The Lebanese author unveils her debut novel this month
Despite its theme of war, Dania El Kadi’s debut novel, Summer Blast, is a light-hearted read. The central character, Maya, is planning her wedding and Rouba is finalising her divorce. Elyssar, on the other hand, is about to make a lifelong dream come true – to see Madonna in concert. But as trivial as these everyday dreams may seem, they are frighteningly unattainable with the outbreak of war, and the female protagonists try to find ways around their fate.
Are there any deeper themes conveyed through the story? The characters have the same concerns as women everywhere else: friendship, love, family, career, and so on. But because they are from Lebanon, politics dictates many areas of their lives, so the story touches on bigger issues such as armed conflict, women’s rights and the relationship between the Middle East and the West.
You were born in the US but grew up in Beirut. What fascinates you about the Middle East? The modern Middle East is a land of contrasts. It is home to very conservative countries as well as places like the UAE and Qatar, which have cutting-edge infrastructures. Beirut is fascinating because it always feels like it’s on the brink of another war, yet it has one of the most lively nightlife scenes in the world. History is palpable everywhere you go, from Egypt to Jordan and Syria. Unfortunately, we’ve let the conflicts define who we are, but the region is full of vibrant cultures and young people who have a lot to offer the global community.
How does your subject matter relate to a Western audience? I posted some excerpts online and they were met with two kinds of reactions from Western readers. The first was that it was refreshing to see a different face to the people of the Middle East. The second seemed to expect that books about Arab women should only talk about social repression or portray them as victims. In a way I was happy with their reaction, because that’s the kind of stereotype I’d like to challenge. Yes, there’s a lot of injustice with regards to women in the Arab world, but a lot of us are as empowered and people should hear our side of the story as well.
Do you think you give a voice to the Lebanese woman? I am one voice among many others. Amazing female Lebanese writers such as Hanan Al Shaykh are getting global recognition. There are also many women journalists as well as bloggers and cartoonists. Technology is doing wonders in terms of getting us heard, whereas traditional media channels are more difficult to crack and often portray a one-dimensional image of women.
Your central character flees to Dubai in the midst of her divorce. Do you think Dubai is seen as a safe haven in the Middle East? I lived in Dubai for seven years and it gave me opportunities I couldn’t have had elsewhere. I’m a woman from an ethnic minority in a tiny, war-riddled country, so I thought my options in life would be limited. Yet because I came to Dubai, I was able to build a career and have grown tremendously as a person. That’s why I love this city and why many people see it as a safe haven. It has set an example in growth and development in the Arab world.