The Emirati sci-fi novelist Noura Al Noman on Arabic versus English

The Emirati sci-fi novelist Noura Al Noman talks about her 2012 debut novel Ajwan and its forthcoming sequels.

The Emirati sci-fi novelist Noura Al Noman. Courtesy Kamran Khan
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The Emirati writer Noura Al Noman’s debut novel Ajwan, about a 19-year-old alien whose infant son is kidnapped by a shadowy militia, came out in Arabic in 2012. She’s currently finishing the sequel and has two further books planned in the series.

What has the reception to Ajwan been like?

It’s been overwhelming. I think my biggest surprise was getting emails from a Spanish student and an Italian blogger, both asking to interview me. Those interviews were picked up by bloggers in other languages, including Bulgarian, and a few months ago, two Americans and one Swiss contacted me to tell me they loved it.

Will you be publishing an English version?

I’ve translated it and it’s been ready for publication for more than a year, but I am reluctant to send it to a publisher. Too many young adults are abandoning Arabic literature and exclusively reading English; my six kids and I are a case in point. If an English version is published I suspect no one will bother to read the Arabic. I can’t decide.

Does the book have a message?

The obvious message is that in my part of the world, there are forces that exploit disenfranchised people by manipulating their emotions and their enthusiasm and making them blow themselves up, steal, kill and destroy for a cause that isn’t even theirs and only serves their leaders. I’ve also followed the lead of my favourite authors in predicting a world that celebrates diversity.

What’s your ultimate ambition?

Kids around the world waited religiously for the last instalment of Harry Potter. I want to see a day when an Arab teenager drags his or her parents to a bookstore an hour before it opens and they all stand in a long line of other teenagers, waiting for the next instalment of their favourite Arab series. Wouldn’t that be something!