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August 14, 2012

Book Notes - Selma Dabbagh "Out of It"

Out of It

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Selma Dabbagh's debut novel Out of It is a vivid and thoughtful exploration of the Palestinian situation and its effects on the people of Gaza as well as those who choose to leave.

The Observer wrote of the book:

"Out of It, is a gripping tale of dispossession and belonging, treachery, loyalty and bravery that redefines Palestine and its people"

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Selma Dabbagh's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Out of It:

'Dogs of War' by Pink Floyd

In prehistoric times there were lakes in the land which is now Egypt and there whales swam before the lake dried up, leaving their perforated bones untouched in a bowl of desert for tens of thousands of years. One day, several decades ago, a Pink Floyd loving friend of mine ventured into the desert, found two of these bones and turned them into speaker stands for his Cairo apartment. During the days of relative peace between Israel/Palestine myself and my ex husband, who I had been married to for less than a year, went on holiday to Egypt from London with close friends from Gaza who were even more newly married than we were. The woman was from the town of Beit Hanoun on Northern edge of Gaza, a town that suffers repeated attacks by the Israeli army. The woman was extraordinarily impressive: resolute, intelligent and intuitive, she possessed an uncanny knack of deciphering personalities through astrology. Her readings were delivered with oracle like authority. Her new husband respected, desired and revered her. One night when gathered in the bone thief 's Cairo flat, our host changed the music and 'The Dogs of War' came on. It could have been that the Sudanese grass distorted the sound but the hard crashes during the opening bars caused the woman to jump, her eyes large enough to see the white all around the circumference of her irises and one word shot through with fright came out of her, 'Jaysh?' soldiers?

The song links in to Out of It not just because of the lyrics and the metallic, ominous sounds of war which capture the opening scenes of my novel which starts with an aerial bombardment of Gaza, but also because the characters in the novel grapple throughout with finding ways of dealing with their fear.

'Ana Mosh Kafir,' (I'm not a disbeliever) Ziad Rahbani

There are a couple of iconic Arab singers who have had decades of popularity from the Gulf to Morocco. Fairuz, 'The First Lady of Lebanese Singing,' is one of them. Ziad Rahbani is her son. His music could loosely be called political Arab jazz which is of the type that the older brother Sabri in Out of It would listen to along with more patriotic Palestinian songs like,

Wayn A'Ramallah? (Where are we going? To Ramallah?)

A song based on a traditional Palestinian rhythm, often performed at weddings. This song has been produced by various artists. I prefer the versions with male vocals and heavy tabla drumming myself.

Don't Smoke In Bed, Nina Simone

Across the corridor from Sabri in the Mujahed household, his younger brother, Rashid listens to music that their mother refered to disparagingly as “that black female singer whose voice swept around aimlessly like a strip of lace on the end of the strip.” Simone would be in Rashid's eclectic and wide ranging music collection of mainly Western artists.

'Inta Fen?' (Where Are You?) Soap Kills

A song for Iman, Rashid's twin. I imagine her mood and look to be like a dressed down, more gauche and serious version of the fabulous lead singer of this Lebanese band. It could be that inside Iman there's a vampish lead singer just dying to get out.

'Idraab bi Almadrassa' (Strike At The School) by Marcel Khalife

Marcel Khalife is a Lebanese singer, composer and oud player with a self described rebel's soul. Many of his songs are based on the poems of Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish on subjects of nationalism and revolution.
Unlike the one in my novel, the strike on the school referred to in this song's title is of the industrial, not the military, variety but the background recording of a Lebanese school yard in the opening bars illustrates how the sound of innocence in itself can chill.

'What a Feeling' by Irene Cara

One of my first reviewers slated me as being anti-British in my novel, for depicting 'sluts' who confuse Pakistan with Palestine amongst other apparently racist slurs. For the record, I never use the word 'slut' in the novel or outside of it and the women I believe he was referring to were some rather sweet lap dancers who were energetically interacting with poles to the Flashdance soundtrack in an East London club. Pakistan is also frequently confused with Palestine. Being kept of the map does not help.

'Inta Eih' (What are you?) Nancy Ajram

More Lebanese songs for the Gulf scenes in Out of It but of a tackier, more catchy variety. I imagine the ring tone of the woman Jibril Mujahed is watching in the airport café while waiting for her daughter to be by Nancy Ajram.

'The Blower's Daughter,' Damien Rice

The lyrics don't always fit with the sentiment, but there is a sense of intense longing for the absent in this gets-stuck-in-your-head soundtrack to the film Closer. Most of the romantic relationships in Out of It are never fully realised: the characters yearn for love and union with those who are unknown to them, abroad or dead. This mood of deep desire and heart breaking resignation is captured beautifully in this song.

'Gimme Shelter,' Rolling Stones

A song damaged by over exposure, utilised by too many car advertisements and the like, but it's easy to see why, there's that amazing build up 'oooo' of the backing vocalists, a rising spirit of hope and defiance with a strong guitar lead that gives a adrenalin rushing sense of increasing movement and energy. This is the music for the last brief chapter of Out of It. The novel ends just before Mick Jagger starts to sing.

Selma Dabbagh and Out of It links:

the author's website

The Economist review
Guardian review
Independent review
Independent review
Kirkus Reviews review

Guardian essay by the author (on the top 10 stories of reluctant revolutionaries)
The List profile of the author
Metro profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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musician/author interviews
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