She was gentle, but insistent. She wanted her views known and I had a sense there was real anger beneath the polite, genteel exterior. She had come up to me with her friend after my session together with Kamal Abdel Malek at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
Her family name was Dajani and she wanted to make her protest. I shouldn't have used her family name in my book, Olives - A Violent Romance. I should have made up a name rather than sully her family's good standing by involving them in questionable morality and terrorism.
Did I not know the family was an old and respected one?
I had talked about the controversies of Olives during the session - the discussion around the behaviour of my characters in their setting and the confusion between fact and fiction. I told my visitor family names are commonly used in fiction, that books all over the world contain characters with real names not made up ones. She didn't believe me; her friend assured her that yes, books did indeed use real names. But her family name is respected. It has standing, watani.
Watani is a funny thing. It's sort of nationalistic, a passion for one's country. As a quality, it could be part of whatever it is that goes into a 'good name'.
But this is fiction. It is precisely because it was a big and common name, found in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, California and Brisbane. Would you really balk at calling one of your characters Smith in case the Smiths felt slighted? But this is not just a name. It is a family. And actually, I think my Dajanis are rather admirable. That's what they are in the book - the heroes of it. They represent a narrative, that of the Palestinians. Pick another Palestinian family to bear the burden of your book. Have you read it? Part of it (this is Arabic for 'No I haven't'). You should change the name. But it's pointless. If I made up names, I'd be the English author who doesn't know any Arab names and makes up silly sounding ones that aren't realistic. If I renamed the family Dalani, everyone would still know it was Dajani. Besides, there are Dajanis who thoroughly agree with the book and are proud their family name is in it. And I think they're just as guilty of conflating fact and fiction as my interlocutor.
It's no use, I'm never going to convince her, neither she me. She made her protest and I accepted it.