EAIFL Day 1 – With Robert Greene & Youssef Ziedan

Posted on March 11, 2010


My excuse for not being present at the grand opening of the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature, is work. Eager though to make sure I made the most of what I had missed, I rushed straight from the office to the festival  venue.

The evening was relatively calmer in comparison to earlier in the day (from what I hear), yet things were clearly picking up. Dubai’s bibliophiles from the working sector were only just trickling in, and the dedicated attendees were still milling about.

I was fortunate enough to be privy to two very stimulating sessions that evening; both differing greatly in content but proportionate in passion.

First up on my agenda was a session with LA born Robert Greene. Having made it to the bestsellers list with all three of his books (The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War) this novelist was clearly here to speak strategy.

His discourse at the EAIFL was curiously titled “From Napoleon to Google: Strategies for Success in a Brave New World,” which made me all the more intrigued as to where Greene was planning on going with this. 10 minutes into the session however, the audience were able to piece it together.

Basing the session on his first book The 48 Laws of Power, Greene claims to have discovered the 48 key strategic points that lead up to eventual success. Success here being the attainment of ‘power.’

The gist of what he was trying to imply, was that every individual with a substantial amount of power has acquired it by executing very similar approaches. He stressed on the role played by certain ‘power triggers’ in the forms of modern capitalism, political revolution and the emergence of modern media in positioning an individual’s role in the power beurocracy.

Having made this point, Greene smoothly made the switch to the actual topic itself by likening battle stratagems of Napoleon Bonaparte to the business model of search engine giant Google. And he was quite convincing too.

Clearly Greene is a Google man, for the rest of the lecture touched base on how ‘dinosaurs’ such as Microsoft had no chance of survival when put up against the assertive, hands-on approach of the Google business model; a modus operandi he recommended we  assert as well.

His speech ended on a more personal note however, by assuring his audience that inspite of these very ‘turbulent, yet interesting times,’ approaching adversity with an open mind and the willingness to overcome will surely prevail.

Greene’s talk went well over the assigned time limit and when informed that he wouldn’t be able to accommodate questions, the man seemed genuinely disappointed. He apologized profusely for having extended his limit, and eventually managed to woo the session moderators into letting him take a few after all.

A session on tactical business models  bordering on self-help I thought, but his latest collaboration with 50 Cent (yes, the rapper 50 Cent) makes one actually want to believe his theory of all powerful men (and women) being connected in some way.

Next up was a session with notoriously renowned Egyptian novelist Youssef Ziedan, recognized more for his second novel Azazil (translated Beezlebub), which talks about an Egyptian priest who travels from his native land to Jerusalem and elsewhere in order to meet other priests to talk about theology.

And as a result, this International Prize for Arabic Fiction award winner has found himself in the line of fire from critics and religious figures alike.

During his discourse with Mohammad Al Murr, Ziedan shared with the audience a few excerpts from the novel, before going into more detail: “If I expressed all the pain in my heart will they reach before death?” “Do I pick up my pen and start writing or tear off my clothes like John the Baptist?” “I will elevate myself from all worldly matters.”

Zeidan stressed on the importance of (as an author) attempting to live in the era or moment  of history one chooses to write about, stating that talent is incapable of surviving alone, instead needing other complementary factors to be truly successful.

Clearly passionate about his writing, this man was not afraid to take questions of a more accusatory nature, answering disputable queries with clam, even poetic responses.

Books are merely a reflection of the reader. It is as you see it. As authors we hand you the mirror, and what you choose to see is what you get.”

When asked about the differentiation of fact from fiction, Ziedan highlighted the importance of storytelling, yet at the same time maintaining the need for the reader to use his/her own imagination. “The challenge is to be able to skilfully manoeuvre around certain constants.”

And when asked about the barrage of criticism he has been on the receiving end of of late, Ziedan brushed would brush it off as insignificant.

It is probably rational to not publish something out of fear that it might be prone to severe criticism, but that mindset reflects what exactly we should be opposing.”

And  if everything we ever want to write about is predicted to spur a reaction, when will we ever write? There is never a shortage of critics, and what is written is only the least expressed of what is truly inside us all.”

Wise words to ponder over, as Day 1 came to a close.

To have a look at the entire schedule or for more information on session reservations, visit the EAIFL official website: www.emirateslitfest.com

For individual reviews of the festival’s sessions, visit www.moneymunot.com, www.shaahima.wordpress.com, http://hishamwyne.wordpress.com/, and http://ana-aqra2.blogspot.com/