Reading and baklava
Malu Halasa discusses Mother of All Pigs. She will be joined in conversation by Adam Morgan.
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About the book: Mother of All Pigs unveils contemporary life in the Middle East, as one family confronts its secrets over the course of a weekend’s festivities. Told from alternating points of view, Halasa’s debut novel is at times witty and energetic, compassionate and awe-inspiring, and over all, unputdownable. The Sabas family lives in a small Jordanian town that for centuries has been descended upon by all manner of invader, the latest a scourge of disconcerting Evangelical tourists. The border town relies on a blackmarket trade of clothes, trinkets , and appliances — the quality of which depends entirely on who’s fighting — but the conflict in nearby Syria has the place even more on edge than usual. Meanwhile, the Sabas home is ruled by women — Mother Fadhma, Laila, Samira, and now, Muna, a niece visiting from America for the first time — and it is brimming with regrets and desires. Clandestine pasts in love, politics, even espionage, threaten the delicate balance of order in the household, as generations clash. The family’s ostensible patriarch — Laila’s husband Hussein — enjoys no such secrets, not in his family or in town, where Hussein is known as the Levant’s only pig butcher, dealing in chops, sausages, and hams, much to the chagrin of his observant neighbors. When a long-lost soldier from Hussein's military past arrives, the Sabas clan must decide whether to protect or expose him, bringing long-simmering rivalries and injustices to the surface. Enchanting and fearless, Halasa's prose intertwines the lives of three generations of women as they navigate the often stifling, sometimes absurd realities of everyday life in the Middle East.
About the author: Malu Halasa is Jordanian Filipina American writer and editor based in London. Born in Oklahoma, she was raised in Ohio and is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University. Her books include: Syria Speaks – Art and Culture from the Frontline (2014); Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations (2009); The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design (2008); Kaveh Golestan: Recording the Truth in Iran (2007); Transit Beirut: New Writing and Images (2004) and Creating Spaces of Freedom: Culture in Defiance (2002). Mother of All Pigs, her first novel, will be published by Unnamed Press, Los Angeles.
About the interlocutor: Adam Morgan is the editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books and a contributing writer at Chicago magazine. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Denver Post, and elsewhere.
Join us for an evening of food, drinks and conversation featuring a presentation by Malu Halasa (Jordanian Filipina American writer and editor based in London) followed by a Q&A with Dr. Omar Kholeif (Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago). Halasa describes her subject for the evening as follows:
Women of al-Raqqa and Beyond: new art, film and writing from Syria
In the Syria of Hafez and Bashar al-Assad, only the thinnest veneer of gender equality applied in the military drilling and indoctrination of schoolgirls as well as schoolboys. Aside from one official Baath Socialist Party supported general union of women, feminism was virtually absent. In a country filled with prisons, fear ruled. With the 2011 uprising, women began openly participating in art and culture and a feminist critique of masculinity and militarism emerged. As war enveloped the country machismo silenced a renascent female narrative; but women regained a sense of agency after incessant fighting decimated family structures and eradicated the male population. Six years on, the picture of women in Syria is as fractured as the war-torn country itself. In Kurdish Rojava, women are soldiers; in “liberated” enclaves, many are political and social leaders; while in once cultured al-Raqqa, the ISIS capital since 2014, they are barely seen at all. Meanwhile the boldest and most challenging female artistic voices are heard outside Syria, following the flight of at least 4.8 million refugees abroad and the estimated 8 million internally displaced.