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Five Minutes with Azar Nafisi [ADIBF 2010]

Over the next day and a half, while everyone watching basketball I’m going to repost a number of the things that I wrote for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The ADIBF is the premiere professional fair for the Arab world, thanks in part to an arrangement with the Frankfurt Book Fair. Everyone involved with the ADIBF is amazing, and the events, opportunities, meetings, etc., are all really interesting. And being able to see Abu Dhabi and Dubai is fascinating in and of itself.

Before her evening conversation in the Discussion Forum, Ed Nawotka and I had a chance to talk with best-selling writer Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran, Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories) about her work and the importance of literature and imagination in our lives.

ADIBF: Aside from your new memoir—which we’ll get to in a second—is there anything else you plan on talking about during the event tonight?

AN: Whenever I go to a place like this, I like to talk about what’s happening to books. You know, the relevance of imagination. The way that it’s not taken all that seriously sometimes.

ADIBF: This idea about the importance of imagination ties into some of the things you said during your keynote address yesterday at the IPA Copyright Symposium, where you also talked about how publishers need to be brave and publish books regardless of how they might do in the marketplace.

AN: Yes! I believe this is the time for all of us in different professions to take a different kind of courage. I see this type of courage as the only way to survive. Because if you change according to the dictates of someone who doesn’t know books, you will not be changing in the right direction. You will at some point lose the readers. What would’ve happened if the market had dictated Fitzgerald and Kafka, all these amazing writers? None of their works would’ve existed.

ADIBF: I know you just arrived, but how do you like the Book Fair? And Abu Dhabi as a whole?

AN: I feel at home anywhere that they celebrate books. In many ways we are neighbors. But when I was in Iran, I didn’t travel. I had to go to the U.S. to write this book to come here to Abu Dhabi.

ADIBF: Do you feel that books are a good medium to cross borders?

AN: I feel that books are one of the few rare mediums that transcend nationality, geography—all the limitations that are put on us. This is a place where people come together from any number of different backgrounds. And it’s a space where you realize how alike we are, not just how different we are.

ADIBF: Do you want to say a few words about your new book, Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories?

AN: Like Reading Lolita in Tehran, this is also a memoir, but a different kind of memoir. I started working on this after the death of my parents. I didn’t want to write a personal book, but death is the greatest silence and I wanted to create a conversation with my parents. So this is both a hello and a goodbye to my parents and to the country I was born in. It’s not a self-help book to teach you how to deal with the loss of your parents. I don’t believe in that. Pain is a part of life. And I wanted people to understand how close pain and joy are to one another. And I write to understand, I don’t write to erase.

ADIBF: Are you working on anything new?

AN: Yes. I am working on a book called Republic of Imagination. To tell you the truth, this is why I like these travels. Because it gives me a better idea about what this “republic” is all about.

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