Unholyland

I was in London on Wednesday for a reading by my friend Aidan Andrew Dun from his latest book, Unholyland published by Hesperus:

Unholyland is a love story in 264 sonnets. Against the background of daily events in the West Bank and Israel, an Israeli DJ, Moshe, meets and falls in love with a Palestinian rapper, Jalilah. In a trance-like world of music, verse and drugs, the star-crossed lovers come together in spite of the barriers of religion and politics.

The event was at Housmans bookshop in Kings Cross and I was one of the first to arrive. There was a £3 entry fee which was redeemable against any purchase and I put it towards a copy of Unholyland which Aidan signed for me. By 7pm about 15 people had arrived, more or less filling the seats that had been set out in the somewhat cramped bookshop.

Someone from Housmans introduced Aidan who then welcomed us and gave a preamble. Aidan spoke about his interest in Palestine and how, combined with his passions for music and verse, it eventually led him to research the phenomenon of Palestinian Hip Hop, as featured in Jackie Salloum’s 2008 feature length documentary Slingshot Hip Hop. He discovered that it holds an almost exalted status in the US Hip Hop scene while being scorned as a decadent Western form by the elder generation in Palestine. Meanwhile, almost paradoxically, young Israelis are packing out clubs to hear their “enemies” tell the truth. Aidan then read some short passages, explaining how they fit within the story, before reading chapter nine in its entirety.

After the reading there was time for questions, which lead to some interesting discussions. Aidan explained that this is intended to be the first of a trilogy of books. Subtitled “The Rambam”, it is written largely from Moshe’s point of view and if it is successful he hopes that Hesperus will publish the next installment looking at things more from Jalila’s perspective. Someone asked how much time Aidan had spent in Israel/Palestine and, given his extensive knowledge, was surprised to learn he had never been there. There was some discussion of Hip Hop in general where artists like Lowkey and Immortal Technique were mentioned. I had previously read some stuff about an organisation called Anarchists Against the Wall which claims to have around 100 active Israeli participants who coordinate with Palestinians and groups like the International Solidarity Movement. I was interested to know whether Aidan had come across Anarchists Against the Wall in his research but he hadn’t heard of them, though I imagine there is a strong connection with Hip Hop. Aidan said that he would like to visit Gaza and the West Bank but he is not sure about Israel. I asked whether his publishing of Unholyland might make it difficult for him to travel to Israel anyway and he said that was certainly a possibility. It was a fascinating event and I look forward to reading the book.

I actually travelled into London earlier in the day and visited a couple of free exhibitions which I want to mention. The first, at the Welcome Collection is called “Death: A self-portrait” and showcases some 300 works from a unique collection assembled by Richard Harris and devoted to the iconography of death. It is on till February 24th and is certainly worth a visit (and they do proper espresso at the cafe). After that I stopped off at the British Library and enjoyed “Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction” which is on till May 12th.

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