I was told of the death of Riad Nourallah, a most gentle and accomplished academic, poet and writer, just a few days ago. He was an extraordinary scholar and visionary in so much of his writing. Quartet was privileged to publish two of his works: a novel, King, and what I consider an exceptional piece of imaginative writing that created the possible responses of Almustafa, the hero of Gibran’s The Prophet, facing his own death, but answering the questions put to him by the people of ‘Orphalese’ – a metaphor for America, a country Riad knew well.
‘Strive, rather, for the quality of your life instead of its length and for its fellowships instead of its conquests. For a brief life, and Life is never brief, that has merit in it is better than a long one without benefit to one’s soul or to others. And a man carrying the weight but not the wisdom of years will plead to be delivered of his freight.’
Full of insight, empathy and comfort, Riad’s soaring poetic and elegant prose is perfectly completed by the original drawings of Clare Allen. As a remembrance of a remarkable man, it remains an ideal testament to his gentle, life-enhancing talents.
It’s not the first time I’ve recounted the glories of Riad’s writing on my blog: The first time was on December 6 2013, when I wrote:
Riad Nourallah is a brilliant academic. He’s the 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 Cambridge University. I first met him about four years ago and since that most promising encounter Quartet published two of his books. The first was The Death of Almustafa, where the hero of Gibran’s The Prophet lives again.
In a dramatic and rich narrative, Almustafa faces up to his mortality and to questions on life and death put to him by the people of Orphalese, a metaphor for America. In the course of this great challenge, Almustafa is buffeted by memories of his past and torn between his own fear of death and his undying faith in the resilience and endurance of life. His responses celebrate life and art in their infinite manifestations, offering a message of courage and hope. Daring and thoughtful, the book serves as an eternal and poetic testament to Almustafa’s universal and practical wisdom.
Since Gibran has always been my unparalleled hero, I felt the book more than paid credit to the memories and genius of the man who is worshipped throughout the cultural world for his wisdom and deep perceptions of human frailties in a light and dimension seldom perceived by others.
Although the book was hardly reviewed at the time of its publication in 2010, I believe that its full worth and impact, as with other great books, will in generations to come gain its true acknowledgement as a work of great creativity to which Gibran himself, were he living, would no doubt give it his seal of approval. If you happen to be a Gibran disciple, then Nourallah’s book is a masterful study you can ill afford to ignore.
And again on September 10 2014, I wrote:
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. Impeccable credentials!
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.
Both books are still in print and copies are available from our website.