Amazing Dubai

When I received the invitation to be a guest author at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature a few months ago, I couldn’t say YES!! fast enough. The Middle East has always fascinated me, and over the years I’ve visited both Egypt and Libya, but had never been to the United Arab Emirates. So this invitation was an opportunity not only to see a new country but also to mingle with a completely new circle of authors, many hailing from the region.

The festival booked me and my husband on business class aboard an Emirates Airline flight direct from JFK to Dubai, and that was my first taste of the amazing time in store for us. When we landed, we found ourselves in a city that feels like it’s from the future, with spectacularly space-age skyscrapers, a monorail system, and the tallest building in the world.

Here’s a shot of my husband Jacob in front of the Dubai Mall, with the tallest building (Burj Khalifa) in the background. It’s over 200 stories tall and from a distance looks like a silver spire rising from the desert.

And here’s the view from the 124th floor, looking down at a city that looks like something out of a science fiction novel:

The festival itself was held in the Intercontinental Hotel, and had over a hundred guest authors from around the world. I got the chance to rub shoulders with some truly fascinating writers whose names I was already well familiar with, including

Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone):

Lynne Truss (Eats Shoots and Leaves)

and Mark Billingham (Sleepyhead):

Then there were some fascinating writers who were new to me, writers with such interesting stories to tell. Here (with me and my husband) is Marguerite van Geldermalsen, an amazing adventurous woman from New Zealand. In her youth she traveled to Petra in Jordan. There she fell in love with, and married, a Bedouin. Together they happily lived in a cave and raised two children. Seven years ago her husband died, but Marguerite still lives in Petra. She tells the story of their life together in her book Married to a Bedouin.

I also had a lovely dinner sitting beside John Adair, an Englishman who’s a worldwide authority on principles of leadership. His life story reads like a novel. He served in the Arab Legion among Bedouin tribes and likes to joke that he’s one of the few lucky soldiers who got shot at by both the Egyptians and the Israelis. His business book, The Leadership of Mohammed, has been published in both English and Arabic and weaves descriptions of Bedouin culture and tribal leadership.

Then there are all the authors whose photos I didn’t manage to take including Isobel Coleman, China Mieville, Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, Greg Mortenson, and the delightful Egyptian scholar Kamal Abdel Malek, whose first whispered words to me were: “This would all go better with a cappuccino, don’t you think?” I loved meeting authors from Iran and Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, China, India — I can’t even list all the countries that were represented. We compared notes about our respective publishing worlds and the challenges we all face.

No matter where I travel, I find that writers are truly one big family.