Author ‘Dilshad’ nominated by Ipaf for her 500-page epic that depicts Oman in the 20th century

The early to mid-20th century was a turbulent time in Oman’s history.

The country was ravaged by a mercurial regime as well as a series of conflicts that culminated in the Dhofar Rebellion in 1963, a civil war that ended 14 years later with the consolidation of the state under Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.

Amid the unrest, poverty and hunger have spread.

Omani author Bushra Khalfan excavated the dominant scars of hunger in her novel Dilhad, shortlisted for the 2022 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The 500-page epic opens at the turn of the 20th century before encompassing three generations of the Dilshad family in Muscat and Mutrah.

The novel’s titular protagonist and the namesake of the family, Dilshad, grew up in a poor Balochi neighborhood in Oman’s port capital. ‘Dilshad is a well-known Baloch name,’ says Khalfan The National. “But the protagonist is not directly inspired by any real figure. I completely molded him in fiction and to adapt the story to the novel.

The novel is as much about Dilshad as it is about his descendants, a generation of intelligent and stoic women, including Mariam “who face life and its pain with resounding laughter”, Khalfan said, in an interview with Ipaf, after the announcement of the preselection. Laughter, in her novel, is a reaction to debilitating pain and confusion, she said. “A tool to face misery in its different forms, a way to face death, loss, sadness, misery and hunger.”

Dilshad is the second novel by Khalfan, author of nine books including collections of poetry and short stories, and revisits a period that the author explored in his first work Al Bagh, which takes place during the Jebel Akhdar war and the Dhofar rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Dilshad stands out for the themes it explores, which are often unexplored,” says Khalfan. “The polyphony of voices used in the novel was also a new literary challenge for me.”

Khalfan spent considerable time researching the Baloch language and culture, while working on the novel. The research took place in two phases, first in a library followed by conversations with Baloch women, especially older people who could recount the oral folklore.

“Popular tales are one of the ways of approaching the culture of any society and its contextual references. They reflect society’s view of itself, its value and its most important characteristics, real and imagined, both good and bad,” she told Ipaf.

“Furthermore, through these tales, we can gain insight into the material and psychological state of this society. For this reason, I have used folk tales in Dilshad say what I wanted about cultures, without falling into the trap of writing a report. They also allowed me to highlight the richness of these many cultures.

In the novel, hunger is described as a disease that infects the blood. Its bodily symptoms may disappear, but its psychological effects linger, “deep and hidden.”

“In this hunger dungeon, societies develop in a certain way, due to scarcity and the struggle to stay alive, and social classes are formed as a result,” Khalfan said. “Hunger leads to diseases that can only be cured after years of full stomachs.”

Several of the characters in the novel, male and female, are orphans, yearning for the tenderness of a mother. Khalfan said she’s always been keen to explore the concept and realities of motherhood.

“The subject of motherhood is important to me. Motherhood not only in its biological meaning or role, but in the way it is the origin or the source of everything, how it is reflected in the relationship of peoples with the nation and with their culture of origin.

Muscat being a port city, located on the Gulf of Oman, the sea also has a seminal presence in Dilhad, worked with contradictory symbolism.

“The sea is absence, new opportunity, adventure with its latent challenges. It is a new breath of life thanks to the changes of time and place.

Following Dilshadof Hunger Excavation, Khalfan is working on a sequel title, which will examine the state of satiety. The protagonist of the novel will be Farida, daughter of Mariam Dilshad.

“I don’t know where Farida is going to take us, but I can say with confidence that I know her well and know that she is Mariam Dilshad’s daughter, and anyone who has known Mariam can imagine what Farida will be like in part two. of Dilshad.”

Updated: May 25, 2022, 3:02 p.m.

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Lola R. McClure