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This is Book Reader's Review with Fares Aoun, author of Jerusalem Spring. Care to Read My Review? I used two words that, for me, describe how I felt about Fares' book...Powerful and Brilliant. These words both came to me as I finished the book...Powerful Story...Brilliant Presentation of That Powerful Story... I went further and said it was a must-read. This is based upon my opinion that this world must have many more books like this so that what Fares is saying...begins to sink in! My hope is that the right people read it!
First, Let's Get A Little Background...
Fares, Where are you from?
- I was born and raised in a beach town on the Mediterranean, north of the capital, Beirut, in Lebanon. I moved to the US when I was 30 years old and eventually became a US citizen. So I consider myself Lebanese American.
When did you start writing?
- I did not write much before Jerusalem Spring. It is my first real adventure. A lot of my family and friends were surprised when we shared the news of my book with them.
I knew this was your first book, but with little "practice" background, you obviously have a talent for it! When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
- I had an idea I had been discussing for some time with my wife, Sonja. I said to her that someone should turn it into a book or a movie. And her response was, “Start writing.” It wasn’t clear to me that I could do it. But with the encouragement of Sonja saying to me, “If you are enjoying it, do it” and my trust in her that she will be frank with me and tell me what she really thinks about the book, I was able to do it. I was sure about my idea and the message that I have. So I started writing, and Sonja started guessing the end until we finished. And I say we, because without Sonja I never would have tried to write.
My understanding is that, then, it was your own thoughts, with a little nudging from your wife, that brought your book to us!- I got the story idea from knowing what is going on in the Middle East and what I learned about segregation in the 1960s in the US. And I couldn’t stop making the comparison when I would hear something on NPR and the news from the Middle East.
Ahhh, the 60s, we did get into some major issues during that decade. You hadn't thought of writing a book, but if your wife thought you could do it, she must have seen something from what she learned living with you! Once started, did writing come natural to you or was it something that you had to work on?
- I had the general idea and started imagining the stories and it built itself in a way. It wasn’t easy and I had to rewrite a lot. (Before I forget, I have to say thanks for every friend and family member that had a part in reviewing the book before it was ready. They all gave me interesting points. Leslie, Marilyn, Nidale, Rena, Elsy, Maria, Khaled…
Thanks to our friends...we all push each other for excellence. Assuming that the writing bug has bit you...Do you see your future writing come from your life or from other people?
- I’m not sure I can write about my life. And I didn’t do it in “Jerusalem Spring”. I think it will keep me more objective, especially when I’m writing about a sensitive subject. But for sure my experience had a big influence on the subject. And that could be part of my life. So for the moment I think I will continue writing in the same way.
Did you go to school for writing?
- No I did not. I’m a fine arts major (painting and sculpture).
Do you ever think you would have consider a series?
- I hope I could turn my book into a series one day, especially after getting some good reactions about my book from people who got the chance to read it. Some of them asked when I will have my second book.
Who were the people or person that inspired you to write?
- It’s not a person -- it’s the people who are suffering and don’t have a voice. So I tried to be their voice by telling their stories.
How many different drafts of the manuscript did you go through before you published?
- I have to check with Sonja, she has a better memory. But I think three times if we don’t count the small changes.
What kind of environment do you prefer when you’re writing?
- Late at night will be my best time. And I have to say I get a lot of ideas in my long commute.
What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
- I never knew that it would be this hard to get a book ready. And it’s much harder to get published. But if you believe in your story and like writing it. for sure it will get the attention that you want.
How do you feel about writing now that your book is out?
- I didn’t have much time to consider it when I was younger. I always liked to be out and active. But after writing I can see the pleasure and the joy of doing it. I never imagined it like that.
What made you finally decide to be a writer?
- I had a story I wanted to tell and I felt I had to tell it. A lot of my American friends asked me about the situation in the Middle East and they needed an explanation. And it’s never easy to do it in a 10- 15 min conversation. And for sure not in one book either. But I felt the need to express my point of view and put my message out for people who ask the same questions my friends did.
What is your favorite part and least favorite part about being a writer?
- Least favorite is every time I had to ask Sonja to check and edit after me. With her work and our 2 kids we really didn’t have the time for it. The best thing is that we did it together and it was a really good time.
What did you do when you got stuck in writing Jerusalem Spring?
- I stopped. I didn’t have much choice but the next day I could have an idea about what to do.
How did you become knowledgeable about the topic you wanted to write about?
- I’m a news junkie and NPR has a good role. WAMU is my company for 2 hours every day as I drive to work, if not more. And I’m lucky being Lebanese-American and speaking three languages that I get the news from 2 – 3 sources and get the chance to hear about the different interests of both cultures.
Did you ever wanted to quit? What did you do when that thought struck you?
- I didn’t get the feeling of quitting with “Jerusalem Spring.” I had most of the ideas in my head. I was really tired from the publishing process. But Sonja was next to me. So I would go back and try again. And by the way I didn’t tell anyone but Sonja about the book until I had it almost ready.
I tend to be like that myself...I've started to write several nonfiction books, but have become so emotional, that I couldn't proceed...so I would never share about them until they were close to printing! What are you working on now?
- I have an idea I’m working on. But it’s still just an idea – it has barely taken shape yet. When it’s ready you will be the first to know.
I look forward to hearing that a new book is soon out...Anything else for the future?
- Other than writing I’m looking to see if I can get my book into the movie theaters. So I’m looking for a way to do that. And if anyone can help I would really appreciate it!
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment to date...although I'm pretty sure of the answer...
- I’ve done a lot of things in my life. But “Jerusalem spring” is my biggest.
Can we find you anywhere online? Where?
How do you feel about social site marketing, is it beneficial to your present marketing? Do you see yourself continuing?
I think it’s a great way to build a grass-roots or word of mouth following, but I do find that it takes a lot of time. But it’s wonderful to be able to engage a reader directly and speak with them so easily via social media. It’s exciting for me to hear from readers and I appreciate it so much when they take time to write to me or post a review online. I’ll definitely continue those efforts.
And now, let's get a little into your story, if I may? You decided to write your book based upon what was happening in today's world. Could you elaborate specifically about that for us please...
We all recognize all kinds of discrimination that happen around us. And for us in the US and in the western world we've made a lot of progress but we need to do more. But it’s not the case in many places in the world. I want to present a fair picture of what is going on in the Middle East (specifically, Jerusalem) in terms of the conflict there and how it’s affecting people in their everyday lives. I think if people know the details of a situation they will understand peoples' actions better. I didn’t want to defend or judge anyone's actions. I wanted to present the situation like it is. And to do that I thought the best way to present my idea was by relating it to something my readers would know about. From here I got the idea of starting the story from the 1960’s in the American South and relating it to the present day, but set in Jerusalem.
Something else interesting that came to my attention later on was that the segregation in the US ended around the same time the major conflicts started in the Middle East. And it's weird how much we've accomplished in the US in the last 60 years, yet the situation has gotten worse in the Middle East and a lot of people still suffer from it.
Fares, in my opinion, we still have far to go in America as well...we may have the rules and regulations in place, but, as you know, many individuals are personally affected by actions of others on any given day!
As you know I was intrigued and impressed with your method in writing your novel, how did that come about?
I had the idea in my mind of the comparison I wanted to make, but couldn’t decide how to do it. I started to write anyway, but the idea of dividing the story in 2 parts wasn’t in my mind at all. After struggling with how to present it I got more ideas, but I still wasn’t happy with it. At some point I finally got the idea. But really I can’t remember exactly when and how I did it.
Well, however it came about, it resulted in a brilliant idea--I don't think I have ever been as impacted although I don't want to say anymore! LOL Can I deduce from your novel that you feel much of what is happening in today's world is racial? If not, then...
Race is part of who we are. For sure it is a factor. Same for ethnicity. But in the 21st century we -- all humanity -- should be doing much more to have a world that is just and fair.
Everything that is going on in terms of racism, sexism, prejudice based on ethnicity, religion ... all these things should be rejected. We can’t pick what to let happen because it’s far way or it’s not in our best interest to get involved or stop an injustice. This issue affects the lives of millions of people around the world. We should care, but we shouldn’t stop at just being concerned. We should do something about it.
Was the choice of race for the first part of your book based upon something in particular...and what?
Yes. You can say that. And the first thing that sparked the choice was the story of Rosa Parks I didn't know it until I heard it on NPR after moving here. And it made me remember the story that I read in BBC News about a similar incident in Jerusalem. Here are the links
Do you think of yourself as prejudice? Have you found yourself prejudicial based upon others actions toward your own people?
I don’t like to talk much about myself or especially to say how I am. I prefer the readers, or people who know me, to give their honest opinion.
But if I have to answer, I will say no, I’m not prejudiced. Or at least I hope that I’m not and try not to be. My life experiences in Lebanon and the civil war affected me like it did many of my fellow Lebanese. But I was very lucky to have my parents guiding me and my siblings in the right way of thinking. They played a very important role in the hardest time someone can imagine. Now I’m a parent of 2 and I feel how hard it is to raise a family even in the best conditions. And I image how hard it was for my parents to do it. With six kids in a civil war and not many resources … I can never thank them enough. And I feel that I should be doing more to protect the victims in every conflict or situation.
Back to the question about my people. The situation in Lebanon was crazy at the time of the war. Lebanese had to fight with Palestinians, Syrians, Israelis ... and between themselves. After some point you feel that there is something wrong. You can’t be enemies with everyone. You can’t only blame the other. And for sure you can’t be prejudiced against yourself. And that made me think and understand that people's actions always have some explanation (that doesn’t mean I agree with all of them) but maybe I can try to understand them. And when you're removed from the situation and you look at it from a distance like my case now living in the US and following the news from afar, I can be more objective. Still I didn’t write about the Lebanese war because I’m not sure I can be objective enough. I need more time before I can consider it.
Why did you make the head of the prison white? This is not meant to be a trick question.
I didn’t write a historical book, and it is a novel, so I wanted more tension to make the story more dramatic. But most of what goes on in the Novel is based in some way on actual facts. I needed the head of the prison to be white to show the segregation more clearly.
For me, being white, I highlighted the question that it only takes one individual--no matter what race--to try to improve things. I think your husband/wife characters do an excellent job of being strong enough to take a stand...as we all must if we want the world to change.
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Fares. I wish you best wishes for spreading the word you give the world in Jerusalem Spring!