It's a brave man who tackles the chaotic history of the Middle East in fiction, but SIMON LOUVISH has a personal perspective that bridges international borders. Words: Teddy Jamieson
Born in Glasgow. raised in Jerusalem and now resident in London. writer and filmmaker Simon Louvish considers himself something of a ‘complete mongrel‘ identity-wise. With an accent redolent of his Israeli upbringing. yet garnished by a burr which suggests the inﬂuence of his Scottish wile. Louvish could reasonably be described the living embodiment ol‘ the word ‘Cosmopolitan'. Perhaps that explains why he proves so successful in adopting a wide range of dil‘l‘erent voices — Greek. Scottish. Israeli. Palestinian. Lebanese. even Sandworm. among others — in his latest novel. The Days Ofﬂilimcles And lib/Idem.
Neatly summed up on the cover blurb as ‘an epic of the New World Disorder'. it is no less than a millennial history ot‘ the Middle liast. culminating in the Cult War. Sprawling across 427 pages. it still seems breathless at times as it jumps between East Lothian. (barons. Iraq and Israel. and from the ancient past to recent history in an attempt to explain the chaotic nature of the region.
Along the way. Louvish resurrects Richard The Lionheart. conducts a philosophical discussion on the ethics of explosions between two ‘smart‘ bombs and explores the various horrors of siege conditions. captivity and total war. Oh. and did I mention it was a comedy"? It is. even though it‘s very much laughter in the dark.
Simon Louvish: 'Life is sort of messier and merrier than it seems.’
As a novel of ideas. it is hydra-headed. but one of
the most resonant ones is the way the past retains a grip on the present. "l‘hese are places ruled by history.‘ Louvish says ot‘ Israel and her Arab neighbours. ‘and it's particularly true oI~ Islamic l'undamentalism. with its obsession with the seventh century. which to them is the only time when anything proper was happening.‘
Of course. Islamic critics can be rather I‘iercer than anyone writing for the Sunday supplements. Louvish suspects that’s why he spent live years looking for a publisher bel'ore (‘anongate stepped in. ‘I think that in the wake ol‘ the Rushdie al'l'air. people didn’t want to touch something which dealt with the Middle Iiast and its conllicts. Anything to do with an Islamic theme was immediately i'm'lmre/r'
If that‘s the case. (‘anongate should be applauded for their bravery. The Days (If/Miracles: Ami Il'miders' has its longeurs. but you can‘t fault its ambition and adventurousness. Best of all. it celebrates all the best in humanity. It takes ordinary people — a priapic (ireek
doctor. a wheelchair-bound Israeli and a Palestinian ex- journalist who's lost his family — and exposes their simple. everyday heroism. The same day I speak to Louvish. a suicide bomber detonates a nail bomb in Tel Aviv. killing four people. The Middle East remains volatile and Louvish wouldn‘t be surprised it a Gulf War reprise was played out in the near future. Yet. like his characters. he retains a stubborn. hard-won optimism.
‘()ur individual lives are less controllable than the leaders. religions. creeds and ideologies presume. ()ne of the hopeful signs ol’ the modern world is that even though we've had an unbelievably totalitarian century. with immense wars and dictatorships. at the same time we‘ve seen again and again these things collapse. At the end of the day. there hasn‘t been this kind of Orwellian totalitarian system which simply perpetuates itself and can’t be broken. This has turned out to be a myth. Lite is sort of messier and merrier than it seems. and all these things can be survived.'
The Days Of Miracles And Wonders by Simon Louvish is published by Canongate at £16.99.
preview BOOKS The Write Stuff
Author of Lanark, Alasdair Gray is getting political with the timely reprint of his pamphlet ’Why Scots Should Rule Scotland’.
NAME: Alasdair Gray AGE: 62 . . . or is it 63?
PREVIOUS JOBS: After art college I became a part-time art teacher, an odd-job painter and decorator, and did mural and poster design.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: I was eight or nine when I decided to write a book. Of course all my efforts were childish, at least until I became an adolescent, at which point they were adolescent. Even now I'm not quite sure I've reached maturityl However, in my first year at art school I began to write Lanark. Previously, I had written plays for radio and TV.
DAILY ROUTINE: I don’t have a routine. If I'm working very industriously I wake up early and do it in bed, which sometimes disturbs my wife.
INFLUENCES: From an earlier period it was definitely the Walt Disney movies. Later on my Dad took me to see the plays of Bernard Shaw - but there was also William Blake, and a period when I rediscovered Hardy. I became friendly with Jim Kelman and read The Busconductor Hines before it was printed. I think it had quite an influence on the style of 1982 Janine.
AMBITIONS: I wrote the pamphlet without pleasure, but having a strong political belief in home rule I felt I had to say something about the move away from democracy that's been taking place over the last twenty years. But I define Scottish as anyone who lives in Scotland, no matter how recently they have arrived here.
FEARS: To mention just one of them — about fifteen years ago, at the time of the Falkland war, the Government, because it foresaw a clash with the unions, decided to
' grant the police greater powers to ‘ cope with these things. Yet it is now
admitted that the police 'cope’ by the use of torture to get confessions out of innocent people.
INCOME: Like most authors I tend to be living on my advances. I make about £4000 a year in royalties. (Mark Lambert)
Why Scots Should Rule Scotland, 7997 IS published by Canongate at [4. 99
‘1"l7i‘tpl 1997 THE LIST 91