Pierre Jarawan: Lebanon to Germany, Slam Poet to Bestseller

In News by Chip Rossetti

Of Lebanese and German parentage, poet and author Pierre Jarawan will speak in the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair’s Guest of Honor Germany program.

Pierre Jarawan. Image: Marvin Ruppert

By Chip Rossetti

Live Poems and Missing Persons
Slam poetry is big business in Germany, according to novelist and veteran slam poet Pierre Jarawan.

“Germany has the biggest and most professional slam scene in the world,” he says. After all, a typical German slam poetry event draws a crowd of 500 people and sometimes fills 1,500-seat theaters, making it, in his words, “a mainstream event.”

Jarawan should know: he performed for more than 10 years as a slam poet and a made a living at it, which required him to do more than 100 shows pre year.

Born during the Lebanese Civil War to a Lebanese father and a German mother, he moved with his family at age three to Germany and now resides in Munich. After a decade in poetry, he made the impressive switch to international bestselling author with his first novel, Am Ende bleiben die Zedern (In the End, the Cedars Remain) which was published by Piper in 2016 to great acclaim in Germany, earning comparisons to Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

It was eventually translated into Portuguese, French, Dutch, Spanish, Polish, Italian, and English (from World Editions under the title The Storyteller.) The novel’s protagonist is a Lebanese-German, Samir, who returns to Lebanon as an adult to attempt to track down his long-lost Lebanese father, who had abandoned his family years ago.

‘The Power of Writing’

At the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, Jarawan returns to his slam poetry roots in an appearance with the Emirati performance artist Afra Atiq, in a program titled “The Power of Words,” a part of the cultural program being presented during Germany’s first of two years as guest of honor at Abu Dhabi.

“We’ll be talking,” he says, “about the power of writing—of both slam poetry and fiction—and about the different forms of slam poetry in Germany and the UAE.”

The life of a novelist is far more amenable to him these days, Jarawan says, particularly as a new father of twins.

“I’m actually very glad I don’t have to travel as much as I had to before,” he says, “and I really enjoy writing novels now.”

But he’s still very involved with the world of poetry, and hosts a slam event in his hometown of Munich. Given the necessity of live crowds, slam poetry was hit especially hard by the pandemic, and with the closure of theaters and clubs, his former colleagues were stranded without bookings.

“In that regard, I consider myself lucky,” he says.

Of course, the pandemic has had its effect on his new writing career as well: his follow-up novel, Ein Lied für die Vermissten, came out in Germany in March 2020 from Berlin Verlag. “I had a huge book tour planned,” he says, “more than 60 events. And they all had to be canceled.”

Ein Lied für die Vermissten will be published in English early next year under the title A Song for the Missing. Like The Storyteller, it also deals with Lebanon, family secrets, and betrayal, although it’s set during the Arab Spring.

“The novel speaks about the 17,500 people that disappeared in the Lebanese Civil War and that are still missing,” Jarawan says. “It’s the story of a man who discovers that in Lebanese society—and in his own family—there are many secrets to discover.”

Jarawan is no stranger to the United Arab Emirates. His father lives there now, and he has visited before.

And in particular, he says, he’s looking forward to his talk at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair–digitally this year, and hopefully in person in 2022, when A Song for the Missing will be out.

“I expect to have a very interesting conversation with Afra,” in the book fair session, he says. “And I hope the book fair can bring back a bit of normality to people.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on book fairs and trade shows is here, more on the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is here, more on Guest of Honor Germany and Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on the United Arab Emirates’ market is here with more on the German market here. Publishing Perspectives is the media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and the International Publishers Association. Publishing Perspectives’ extended coverage of ADIBF 2021 is supported by the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Chip Rossetti

Chip Rossetti is the managing editor of the Library of Arabic Literature translation series at NYU Press. He is a translator of contemporary Arabic fiction.