Nobody writes the Basha

gouna cat
Sandy, on window sill, watching me write

Yesterday was tremendously exciting; I did absolutely nothing except read alternating pages of John Fante’s Ask the Dust and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.

But I stopped reading at page 14 with Exit, yet continued reading the next 80 pages of Dust. I plan on finishing that book today.

So why one, and not the other?


Fante is an American writer archetype; while Hamid is a Pakistani brand consultant, who nevertheless was treading on literary turf that I should have claimed as mine, long ago, and would have, except for the troubles.

And now here he comes, with his knowing Wall Street ways, his contrived interstitial plot devices, his arrogant contempt of all things American, and I seethed.

That was supposed to be me, you Penguin!

I was to be the Otherness literary mega giant from America; the first to get there (if you ignore the cannon, that is) with his classic New York City immigrant opus, Gum Arabic, the one and still the only truly Great Arab American novel, published in the 70s, the one that won all the literary awards there are to win, the one that cemented an unmatched reputation, which inevitably lead many literary critics to characterize its author as the reclusive Rushdie of Arabia, and Page 6 rags as the incredibly handsome young literary Arabian genius, with the gorgeous, wild American young girlfriend of patrician stock; a lionized writer who of course would go on to pull a Salinger, and disappear in the ruins of an abandoned Roman topaz mine in the Red Sea desert mountains behind El Gouna, Egypt, this after publishing Gum Arabic, his first and only novel, and who became The One to whom later modern Arab (but of course far inferior) writers who choose to write fiction in English — Lalami, Haddad, Almeddine, and all the others — would pay literary obeisance to, for having presciently blazed the path they would all follow with such post-deconstructivist, sexually-adventurous, hyphenated panache.

And so I set out to find fault in everything about Exit West, in particular, its plastic, manufactured main protags. Saeed and Nadia, who seem to have been generated by a calculatingly dystopic novel writing Android app released on Google Play by some junior Tata developer obsessed with senior sex and in particular prolapsing uteri.

No, Fante was my man, the one who anticipated all the themes in Gum Arabic — the classic young doomed writer with the foreign sounding name, his low class but beautiful girlfriend whom he would meet in a seedy Manhattan dive joint, the novel’s incredible culmination in the pitch black tunnels beneath Grand Central, where the writer would survive in brutal desperation amidst all the mole people, navigating the rat-infested, neon-lit subway tunnels every night in search of booze, provisional sex, a mirage muse, his unresolved bluish Identity, and of course the Long Lost Lenore, a trope he hung on to for at least a decade, until he could no longer be considered “young” in the pickup bars and still evincing “promise” as his looks went down the toilet. Such dark days and nights, them were, until he watched Sunset Boulevard at the Village Cinema on retro midnight Friday and resolved to find his own Nora Desmond… .

Then I discovered on YouTube Robert Towne’s (of Chinatown fame) last feature, Eat the Dust, starring bad boy Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek — the full version I might add, can you believe that! And I also found out that one can even read, via the unholy miracle that is the Internet, the full text of Marquez’ No One Writes the Colonel right here, another book whose premise I can easily ID with, and have been meaning to read for years, but for those tired, crutch-excuse-for-being-a-failed-writer troubles.

Life in Gouna is not so much as it should be, but as you make it to be. Today, it appears there will be much rizk by way of good reading and free streaming of cult films, Allah willing, and the enduring self delusion that nobody, but nobody, outwrites the Basha.

leaving america



We are all Palestinians

Recycling urns in Abu Tig Marina, in El Gouna, Egypt

The Arab world is agog over Trumps’s plan to announce Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The president of Egypt has rightfully called Trump to warn him of the consequences of this dangerous action, as have numerous other Arab and Muslim leaders. The EU has also condemned the move; even Haaretz has come out against it.

Sadly, the truth is that this announcement is nothing new; in fact, it is recycled old news.

The facts are as follows:

  1. Except for 1956, the United States has always been 100 % behind Israel;
  2. Congress passed a law in 1995 declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel;
  3. President Obama showered Bibi with the largest military aid package in history, in hopes of pushing forward a 2-state solution, and failed due to Israeli intransigence;
  4. The Israeli government has relentlessly pushed its West Bank settlement and annexation policy for decades.

That the West Bank if now part of Israel is a de facto reality; instead of trying for the impossible, perhaps we should listen to what some Palestinians have to say.

For instance, I recall a conversation I had a decade ago, at the Tribeca FIlm Festival, with Mohammed Bakri, the veteran Palestinian actor/director. He vehemently opposed the two state solution, arguing for working within the Israeli system, with the help of the International community, to fight for Palestinian rights.

Certainly demographics and the anti-apartheid stand of the EU would support this view.

In a single state model, Israel would of course one day cease to be a Jewish majority state — unless it was prepared to permanently adopt internal policies that would make it even more of a pariah on the global stage than it is today.

But such a position may be tenable in the short run — so long as Christian evangelicals, right-wing plutocrats, and the Jewish lobby continue to call the shots in Washington.

But American demographics, too, are rapidly changing, and the prospect of a major upheaval in the United States in the next few years is likely.

Such is the long view, one that Trump is likely to care little about: this Jerusalem announcement, whatever its specifics, is but the latest deliberate shiny object distraction from the Muller inquiry and the grotesque Republican tax bill he is about to sign.

But should Israel really bank on the permanent ascendance of the US right to guarantee its long-term existential security in a region of the world where it is loathed for what is has done to the Palestinian people?

Is that the smart move?

We live in a time of massive change.

Lines are being drawn, dystopian scenarios are now common in political non fiction as well as serious literature, with Exit West by Mohsin Hamid being the latest example.

As for Bakri, he continues to make movies, and is currently starring in Annemarie Jacir’s Wajib, her third, and latest, submission to the foreign-language Oscar category. Palestinian voices will never be extinguished, and global historical currents are unlikely to allow the disturbed ravings of a perverted American gangster capitalist to permanently decide how the ultimate fate of Palestine pans out.

Donald Trump, his right-wing supporters, and Bibi Netanyahu and his ilk are relics of a corrupt, ugly past.

The future does not belong to them, but, blinded with hubris, they may be unwittingly digging their own political graves in Jerusalem.

leaving america