The Arabs at Frankfurt
By Naguib Mahfouz
A Reuters correspondent in Frankfurt asked Naguib Mahfouz: "Now that the West is hosting the Arab world at the Frankfurt International Book Fair and given that you were the first writer to place contemporary Arabic literature on the international map with your winning of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, do you think the world's outlook on Arabic literature has changed because of this?"
Said Mahfouz: "All I can say is that the world has become more aware of modern Arabic literature. The interested Western reader has always known that Arabic literature has a history dating to pre-Islamic times. But modern Arabic literature remained unfamiliar even to such readers.
"There is no doubt that after the Nobel the number of Arabic works translated to other languages greatly increased. This has heightened general awareness of contemporary Arabic literature."
The correspondent asked Mahfouz what he thought of the fact that while the Frankfurt Book Fair afforded an opportunity for the West to be introduced to Arabic culture, this also comes at a time when relations between the West and the Arab world "are at their lowest point".
Mahfouz quickly responded: "Perhaps this is exactly why this encounter is so important. East and West must engage in a humane dialogue through literature, art and the intellect, not guns and swords. The fact that Arabic culture is the guest of honour this year in Frankfurt means the West is acknowledging the Arab world. Our presence at the fair is proof that we are not what some would like to make us out to be. We have a rich and vibrant culture and we are capable of engaging in dialogue."
Based on an interview by Mohamed Salmawy.