Sunday 5 February 2012

Fact From Fiction

I thought long and hard before posting this, but I think there are some issues around it that really strike to the heart of our region and some of the attitudes that shape it.

A lady has taken exception to the use of the family name Dajani in my novel Olives, which is set in Jordan and which deals with some of the issues faced by many people of Palestinian origin. This has also been a reason cited to me by distributors in Jordan who have declined to handle the book.

Olives is a novel, a work of fiction. It features a number of characters who are Jordanian and all have 'real life' Jordanian names. It would be patently ridiculous to give them Scottish names, but you would expect to see Scottish names in, say, Monarch of the Glen. And, in fact, we can see that indeed Archie MacDonald, a Scottish name, is the main character's name.

The MacDonalds are a great old Scottish family, or clan. As, indeed, are the McNabbs. But I think we can all accept our names could well be used for characters in a Scottish fiction. My own has been used, in fact, as a pseudonym by another author, a certain 'Andy McNab'. For the record, McNabs, MacNabs and McNabbs are all the same thing. It's just we're a particularly dyslexic clan. Most of the clan chieftans have been called Archibald over the years, a particular disappointment to me when I found out.

There is no malice in the act of naming characters in a book and no intent to harm or defame. It's simply something you do in the process of creating your fiction. Each and every book published in fact carries a piece of text standard in the publishing industry that asserts the fictional nature of the work which neatly hedges against a mild-mannered librarian somewhere called Hannibal Lecter taking it personally.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
And that text duly appears in Olives. Because Olives is fiction.

There is no intent to malign or otherwise slur the name of Dajani or cause any harm or hurt to the name or anyone who bears it. Because Olives is fiction. There is no reflection of my personal view of the probity, decency or indeed history of the family. Because Olives is fiction. It features a lawyer called Emad Kawar, a spy called Gerald Lynch (an Irish name for a Northern Irish character) and other Jordanian names - Arafi, Mchouarab and Shukri, for instance. I could make up 'alternames' for the characters, names that sound like Jordanian names but aren't, but it'd be a rather silly book for it and still wouldn't guard against coincidence.

I picked Dajani because it sounded right for my characters. It's a Palestinian name and the family is spread throughout the Levant (and, indeed, world), so it's common enough for this particular fictional offshoot of the family to avoid being identified as any particular 'real life' Dajanis. Because I had considered that, something that few other authors elsewhere in the world would have to give two seconds' thought to. And yet for them to 'live' in the fiction, they have to be realistic, they have to have a history like so many other Palestinian families, they have to have suffered loss and tragedy, because that's what Olives is about. Many, many families have suffered like the family depicted in Olives. Because it's about all of them, not one family's name.

The thing that struck me more than anything else was the objection was lodged before the lady had read the book. That, with so many forms of censorship and repression, is so often the case. It's the very idea of it all that's bad enough to call for a cry of 'down with this sort of thing'.
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