It was back in September 2009 that The National reported that teenage fiction in Arabic “doesn’t exist”. Publisher Dareen Charafeddine, of the Sharjah-based Arabic publishing house Kalimat, said: “If you find any [such books], they are very traditional. Nobody knows how to write for this age group. Children’s literature in general isn’t very developed in the Arab world.”
It was due to this lack of so-called “young adult” science fiction novels in Arabic that Noura Al Noman first decided to write her own. She scoured bookshops in search of suitable books in Arabic for her daughter and found none, and so her novel Ajwan was born.
“For something to be popular, it has to first exist. If you look for English novels in the genre, you’d find plenty, and I believe it is popular – it was popular for me when I grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But if you look for Arabic sci-fi then you will find that it is virtually non-existent,” said Al Noman.
Ajwan is a 19-year-old girl on a journey of empowerment, who comes from a “water planet” with the ability to breathe both air and water. “Jown” is Arabic for cove or a small sea, while “Ajwan” is the plural. Having survived the destruction of her planet, Ajwan finds herself having to survive in a universe of diverse races and nations. This is harder than it first seems after Ajwan’s infant son is kidnapped by a mysterious organisation, intent on conquering the sector with the help of a super-army, which wants to turn her child into a super-soldier. Ajwan realises she must learn how to find a balance between being someone from a peaceful nation and becoming a trained killer in order to save her son.
“She had to have an Arabic name,” Al Noman said, “because I feel that Arab teenagers need to be proud of Arabic names and concepts. However, the rest of the characters’ names are derived from many cultures and concepts in other languages.” – continue reading