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Knowing Oman through its literature beyond the grasp of expats


Since the start of last Ramadhan, I didn’t get the chance to sit and read (thanks to the kittens I’d adopted. Will write you all about them very soon!).

Feeling guilty as I’d trained myself to finish at least 2 books each month, I decided to compensate by reading Arabic books (faster to read, being in my mother tongue!). So, I picked 2 books by the well-known Omani writer, Sulaiman al Maamari.

Sulaiman is a talented writer who’d published different books: novels, short stories and studies.

He also has a radio programme called the young reader, where he interviews children who love reading and discuss with them the latest book they’ve read.

Many people I know enjoy listening to him and loves his patience and ability to converse with the young readers.

I started with a book called: the creatures of A’radah, which is the town that Sulaiman comes from.

In this book, Sulaiman sheds light on his life growing up in A’radah.

The book is divided into chapters that discuss different characters that shaped Sulaiman’s memory.

For example, Shozet the Bengali barber that lived for 27 years in A’radah and died there.

Or Shahad his niece who Sulaiman loves dearly.

Or Anwar the farmer that works for Sulaiman’s father.

The book is a thin one (100 pages only) but was a joy to read.

The characters were well described that makes you feel that you’d met them before.

The second book I picked was a novel that’s called: He who doesn’t like Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The main character of the book is an Egyptian language editor called Bessyuni, who works in a fictional Omani newspaper called The Evening.

One day he falls into a coma after seeing the ghost of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the man who he hates most.

The following chapters are a testimony of Bessyuni’s colleagues that reveals his true character.

From remembering different situations, to trying to analyse his unexplainable hatred of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the most controversial president the Arab world has known.

Bessyuni appears to be the most unpopular character in the newspaper, yet there are moments where the reader can easily empathise with him.

Other than the funny conversations and situations described by the characters, Sulaiman describes in details the atmosphere of working in a local newspaper.

Furthermore, the characters are smartly interlinked in different circumstances within the testimony which makes the narration smooth.

The book is one of the best books I’ve read by an Omani author.

What I liked most is the easy language it’s written in — which is something you don’t always find in Omani books.

Unfortunately, many writers here tend to use complicated language that targets the intellectuals and not the mainstream readers.

The more complicated the language used, the smarter the writer appears.

Sulaiman has a satirical sense of humour combined with an expertise in the world of publishing, which makes the book a real page turner and a joy to read.

It’s unfortunate that good books like these don’t get translated into English.

Expats in Oman only get to read historical books (mainly focusing on Zanzibar). What about books that sheds light on our modern culture and society? There are a few good Omani books that are worth translating and knowing about.

The problem doesn’t stop at translation but exceeds to distribution.

Speaking from experience, local bookshops like Borders and WHSmith are impossible to access.

How then would readers know and buy Omani books? I really wish that such problems get sorted out magically, as many expat readers would love to discover Omani culture through local literature.

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of:

The World According to Bahja.

Rasha al Raisi

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