Headscarf: The day Turkey stood still. My writing approaches to enlighten the Western reader

Richard Peres

My three years of living in Turkey, researching and writing Headscarf: The Day Turkey Stood Still, was a transformative experience. With each passing month my preconceived notions of the Middle East and generalities about Islam were shed, replaced by a more complex and nuanced reality of cultural practices, religion and politics. Each day I involuntarily compared and contrasted America and Turkey, discovering stark differences and strong commonalities at every turn. These insights were helpful in my writing and research, as I tried to enlighten Western readers via a recent event in Turkish politics relating to Islam and religious freedom.

However, during my visits home the opposite occurred. A mere half-day trip on Turkish Airlines immersed me in a different world coloured in broad powerful strokes by the entertainment media. Zero Dark Thirty grossed more than $100 million and received many film industry awards; similarly, the television series Homeland garnered many plaudits from critics and was highly popular. Both works seemed to personify Huntington’s Clash of Civilization thesis of twenty years ago in which he noted that the fundamental problem for the West was Islam. Since 9/11 the ‘thesis’ is exacerbated in a context where the mainstream media in the West typically employs language rife with negative connotations and misnomers, particularly relating to Islam when reporting on the MENA region.

How can we as students, teachers and contributors to the field of Middle Eastern Studies counteract this trend that is fueled by a flood of communication? If I limit myself to the communication world only, for one thing, relevant academic writing in the field of Middle Eastern Studies should also benefit and influence a world that is for the most part clearly non-academic. Put another way, academics are not going to help the world much if they mainly talk to each other and do not interact effectively with the rest of the world, a world that is rife with religious prejudice and political conflicts along the secular-religious divide.

I also suggest that MENA scholars, in extending their sphere of influence in their academic lives making their works accessible to non-scholars in language and writing style, should take part in activities, conferences, presentations, and publications that go beyond the academic world. Garnet does that also by its multiple imprints. We have our differences, for sure, but the cultural–religious–political conflicts that exist in the world are far greater and more dangerous.

The challenge seems overwhelming because the CNN commentator who fuels post-9/11 prejudices with sloppy descriptors when reporting on an uprising in Egypt, for example, reaches more people in a few minutes than a hundred or perhaps thousand academic lifetimes.

Another communication approach is to consider the human component in research and writing regardless of the extent to which one’s work is based on data collection and analysis. In Headscarf: The Day Turkey Stood Still I increasingly focused on humanizing and personalizing the experience of Merve Kavakci, the first headscarved woman elected to the Turkish Parliament, because I was struck by the vast gap between her vilified public persona on the part of secularists and Kemalists in Turkey, and the kind, educated and sympathetic person I knew. Not unlike Islamaphobic people in the West, they viewed her as a fundamentalist, radical Islamist and agent provocateur when, in fact, she only wanted to take the seat to which she was duly elected. Would this approach negate her venomous image among half of the Turkish population? While it’s difficult to counter simple notions with complexity, I adhered to my approach. Even when I got the chance to explain my book in person to those who disliked her, I was pressed hard to overcome their skepticism.

A further approach for MENA scholars is a simple but oft-forgotten one: always define your terms. I think the most misused terms regarding the MENA region is ‘Islamist’, i.e. a devotee of ‘Islamism’, meaning political Islam. In Wikipedia there are 17 definitions of Islamism and, in fact, dozens of other variations based on different degrees of incorporating Islam in the political sphere and support for a myriad of Islamic philosophers and political leaders over the ages. The Prime Minister of Israel refers to the Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and his party as Islamist and yet Erdogan advocated a secular government during a recent visit to Egypt, which was greeted with jeering from the crowd, and during his ten-year rule has not implemented any aspect of so-called Sharia law. The term without further definition and explication has the same meaninglessness as ‘Christianist’ when referring to the Democratic Party in the US or the Labor Party in England.

Until our academic publications regularly become ‘best-selling movies’, we can play a significant role making this a more peaceful world by fine-tuning our approach to communications.



Worldwide success forThe Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

ImageFollowing huge success in the English speaking market, the Pontas Literary Agency has announced that The Almond Tree by first-time author Michelle Cohen Corasanti will now also be available in Spanish, Catalan, and Norwegian.

Norwegian rights to The Almond Tree have just been acquired by Schibsted Forlag, the Norwegian publishers of well-known authors such as Khaled Hosseini, Kate Morton and Victoria Hislop. Editor Inger Marit Hansen said:

‘We have read The Almond Tree and we simply love it! It’s such a beautiful and strong story – and it made me cry several times. We will do our best to make sure that this beautiful novel gets all the readers it deserves.’

Shortly before the 2013 London Book Fair, world Spanish rights to the book were sold at auction to Ediciones B, one of the five largest Spanish language publishers, who also has a strong presence in Latin America. They will publish The Almond Tree under their literary imprint Bruguera, which publishes a range of renowned UK and US authors such as Lisa See and P. D. James. Carol París, Foreign Fiction Editor for Ediciones B, commented:

‘It has been a long time since a book struck me so hard. (…) It is an honest novel. There is no death or tragedy in it that leaves you indifferent or that comes across as sensationalist. (…) I felt captured from the first moment by her voice and her style. It is an honest story, exciting, with touching moments… It addresses a subject which is always present. A novel that shows pain, but also hope.’

Simultaneously, Catalan rights for The Almond Tree were sold to Amsterdam Llibres, an independently owned imprint of Ara Llibres. This imprint publishes a very varied list from literary to commercial, and includes Khaled Hosseini amongst its stable of successful authors. Commenting on the acquisition, Izaskun Arretxe, Editor and Director of Ara Llibres, said:

‘Last night I could hardly sleep. I am excited. From the first 50 pages I knew that I wanted topublish the novel in our Amsterdam imprint. (…) I really loved it, it had me gripped, it made me cry (more than laugh), it made me think and, in a way, it transformed me, which is what I ask most of in a book. Yes, yes, yes, we want to publish it!’

The Almond Tree is the story of a young Palestinian, Ichmad, who is gifted with a mind that continues to impress the elders in his village, and who struggles with the knowledge that he can do nothing to save his friends and family. Living on occupied land, his entire village operates in constant fear of losing their homes, jobs, and belongings. More importantly, they fear losing each other.

On Ichmad’s twelfth birthday, that fear becomes reality. With his father imprisoned, his family’s home and possessions confiscated, and his siblings quickly succumbing to hatred in the face of conflict, Ichmad begins an inspiring journey using his intellect to save his poor and dying family. In doing so he reclaims a love for others that was lost through a childhood rife with violence, and discovers a new hope for the future.

Since its publication in October 2012, the book has received glowing reviews both in the UK and the USA:

‘A story that grabs you from the first page and makes your heart go out to the Palestinians without pointing fingers at anyone.’Guillermo Fesser, Huffington Post.

‘The Almond Tree, intelligent, never over stated and written with love, informs and educates – it reminds us that there could be a better way to share this land and that if you allow intellect to blossom only good will come from it.’ Sam Hawksmoor, Hackwriters.

‘Corasanti’s accomplished debut novel offers a humanistic look into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…Sensitive, moving and competently written; a complex novel as necessary as ever.’ ”Kirkus Reviews”.

‘With the onset of adulthood, one already must cope with so much. The Almond Tree follows the struggles of young Ichmad Hamid as his family is lost to strife, imprisonment, and everything they hold dear. The twelve year old learns it may be on him to use his limited talents to help his family and bring back something of a life. The Almond Tree is a strong addition to coming of age fiction collections, highly recommended.’The Midwest Book Review.

Pontas Literary agency reports that a number of other foreign editors are currently considering the novel, and they are confident that more foreign rights deals will follow. Pontas is also taking the project to next week’s Cannes Film Market, in the hope of attracting a film rights deal for the novel.

Michelle Cohen Corasanti is a Jewish American writer who has lived in France, Spain, Egypt and England, and spent seven years living in Israel. She currently lives in New York with her family.

For more information please visit www.garnetpublishing.co.uk/book/almond-tree

A review on the Almond Tree

The Almond Tree, by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, Garnet Publishing September 2012

Reviewed by: Jamal Kanj, January 23, 2013

I must confess reading a novel is not high on my list. At times, I made exceptions for novels with social or historical elements. The Almond Tree was one of those exceptions.

The Almond TreeThe Almond Tree is a moving and powerful novel based on historical events the writer successfully weaves harmoniously in more than 300 pages. It is the type of story that will keep the reader wondering where reality ends and when fiction starts.

The book focuses on the inimitable personal experiences of Palestinians who remained in what became the state of Israel- ostensibly granted Israeli citizens- occupation and refugee camps in Gaza. The story deals with the human side of the trials of Palestinians since the creation of the state of Israel leading to contemporary occupation, illegal settlements and war. The novel is a good reading for anyone wishing to grasp the inherent contradictions and complexity of the Palestine question.

How some were able to overcome life tribulations despite all odds, and how others were swept in the vortex of the perpetual conflict. The Almond Tree courageously tackles individual and institutional Israeli racism towards native Palestinians. It addresses boldly the inner struggle among Palestinians and Jewish communities for mutual acceptance.

The characters in the book range from the highly educated Palestinian who struggled hard to break through the walls of Israeli racism, worked with Israelis and end up marrying a Jewish American woman. A brother on the other hand who rejected his brother’s perceived submission to the enemy and was driven into exile moving from one ideological extreme on the left to become a leading figure in a radical Palestinian organization on the right.

A Jewish American woman fighting her “progressive” parents’ inhibited racism to marry a Palestinian and young Palestinian man struggles to overcome his mother’s trepidation before marrying a Jewish girl.

The writer, who seems to be Jewish American, deals honestly with the desperate environment that drives young Palestinians to become suicide bombers. One chapter in the book discusses to a great detail the case for and against military confrontation with Israel. While the deliberations do not attempt to persuade the reader towards a certain opinion, it prepares the reader however to better appreciate–not accept– the two conflicting views.

Not many writers have made the effort to examine the Palestinian Israeli conflict outside the polemic historical discourse. Historical interpretation aside, The Almond Tree is a journey to put the reader in touch with the human faces behind the perceived “irrational and convoluted” Middle East conflict.

This novel was interesting reading even for someone who rarely appreciates fiction.

Jamal KanjJamal Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. Jamal Kanj writes weekly newspaper column and publishes articles on several online websites discussing contemporary political issues in the Arab world, US and Israel.

An interview with Michelle Cohen Corasanti: Wandering Thoughts of A Writer

Today I have author Michelle Cohen Corasanti here to tell us about her book The Almond Tree.

So why don’t you tell us about yourself and when did you start writing stories?

I witnessed something, over twenty years ago, that affected me so deeply that despite all my best efforts, I could no longer repress it. I remember the exact moment I decided to become a writer. I had just started reading Khaled Hosseni’s book, The Kite Runner. I was lying on a lounge chair, by the pool, at the Setai hotel, in South Beach, sipping a cosmopolitan. I was on vacation with my husband and twins. I didn’t have a care in the world until Amir, the protagonist, said that the past can’t be buried, that it finds the means to claw its way out. And like Amir, my past found a way to call me. And there I was face-to-face with my worst nightmares and my greatest failures. One might say a defining moment. And I decided, that I wanted my children to know, that I had seen injustice and that I would try to do something about it. And so I wrote the story that had been inside of me for so long.

I grew up in a Jewish home in which German cars were boycotted and Israeli bonds were plentiful. Other than the blue-and-white tin Jewish National Fund sedakah box my family kept in the kitchen and the money we would give to plant trees in Israel, all I knew was that after the Holocaust, the Jews found a land without a people for a people without a land. And the Jews were always persecuted for no reason.

I went to Israel in high school to get some freedom from my strict parents. I was looking for fun. Unfortunately, I became like the witness who saw too much. It was very apparent that everything I had been taught was a lie.

[Read the rest of the interview here]

Digital First: Publishing for multiple outputs

Publishers have adopted a Digital First strategy for more than 20 years now. When they started receiving MS Word files from authors and used those files as a starting point for the editorial and production process, they virtually adapted a Digital First strategy. However, until now the aim of the publishers has been to reach the best quality and standard for the books they publish, in print. Since the increase of the usage of ebook with the launch of e-readers, publishers have been thriving to find ways to convert the print editions of their books into ebooks. Ebooks have been usually considered as a ‘secondary’ format, with print keeping its position as the ‘primary’ format. It’s not unreasonable. Even today the majority of a publisher’s sales are arise from the print editions of their books, with ebooks having a modest share of 5-10% of the market. Publishers have a large database of the backlist, usually in the format of PDF files if they are lucky; but they also have a backlist of titles in various obsolete formats: They have them on paper, or even in some occasions on printing plates.

However, the market trends are changing. The ebook sales are growing and it wouldn’t be surprising if the ebook sales overtake the print sales. Write or wrong, this is the direction the market is moving in, and publishers can either embrace change and become part of it, or resist it and perish.

But the question is how to embrace the change. I’m not talking about the backlists here, as though necessary, it requires establishing a separate strand of work. We are talking about the future here, as change is about the future. You can’t change your past.

[Read more]

Ebooks, books and reading

Two blog posts on arvand.co.uk are trying to come up with an updated definition of  books, reading and ebooks. Apparently these are going to be a series of articles on the implemention of a Digital First strategy for book publishers.

They may be well worth reading. Here they are: So you want to publish ebooks, and What is an ebook? What is a book? What does reading mean anymore?

One bit is quite interesting, when the author gives a new definition of ‘book’:

‘A books is a transferable, portable, standalone and interactive package of readable knowledge employing any of the various forms of media, including words, sounds, and static, moving or interactive images. It can be produced or reproduced on physical objects such as paper sheets, or in digital form’. (© Arvand.co.uk)

And based on this, ‘An ebook is simply a book that is produced in digital form.’ (© Arvand.co.uk)

Homo superior, or psychopath? The Father, the Son and the Pyjama-Wearing Spirit

Garnet Publishing is pleased to announce the acquisition of the world rights to The Father, the Son and the Pyjama-Wearing Spirit, the debut novel of Dominic Kingaby. In this intriguing novel the author presents a highly complex alternative philosophy on creation and the evolution of humankind, which is championed by Gian Paulo Friedrich, a young Cambridge student convinced that he represents the next phase of human evolution.

Genre: Philosophical fiction, literary fiction, mystic/fantasy fiction.

Continue reading

Black Chalk: An edgy journey into twenty-first century morality

Garnet Publishing is pleased to announce the acquisition of the world rights to Black Chalk, the debut novel of Albert Alla, from Peter Straus of Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd. Literary Agency. This Contemporary thriller fiction centres around a school shooting and its enduring impact on the life of its sole survivor, Nate Dillingham, as he embarks on adulthood, trying but ultimately failing to avoid the aftermath.

In the Oxfordshire countryside, a student walks into a classroom and starts shooting. Nate Dillingham, friends with shooter and victims alike, is the sole survivor and only witness. Easily led and eager to please, his recollections weave around others’ hopes, until he loses track of what really happened that day.

Continue reading

The Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature in English

The Experiment Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature 2010 by Myrto Azina Chronidi

The Experiment Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature 2010 by Myrto Azina Chronidi

Garnet Publishing has recently launched The Experiment by Myrto Azina Chronides (translated by Irena Joannides).

This fictional work describes a literary experiment in which the main characters, He and She, undertake to write a play together, to see if they can succeed where others have failed in achieving true collaboration and union through their writing. The result is a stream of consciousness in which a collection of tales embodying themes such as love, sex, religious ecstacy, psychiatry and myth are intertwined. The book’s style is unique, attempting to unify subtly coded narratives and partial tales, and leaning toward the structure of a synthetic prose piece rather than a conventional novel.

The book in its original Greek was awarded the prestigious European Union Prize for Literature in 2010. This prize aims to put the spotlight on the creativity and diverse wealth of Europe’s contemporary literature in the field of fiction, promoting the circulation of literature within Europe and encouraging greater interest in non-national literary works.

Now available in English for the first time, The Experiment offers the reader an enriching experience that transcends literary and cultural norms.

A review on A Land without Jasmine on the Daily Star: Magical realist tale masks critique of Yemeni gender issues

BEIRUT: The power of a fairy tale lies not only in its magic, but in its moral. Controversial Yemeni author Wajdi al-Ahdal’s latest novel is a critique of Yemeni society, hidden in a modern day fairy tale every bit as bleak as the Brothers Grimm.

The events of the Arab Spring have caused a sudden surge of interest in works of Middle Eastern art and literature among an English-speaking audience in recent months. As a result, a number of Arabic-language works of fiction are being translated into English for the first time, targeting readers seeking to better understand the current situation in the region.

Ahdal’s “A Land without Jasmine” (originally published under the title “A Land without Sky”) is the latest in this number. Originally published in Arabic in 2008, Ahdal’s 82-page novella tackles sexual politics, blackmail and revenge in Yemen, recounting the tale of Jasmine – an exceptionally beautiful university student – who mysteriously disappears one morning.

The author’s previous work caused considerable controversy in his homeland, particularly his first novel “Mountains Boats,” published in 2002, in which the novelist was accused of using Quranic language to describe sexual scenes. The book was banned in Yemen and Ahdal was forced into exile, only permitted to return in 2010.

The nicely designed official website for The Almond Tree has been launched

Michelle Cohen Corasanti has launched the official website for her novel The Almond Tree.

You can visit the website at: http://thealmondtreebook.com/

There, you can read about the novel, about the author, listen to and read excerpts of the novel, comntact the author and read her blog.

This fall, Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s stunning debut The Almond Tree sheds new light on the Arab Israelis. An insightful and inspiring novel, The Almond Tree recasts a culture frequently seen in the news but often misunderstood.

Reminiscent of The Kite Runner and One Thousand Splendid Suns, Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s The Almond Tree is an uplifting read, which respectfully travels a controversial history and delivers an enriching experience that is a testament to the human spirit and a hope for peace


Lifting the shroud of secrecy, The Druze, by Abbas El Halabi

Unlike traditional Islam, Druze doctrine has a mystical character that makes its truths openly available only to a select
few wise initiates. This has led to their reputation as being secretive, ritualistic and mystical, which in turn has lead to
misunderstanding and persecution throughout their history.

In this book, Abbas el Halabi attempts to shed light on the historical, religious, cultural and social heritage of the Druze,
in order to present an accurate picture of them to the world. In the author’s words, he has sought to ‘lift the shroud of
secrecy, refute the exaggerated fables and restore the truth by presenting a contemporary cultural approach’.

The Druze examines various aspects of the life of the Lebanese Druze community. In Lebanon, Druzes’ commitment to
their religious identity has always been accompanied by a powerful historic and patriotic awareness of their status as
Lebanese. The esoteric aspect of their faith and the Esprit de Corps that has bonded them in the face of threats to their
identity, land or culture, have made them a fascinating case study on the survival of religious minorities in the Middle

Abbas el Halabi, himself a member of a prominent Lebanese Druze family and closely involved in Druze public affairs in
Lebanon, attempts to separate facts from misconceptions, to elaborate on their political role in the history of the region,
and consequently to evaluate their chances of survival going forward, in an era where religious tolerance and political
democracy are still at a nascent stage.

Abbas el Halabi is a former judge, and is a professor at St Joseph’s University in Lebanon. He is a founder and active
member of several national organizations, including Bank Beirut and the Arab Countries where he is the Legal Consultant
of the bank. He is also an active member of a number of religious and community committees in the Lebanon, including
the National Committee of Muslim/Christian Dialogue, the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO and the Awkaf
Committee at the Druze Community Council. He has published several books about dialogue, reconciliation and civil
peace, including: Les Druzes: Vivre avec L’avenir (2005), Le Dialogue interreligieux (2007), and The Druze: Culture, History
and Mission (2008), all published by Darannahar, as well as numerous articles and short publications for magazines and

Garnet Publishing is planning to launch this book in 2013.

The author of The Almond Tree inspired by Rachel Corrie

Editor’s note:  Michelle Corasanti, author of The Almond Tree, writes about the character of Nora in the book in the context of the recent Rachel Corrie case. Rachel was crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli Defence Bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a home. The culpability of the bulldozer operator and the exact nature of Rachel’s death were the subjects of great debate, and in 2005 Rachel’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel, charging the country with not conducting a full and credible investigation into the case, and with responsibility for her death.

In August 2012, the results of the seven year lawsuit were finally announced: an Israeli court upheld the results of Israel’s original 2003 military investigation and ruled that the Israeli government was not responsible for Rachel’s death. Whilst some applauded this verdict, others continue to be outraged by it.

Why Did You Have Nora Murdered by an Israely Bulldozer?

Michelle Cohen Corasanti

I subconsciously tried to make Nora into everything I wished I had been: selfless, compassionate, strong and brave. I wanted her to be a combination of Ava in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Mother Theresa and Gandhi.  Then I read about Rachel Corrie.  She was to me everything I wished I had been but was too weak. The thought of the courage and compassion she must have had to act as a human shield; to stand in a bright orange jacket with reflective strips in front of one of those monstrous house-demolishing Israeli-armoured Caterpillar bulldozers armed only with a bullhorn. And she did all that in order to protect the home of a defenceless family. From her, I found my inspiration for Nora.

Throughout my novel, I tried to take real events that I had either witnessed or read about in the news and fictionalize them. So many times I’d read that some faceless person had been wounded or killed and it seemed inconsequential, a statistic. After meeting someone like Hassan whose father went to prison for fourteen years, I understood the impact of such an occurrence not only on the prisoner, but also on his family. I wanted to portray these people as someone’s son, father, mother, brother or spouse, to give meaning to their tragedies, and so I made up the details of their lives. Obviously the details of Nora’s life were fictional,  as I never had the pleasure of meeting Rachel Corrie and I already had a story; I just took details from her heroic deed and imagined the rest.

An engaging detective story with an occult Middle Eastern twist

The Land without Jasmine, a novel from Yemen‘If you were to go missing, to vanish into thin air, who – after your friends and family – would the police interrogate as to your last whereabouts? If you live in a city, the next batch questioned might be relative strangers. Those individuals – a neighbor, a shopkeeper, a construction worker – who casually keep watch on your everyday activities from afar. For females, this tacit surveillance might be more acute, especially when it’s male strangers doing the watching.’

Leah Caldwell, Alakhbar English, 7th August 2012.

Set in Yemen, the novel A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi al-Ahdal describes the disappearance of a young university student, Jasmine, and the ensuing investigation and search for her. Chapter by chapter, the detective in charge of the case and the male characters who surrounded her, knew her and watched her give their versions of events, and the mystery of her disappearance deepens. Sexual depravity, honour, obsession – the motives are numerous and the suspects plentiful. But the truth may be far stranger than anyone anticipates.

Read more and get a free chapter here

A Land Without Jasmine is an enjoyable, entertaining and absorbing detective story, which skilfully illuminates the reality of life for a young woman coming of age in a sexually repressed culture, and provides a fascinating glimpse of the roles of men and women in Yemeni society.

Wajdi al-Ahdal has had a controversial literary past. His novel Mountain Boats, published in 2002, was confiscated by the Yemeni Ministry of Culture for insulting ‘morality, religion, and conventions of Yemeni society.’ A campaign against the book drove him into exile, although he was later protected by the Yemeni President, and was allowed to travel in 2010. A Land Without Jasmine was originally published in Arabic as
A Land Without Sky in 2008. This translation includes sexually explicit passages that had been deleted from the originally published version.

Born in 1973, Wajdi al-Ahdal received a degree in literature from Sanaa University. He was nominated for the Arab Booker Prize in 2008, and was selected by the Hay Festival at Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2009 for the Beirut39 anthology of works by the thirty-nine most important Arab authors under forty. He is currently employed in Dar al-Kutub, the National Library in Sanaa.

216 x 138mm
82 pages
RRP £8.99

For more information about A Land Without Jasmine, to request a free review copy or to arrange an interview with the author, please visit http://www.garnetpublishing.co.uk or email pamelapark@garnetpublishing.co.uk

A review on Tearing up the Silk Road on Desolation Travel

Sunday, August 19, 2012

DesoLIT: Tearing up the Silk Road

Tearing up the Silk Road: A modern journey from China to Istanbul, through Central Asia, Iran, and the Caucasus was written by Tom Coote, who provided an excerpt from his book as a guest blog post on this site. His book can be purchased through Amazon by clicking here (here for Kindle) or on the image below. Tom can be reached at tom@tomcoote.net, and his website is www.tomcoote.net. The review below is by Desolation Travel’s Jane Keeler.

Tearing up the Silk Road by Tom Coote 

Author Tom Coote had 9 weeks of freedom left before returning to the UK and the daily humdrum of working life. He was returning to the UK from East Asia, and decided to make the trip home by land along the route of the old Silk Road, taking only public transportation. As anyone who has traveled in that part of the world knows, doing something like that in nine weeks is a daunting task – especially if one wants to see something of the countries one is passing through. Coote did an admirable job of it, making it to China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey during his whirlwind trip. As someone who used to live in Kyrgyzstan, I was disappointed that he didn’t make it to my favorite ‘stan due to his arrival at the border during the time of the 2010 Kyrgyz revolution – although surely had he offered the border guard a large enough bribe he could have gotten in!

The Ereader World Is full Of rumors. New Kindle and New Sony Ereaders Coming?


As you may have noticed these last few days, both Amazon and Sony appear about to launch new models of their various ereaders and the entire Blogosphere is in a state of uncontrolled excitement about these rumours.

Curious really, as I am reasonably sure that nothing particularly radical or revolutionary is about to arrive on the shop shelves from either of these two ereader makers. After all, what can you add to the already extremely functional devices they both make for our reading pleasure?

They already have WiFi, 3G connectivity, touch screens, pleasingly contrasty screens so reading is easy on the eyes and well thought out navigation systems.

Probably not colour.

Colour to be honest is unlikely, as the various technologies to give us e-Ink type screens with colour seem to have got stuck in all manner of problems, and even the best of the current bunch only seem to give us a rather pastel sort of colour, not to be compared with the rich colours we expect from tablets and iPads. So I would be very surprised to see that improvement in these new models.

Read more

Book Review on The Land without Jasmine: An Occult Tale of Sexuality in Yemen

Leah Caldwell, Al-Akhbar English, August 7, 2012

Wajdi al-Ahdal’s A Land Without Jasmine depicts the lives of Yemeni women under the ever-watching eyes of men.

If you were to go missing, to vanish into thin air, who – after your friends and family – would the police interrogate as to your last whereabouts? If you live in a city, the next batch questioned might be relative strangers. Those individuals – a neighbor, a shopkeeper, a construction worker – who casually keep watch on your everyday activities from afar. For females, this tacit surveillance might be more acute, especially when it’s male strangers doing the watching.

When a Yemeni university student, Jasmine, disappears in Wajdi al-Ahdal’s novella A Land Without Jasmine, it’s these male observers who are able to narrate her life to investigators with pathological detail. We wonder if the girl, in fact, disappeared, or merely managed to escape their “mass gaze.”

Ahdal, a Yemeni novelist, published his novella under the title A Land Without a Sky in Yemen in 2008, but its English translation, by William Maynard Hutchins, will be released by Garnet Publishing in September 2012. The 82-page novella touches on several themes that have put Ahdal’s life on the line in the past. Namely, involving sex. His 2002 novel Mountain Boats was banned in Yemen for what the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram described as using “Quranic expressions in describing sexual scenes.” He fled to Lebanon and didn’t return to Yemen until 2010 when he was guaranteed protection by the president.

A Land Without Jasmine is equally defiant; a translator’s note states that three sexually explicit passages not contained in the Arabic version were included in its English counterpart. This explicitness is perhaps essential to understand the world of a girl whose every move comes under a gaze that, in her words, is “a noxious type of male violence.”

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The future of libraries in the age of ebooks

LIKE a tired marriage, the relationship between libraries and publishers has long been reassuringly dull. E-books, however, are causing heartache. Libraries know they need digital wares if they are to remain relevant, but many publishers are too wary of piracy and lost sales to co-operate. Among the big six, only Random House and HarperCollins license e-books with most libraries. The others have either denied requests or are reluctantly experimenting. In August, for example, Penguin will start a pilot with public libraries in New York.

Publishers are wise to be nervous. Owners of e-readers are exactly the customers they need: book-lovers with money (neither the devices nor broadband connections come cheap). If these wonderful people switch to borrowing e-books instead of buying them, what then?
Read more on The Economist

Tearing Up the Silk Road: A modern epic journey from East to West along ancient trade routes

Garnet Publishing is pleased to announce the publication of Tearing up the Silk Road: A Modern Journey from China to Istanbul, through Central Asia, Iran and the Caucasus,by Tom Coote.

In Tearing up the Silk Road, Tom Coote chronicles his journey along this ancient trade route, and allows the reader to glimpse at the true cultures of the people and places he visits, presenting an alternative, ‘unofficial’, viewpoint, which usually remains hidden from Western eyes.

While rushing from East to West, Tom Coote meets, befriends and argues with an epic range of characters. From soldiers and monks, to pilgrims, travellers and modern-day Silk Road traders; all are striving for something more and most dream of being somewhere else.

By bus, train and battered car – through deserts, mountain ranges, rapidly expanding megacities and ancient ruins –Tom finds himself again and again on the front line of a desperate war for hearts and minds.  Through rapidly expanding megacities, to ancient ruins and far more recently created wastelands, it is the West that is winning the souls while the East grows ever stronger.

In an increasingly interconnected world, archaic conceptions of race, ethnicity and nationalism are becoming obsolete. Instead, new forms of identity are emerging, founded more upon shared cultural preferences and aspirations than on the remnants of tribal allegiance. The greatest clash of civilisations, however, seems to be between the few who have so much, and the masses now uniting to demand so much more.

This is an irreverent travelogue, and a highly enjoyable read which will have great appeal to those who want to be travellers rather than tourists. It is essential reading for those planning to visit this newly accessible area, and for those interested in the more general social issues arising from mass development and expansion in today’s society.

After ten years of playing guitar in failed heavy metal groups Tom Coote went to university as a mature student to read Third World Studies. He later taught himself programming and won a studentship to take an MSc in Information Technology. He is a keen traveller, and has so far managed to visit 108 countries. He regularly contributes stories and articles to a number of travel websites. Tearing up the Silk Road is his first travel book.