We are only 18 days away from the start of the festival and so far, fingers crossed, things are not looking too bad. We will have a full house for our opening and closing nights and already have more than 50 people on the waiting list for returns for The Hare with Amber Eyes session. We are also very relieved that James Harding who will interview Edmund de Waal has just become a father, a little bit ahead of time, but mother and child are well, Mazel Tov! He might be tired from sleepless nights but at least we know for sure he’ll be with us.
I must confess that a lot of my time has been spent glued to my radio and the internet (I have developed a bit of an addiction to twitter…) to follow developments first in Tunisia, then in Egypt. As Jews we cannot but rejoice to see peoples rebelling against injustice and tyranny. But of course, at the same time, we cannot but worry about the consequences for Israel. It would just be too tragic that peace should be conditional to the oppression of a whole population. We may be idealists here at JBW but we all hope for the best. There may be no love lost between the two countries but peace is still definitely in everybody’s interest. I thought Tom Friedman’s article in the New York Times was the most eloquent on that point: “Egyptians are not asking for Palestine or for Allah. They are asking for the keys to their own future, which this regime took away from them. They are not inspired by “down with” America or Israel. They are inspired by “Up with Egypt” and “Up with me.””
This will make it even more interesting to have Boualem Sansal here with us. His books are banned in his native Algeria but he makes a point of staying there. He was introduced at the International Festival of Literature in Berlin as a writer “exiled in his own country.” He came to writing relatively late, in his fifties, after retiring from work as a high-ranking official in the Algerian government but his condemnation of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has made him few friends at home. He is coming to JBW to talk about Unfinished Business, his first novel to be published in English. He tells the story of two brothers living in France suddenly confronted to their father’s murky past by his murder by Islamists along with half the village population. The older brother who has successfully settled in France is shocked to discover their father was the Nazi chemist who designed the gas used to kill the Jews and that he got away with it. The younger brother, adrift in the suburbs of Paris, dabbling with Islamism, has never even heard about the Holocaust. Through this novel, Sansal tackles the difficult question of the Arabs and the Holocaust (a complementary session to the discussion between Gilbert Achcar and Tom Segev) and makes disturbing parallels between Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists.
Boualem has talked about his book in the US and Canada, in festivals and Jewish cultural centres. He is the most brilliant speaker and will throw an essential light on developments in the Arab world. As long as he can be with us. He has had a terrible time renewing his passport which had expired and only got it on Monday (this was my best birthday present!). Now starts the process of applying for a visa from the British border agency. Fortunately, he has the sympathy of officials at the British Embassy in Algiers and, thanks to Pen, we should also have some help this end. Obviously if he did not get his visa in time, this would be a victory for the Algerian government who could say it has nothing to do with them. Again being an optimist, I strongly believe he will be with us. It may all be a bit last minute but I’m sure it will happen. I do hope many of you will come and listen to him because he is more than worth it!