Novelist Emily Nasrallah has had a long and lucrative career spanning 50 years, and she is about to publish a manuscript based on previously published magazine articles.
The Lebanese writer recently spoke to Al-Shorfa about her life. In a discussion rich with lessons and morals, she talked about her writing technique, a simple style peppered with many targeted messages.
The "Birds of September" authoress gave the interview just days before her husband Philippe passed away due to illness.
Al-Shorfa: Where are you today after a long career writing novels?
Emily Nasrallah: I dream of continuing the journey and writing until the pen drops from my hand. After collecting my scattered papers and the articles I published in the magazine "Sayidaty" over the past six years, I compiled them in a book titled "Men Hasad al-Ayyam" (Harvest of Days) which consists of three parts. I am trying to do the same with what I have written and what has been written about my work over the years in a large number of magazines and newspapers.
Today I have 5,000 pages that have not yet been published. I might print some of them after classifying them so that they can be archived. In addition to this dream, I am writing my memoirs, after having written nine chapters on my childhood 15 years ago. I do not know whether I will finish writing it.
Al-Shorfa: Why not?
Nasrallah: Because I cannot write if I am not in the mood. I only write what I feel. At any rate, writing is my profession and I still dream about writing a great novel.
Al-Shorfa: What will this novel be about?
Nasrallah: It will have lots of bits and pieces of my real life, which I never mentioned in my previous work. But a novel requires a certain continuity, schedule and discipline and I currently have some family circumstances that do not allow me to focus as I wish. I do hope to be able to overcome them and continue what I started.
I am also trying to consolidate my previous work, published in different publishing houses, under one roof. I feel as if I am about to leave this world, which is why I am sorting out my affairs and my possessions and writing my will.
Al-Shorfa: Are you are hurrying to leave this world?
Nasrallah: No, but I am an organised person and if I was not, I would never have been able to write. I don't want to leave my children any worries, especially since they do not know the publishers I dealt with. Thus, I want my work under the roof of one publishing house to make it easier for my children to review my work.
Al-Shorfa: Your first novel, "Birds of September", will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release this year. Tell us about that.
Nasrallah: This novel was first published in 1962 and dealt with the emigration of my brothers and sister and [in the book] I tried to express the heartbreak I felt over [their emigration]. Since then, I dream about the return of the "Birds of September" so I could write about it.
Al-Shorfa: Is it possible for you to write about the return of the "Birds of September" now?
Nasrallah: I do not believe in returning. I concluded my first novel, "Birds of September", with a sentence that says, 'We never go back to how we were before'. Going back is very hard. We come and visit, we meet our loved ones, we think about our memories but we never go back to our starting point, just as the English saying 'We never go back' goes.
The heroine of the story, Mona, says, 'I will go back to the village just as expatriates and immigrants return to say farewell and then leave.' If we come back, we are not us, but another person who has changed.
But my children surprised me this year as I celebrated my 80th birthday and "Birds of September's" 50th birthday. They invited my brothers and sister and their families to Lebanon, where they spent two weeks that included a visit to the village we all came from and where we held mass for the souls of our parents as part of our rituals and traditions.
I am a traditionalist and fond of beautiful traditions, which we [Lebanese] excel at compared to the West. I hope we continue to hold on to our family ties and the love and connection they carry with them, as happened in this surprise meeting that was chronicled by director Carol Mansour in a documentary film.
Al-Shorfa: Amongst the tens of titles you have written, which one is closest to you?
Nasrallah: I am present in every character, every page and every word I write. I do not prefer one story to another but rather love all my work equally, just as a mother equally loves all her children. If I am not convinced with what I write, I do not publish it.
Al-Shorfa: What is your opinion of today's novels in the Arab world?
Nasrallah: We have many novelists; some understood this genre and [followed its guidelines] while others misused it to entice people. Everyone is free to do as they please. Novels are a reflection of us, just like a vessel that reflects what's in it. I was and still am keen on respecting words and not cheapening them and that is important for writers.
It is important not to succumb to temptation, money and fame but rather [it is important that writers'] work reflects their writing, convictions and beliefs. This is what I am. I am a villager and a farmer who writes. I do not cheat. Farmers plant wheat, and they harvest wheat rather than weeds. This is my mentality and with this belief, I have been writing and will continue to write.