One of my main objectives in becoming a publisher was to publish books of Middle Eastern interest, which we did and continue to do comprehensively, but also to promote Arab culture that had been so long ignored in the West.
Historically the Arabs of ancient times contributed to the fields of science, medicine, mathematics and the arts. The eclipse of their contribution was largely due to the colonising powers, which for centuries suppressed knowledge of their cultural evolution and almost destroyed the resulting heritage.
Tribal strife was another key factor, impeding progress and diverting attention to more mundane pursuits which stifled learning and higher ideals.
There remained, however, a rich crop of emerging writers whose work deserved recognition in the West, and especially in the English-speaking world.
I was determined to do my part in having the output translated into English to stand alongside Quartet’s already well-regarded international list, made up of sometimes obscure or newly discovered talent together with established writers. Although, from the commercial perspective, it is often unrealistic to expect good financial returns in the short term, the inclusion of books emanating from or relating to the Middle East has enabled Quartet to extend its frontiers to a readership in areas hitherto unknown to it.
Leaving politics on one side, our Arab contribution in fiction is substantial.
A recent example is King by Riad Nourallah, which we published a few months back.
A prince in pre-Islamic Arabia must leave his carefree life to avenge the murder of his father by a rival Arab tribe allied to Persia. Betrayed from within and without, he travels to Constantinople, the ‘New Rome’, where, at the imperial court of Justinian and Theodora, he pleads for political and military support… Presenting a wide spectrum of settings and characters, this epic novel addresses issues like war and peace, tyranny and freedom, and the clash and reconciliation of cultures and faiths; but it is also a very bold and uninhibited celebration of life and the joys and challenges of the physical world and human relationships.
Riad Nourallah’s academic diversity is outstanding. His book, The Death of Almustafa, where the hero of Gibran’s The Prophet lives again – also published by Quartet Books in 2010 – was a rich and moving allegory on modern Western values seeking to compromise more ancient traditions.
Riad is Director of Research at the London Academy of Diplomacy, University of East Anglia. He has an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He has taught at the American University of Beirut and the universities of Cambridge, Salford, the United Arab Emirates, Durham, and Westminster.
I urge anybody who cares for literature to buy a copy of both. You won’t be disappointed. On the contrary, you’ll be enthralled to have had an intimate peep into one of the world’s great civilisations, and also be a party to one of the most influential philosophers of modern times, Khalil Gibran.