Kuwaiti Literature: Holding Up A Mirror To Contemporary Society


“Why are all the Kuwaitis depressed?” asked Amir Taheri, columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat, the world’s decisive publication on Arab daily news. This is the question Mr Taheri concludes the western world will be asking themselves upon reading Kuwaiti fiction, particularly those backed by London’s Banipal magazine.

The Modern Bedouins

In his literary review, Mr Taheri explores the characterisation of the protagonists in recent Kuwaiti fiction, describing them as “modern Bedouins”, nomadic Arabs of the desert, seeking contentment elsewhere usually outside Kuwait; escapism, solace and expatriation are the common themes pressed upon reflecting the attitude of Kuwait as a whole.

But, what may appear to be depressing ideas for a western audience, argues Mr Taheri is reality in Kuwaiti society. Themes of love, fear and loss are frequently explored: “Love at first sound is quite understandable. Because women are covered and you cannot see them, a voice becomes a bridge between two beings in search of love.” Love is beautiful, but just because the way it is expressed in different cultures does not make it any less beautiful. Mr Taheri concludes that this new wave of contemporary literature and the honesty behind the words “is enough to make us all love good old Kuwait, warts and all”.

Redefining the East-to-West Stereotype

With more and more Arabic Fiction being translated into European languages, the fictional world is being transformed. Recently, Kuwaiti novelist, Saud Alsanousi launched the English translation of his prizewinning book “The Bamboo Stalk” in London.

The story follows the rags to riches tale of the half-Filipino, half-Kuwaiti teenage protagonist through whose eyes we get a glimpse of contemporary Kuwaiti society. “What matters is Kuwait: who belongs and who doesn’t, who is visible and who is shoved unceremoniously under the carpet,” says M Lynx Qualey, (Arab Literature in English).

The Importance Of An Intercultural Dialogue

“In the midst of utter turmoil, particularly in the Arab world and in Europe as ISIS/Daesh lashes out with its murderous, anarchic suicide bombs – a dinosaur in its death throes, teeth and tail thrashing randomly – leaving mourning, outrage and sorrow a daily experience, and as UK's disastrous Brexit referendum result begins to hit home, Banipal's mission is ever more to the point: to bring worlds together through literature, to initiate intercultural dialogue between the Arab world and other cultures, to make the world a better, more understanding and tolerant place.” Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature.