Friday, 9 January 2015

Book Review: Jamila's Thread And Other Stories

Jamila's Thread is a lovely little book to hold in your hand, it truly is. It's almost enough to make me give up my 'a book is about the words, not the physical form' argument in favour of ebooks. As booky books go, it's very sweet.

It's a tiny little thing, really - we're looking at 100 pages of pocket-book format set in large type. It's a collection of ten short stories that set out to rediscover the beauty of the traditional folk tales of the Middle East and North Africa and comes from Project Pen. With illustrations as richly Arabesque and fantastical as the stories they adorn, it's truly a pleasure to read.


Project Pen is a Jordanian collective - incubated by Oasis500 - that aims to create a next generation of storytellers and encourage the development of new forms of narrative and literary expression. They've got up to all sorts of shenanigans in their journey to challenge, explore and discover the somewhat moribund world of story-telling in the Middle East. This, their latest project, is probably the most culturally valuable because, in my humble opinion, it has the power to inspire others to follow in its path.

The stories are simply told and themselves are simple enough. Jamila, the star of the show, is an ill-fated little girl, the most beautiful of seven lovely daughters born to a cursed family. The only way to lift the curse is to banish Jamila and so her fate is set, to be eventually determined by two reels of thread, one gold; one silver.

The resolution of her story is clearly set from the first word: this is a world where wrongs are righted and justice is done. Cynics will clearly need to leave their shoes at the door. But every one of these tales has a wealth to offer that you won't find in the empty, research-driven world of Frozen or Tangled. These are stories from a world where the magical is a wide-eyed possibility, not a revenue opportunity from an untapped demographic.

This is a book to enjoy if you want to find a few moments of serenity and spend a while in a Middle East we've all left behind - a world of ogres and djinn, fairytale princes and envious neighbours who have the power to turn boys into bulls. It's a beautiful little collection to read to your children at night and a tiny inspiration for story-tellers in the Middle East who thought there was no outlet for their work, for their first steps into a new world of imagination shared - a baby step in the direction of rediscovering the region's love of narrative and creative story-telling.

In its Arabic edition, it's called 'Abou Alfoul'. It should be on the shelves of all good booksellers in Dubai in February, as well as on Kindle and iBooks.

And I really would commend it most highly...

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