then took a series of risks and leaps of faith.

 

Fadi: I watched “Theeb” at Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year, and had goose-bumps seeing the theatre full of people who all stood up at the end and clapped. Did you foresee its success?

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Nadine Toukan and Naji Abu Nowar

Nadine: A lot of hard, good work went into the film by a large group of extraordinary people. I knew we had something special. The backstory of which is even more special. When Bassel pitched the project to me back in 2010, it was “a bedouin short film”. I remember looking at him curiously, smiling, wondering where this may go. Then he said he had passed it on to Naji for script notes. Bigger smile. Two remarkably talented and interesting people were about to collaborate. The beginning of an excellent equation. And when we started making creative decisions on how we were going to approach the production, it was clear we had something authentic.

 

Fadi: As you know, the Jordanian film industry is still in its infantile stages. There are many challenges that we have to overcome. Having a Jordanian film showing in cinemas in other countries is a challenge in itself. How did you do that?

 

Nadine: Through expensive sales agents and distributors.

 

Fadi: What are the biggest challenges that you think is facing the Jordanian film industry?

 

Nadine: Writing. Waiting. Distribution.

 

Fadi: Making films usually requires big budgets. There are only few cinemas in Amman and I would say, like the publishing industry, distribution channels are limited. How did you overcome that? Did you make profits for “Theeb” yet?

 

Nadine: No. Sales agents and distributors take a huge cut for the work they do. We’ve had limited distribution. We are back in some theatres around the Arab world this month post the nominations, and we hope the long tail of the life of the production may eventually pay off. I think I’ve heard the questions: “Is it on YouTube or any of the torrents?” and “When will Hammoudeh be selling it?” more than: “When can I buy a cinema ticket?”

 

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Fadi: The Royal Film Commission has done an amazing job in training young Jordanian talents in the past decade and facilitating and help funding local films but it was hit by the global financial crisis and the tough situation that Jordan has been facing after the Arab Spring. It is still playing an active role in helping the industry but not as strong as it used to be. How do you see the RFC support for the industry?

 

 
quotes4Nadine: The RFC has done some excellent work over instances, but no where near enough. I say this as someone who once worked there when it first started, and say it with a lot of love. I don’t think the global financial crisis is a valid excuse. Sounds like a good cover. This is the time to be brave and aggressive, and think of new types of collaborations for growth. I’m grateful to the RFC for giving us a loan from a modest fund they had, to make Fadi Haddad’s feature, When Monaliza Smiled, the year we planned. That enabled us to get on with it without delays. It was produced on a shoestring budget, and ended up resonating with diverse local audiences. Prime Cinema, Amman, kept the film showing for over 9 weeks. The best kind of cinema partners a local film could hope for. Sometime ago, Ruba AlAyed (now with MBC) handled marketing for the RFC, and one of the slogan’s she worked within back then was: Anything’s possible in Jordan. I’d like them to deliver on that. It means getting unstuck. The RFC may have to step way out of its comfort zone, and radically change the way they’re doing the work.

 

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Nadine Toukan and Fadi Haddad

 

Fadi: You raised the bar so high, do you see other Jordanian films following Theeb’s steps and achieving such success in the near future?

 

Nadine: I hope they go ever further. No reason not to.

 

Fadi: What was your wildest dream at school?

 

Nadine: Depends what stage of school. I had many that changed a lot. Never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Still don’t. Next time we talk, ask me about my wildest dream tomorrow.

 

Fadi: What’s your next step after the Oscar?

 

Nadine: You mean after Theeb. Always on a quest towards identifying my next screen production. I’m also spending this year working with the Doha Film Institute on a wonderful program for emerging Qatari filmmakers. DFI is doing meaningful work, and in line with my own philosophies for the needs ahead for an Arab renaissance. It’s a place and program where a generation of Qataris are busting to see and tell things for themselves as they experiment with the cinematic arts. A beautiful exchange where I get to give of my experiences, and they give me of their dreams. What an honour.

 

Fadi: What’s your motto in life?

 

Nadine: Screw it. Let’s do this!

 

Fadi: Screw it. Let’s do this indeed! Let’s bring our stories to the world! Thank you Nadine.. best of luck tomorrow in the BAFTAs and later this month in the Oscars.. You make us proud! 

 

The Arab Observer interviews Mutasem Subeih: “Ana 197” and the issue of identity


If there is one measurement that would predict the success of a person in a certain field, it would be his/her passion. Mutasem Subeih is one of those people, who along with his writing and creative talent, shows a strong passion and perseverance towards carving a career as a writer. We met first time last year in Sharja’s book fair at the launch of “Janna Ala Al Ard”. He came to support me for my second book, and told me about his ambition (a work-in-progress at the time), a promising story titled “Ana 197” of a young man going through out of body experiences in his dreams.11079615_1066278080056966_42229702336390685_n-2

The book came out few months ago, and I had the chance to get my copy in a book signing Mutasem organized in Dubai. It was published by Arab Scientific Publishers who won Sheikh’s Zayed Award as the best Arab Publisher earlier in the year and it shows a beautiful cover of a man trapped in a bottle. The concept is creative, and the story is crafted well.

I had the chance to interview Mutasem and ask him the following:

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Fadi: I have experienced it myself, it is not easy to find a decent publisher for your first book, especially when you are a new writer. How did you manage to secure a publishing contract with the best publishing house in the Arab world?

quote2Mutasem: Indeed it’s quite a struggle to find a publisher as a new writer. However, I never gave up. I was persistent. I applied to somewhat 10 publishers and all of them refused publishing my book. Then luckily, three months later, ASP contacted me saying read and liked my book and hence approved to publish it.

 

Fadi: How was your experience with ASP? In terms of book quality, distribution, and publicity?  

Mutasem: I’ve had a pleasant experience with ASP up to date. They are genuine and have been helpful. I believe they are trying their best to help me get the publicity needed. They are also willing to participate my book in all upcoming book fairs in the region.

 Fadi: Why didn’t you publish your book with a Jordanian publisher?

quote3Mutasem: Unfortunately, Jordanian publishers didn’t believe in my book. I tried with two reputable Jordanian publishers, and yet both refused my book with invalid reasons, I believe. After ASP accepted to publish my book, one of them called back saying they were sorry that they have not actually read the book. They then mentioned that I could publish with them the book at any time. Of course, I have already have signed the contract with ASP back then. Six months later, I learned that the Jordanian publishers do not participate in all book fairs. For instance they have never participated in the Al-ayam Book that began in Bahrain on the 2nd of October.

Fadi: I know what it feels like holding the first copy of your book when it first arrives. It is quite an accomplishment. How did it feel?

Mutasem: Super exciting!  I cannot put it down in words. I’m very grateful.

Fadi: I read the book two months ago and loved the concept of it. The idea of coming out of your body and living the lives of others is intriguing. How did the idea come to you?

Mustasem: Funny enough,  I was actually playing this game on PlayStation and I was quite astound by the main character of the game. I found myself wondering what it would be like if my soul travelled into his body and lived by his experiences? How would that feel? The idea captivated me and triggered me to write about it.

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Fadi: There are interesting moments in the book where the soul of the main character argues with him. It fights with him, conspires on him, and terrifies him. The idea poses some important questions about identity, thus the name of the book has the pronoun “Ana”, correct? But what do you think really form our identities? Who am I? Am I my soul, my body, my nationality, my sexuality, my experiences, a sum of all of that? or what?

Mutasem: Precisely. You’ve summed it up pretty much! I think everyone has a different interpretation for that. Personally I think we are the sum of everything you mentioned combined.

Fadi: You have certainly wanted to explore the issue of identity in the book. There is another dimension where you tackle that in setting Malik (the main character) who is Jordanian in London. How did that helped you in shaping your story and developing the storyline?  

Mutasem: As you mentioned, Malik’s mother is Arab, his father is a mystery but he was born and raised in London.  Like many Arabs that live in the west, they find themselves lost between the east and west. Malik too is unsure where he stands, he goes on many journeys to discover who he really is physically mentally and spiritually..

Fadi: I liked the amount of the imaginations in the book where you can’t predict whose the next person Malik’s soul is gonna live in? That required a good research from your part taking us into different times and culture. But I can also see the issue of gender identity here, especially when Malik finds himself in a woman’s body. Knowing the importance and sensitivity of the matter to the Arab reader, you must have terrified your audience! What would you do if you wake up one day in a female body?  

quote4Mutasem: Funny that I have thought about this often! I always try to put myself in a woman’s shoe to try and see her perspective. I feel many women suffer vastly when trying to express their inner emotions and thoughts to men. I think it will be an embarking journey if I woke up in a woman’s body! They are so fragile emotionally and yet  so patient and they can be stronger than a mountain.

Fadi: I don’t think that women are fragile emotionally but anyway. The book has been out for several months now, how was the reactions to it?

Mustasem:  I’m quite grateful from all the feedback I am getting so far. It definitely is more than I ever expected. Ilhamdilah.

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Fadi: What did you do to promote it?

Mutasem: Its a struggle to promote books in the Arab world general.  However I have to admit that I am blessed to be working in the media field. My colleagues have generously helped me reach out my voice.

Fadi: Where is it available?

Mutasem: In Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, KSA, Bahrain, and soon in UAE and rest of GCC. It can also be found in every Arabic book fair.

Fadi: Are you working on your second book? What is it about?

Mutasem: I began writing a novel for a few months about the future. However I couldn’t presume with it as I felt there was so many unspoken issues are going on now.  So I am still working on the idea, but the idea revolves around a Jordanian girl suffering with endless obstacles in her hard life.

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Fadi: I love seeing Jordanian talents emerging in all creative fields. Unfortunately, we barely have established industries that support such talents and help refining them and lifting them. The publishing industry has never been strong in Jordan, same for Film, Drama, Art, etc. Yet, we see young Jordanians carving their way into these industries trying to position themselves and the country in the map of the Arabic world. How do you see the state of the industry in Jordan? and what do you advise writers who are looking into entering this field and publishing their first book?  

quote1Mutasem: Honestly, I see a bright future for our and the coming generations.  We are on the right track. We are trying our best to catch up with developed countries. We have so many hidden talents and I feel they are starting to raise their voices.  My advise for new writers, is never to give up on hope. If one is truly passionate about writing, then they will keep writing and never give up on getting it published.  The world is big enough, there’s so much room for new writers.

Fadi: Thank you Mutasem. I wish you the best of luck. And I look forward to reading more for you. It is always good to see a young Jordanian talent determined to succeed..