Why is Reading Novels good and how can they Change our World?
An interview with Pishtiwan Faraj, PhD Candidate:
Interviewed By Aras Ahmed Mhamad
1. Aras Ahmed: What is your definition of the novel? What is the significance of this genre?
Pishtiwan Faraj: Well, my definition is that a novel is usually a long and complex fictional story that tells an imaginative human experience through a sequence of events often involving some characters in a specific time period. It can be magical or realist, gothic or romantic, and often involves either one or several points of view.
The significance of this particular genre is that it gives authors plenty of chances to tackle any topics from politics, history, science, ideology, to universal and timeless themes such as love, death, war, time, aging or adventures, and what makes it really interesting is that it is an inventive account of someone’s trials in life.
2. Aras Ahmed: What are the basic classical novels of the English language that you recommend college students to start with?
Pishtiwan Faraj: Em, let me think, because there are lots of good novels that I have read and truly enjoyed. I recommend college students to read The Lord of the Rings, 1984, Animal Farm, Hard Times, Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair, Pride and Prejudice, Moll Flanders, Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Don Quixote, Heart of Darkness, The Portrait of a Lady, Middlemarch, and Gulliver’s Travels to name just a few.
If you notice, I did not mention the novels which are very lengthy and demanding especially in this hectic technologically charged time. I also suggest that if students do not have time to read these novels at least they can buy the shorter simplified versions to read. This can save them time while also being familiar with the long list of great novels written or translated into English.
3. Aras Ahmed: Daniel Defoe’s (1660-1731) Robinson Crusoe (1719) is considered to be the first English novel, how would you comment on that?
Pishtiwan Faraj: It is one of the earliest English novels written in the 18th century; Defoe’s novels along with Richardson and Henry Fielding’s novels established the novel as a literary form in England.
It tells a story of a man shipwrecked and lost in an island and his struggles with the environment; it was popular at that time because it was written in a time when people in England used to travel abroad and conquered other lands.
This novel drew partly on memoirs of voyagers and castaways, and helped Defoe achieve literary immortality for its innovation. When I first read this novel I used to think about Kurdish people who immigrated in mass to Europe during the economic blockade and unfortunately some of them lost their lives on the way.
Sometimes in reading Robinson Crusoe I was also thinking of my father who went missing in action in the Iran-Iraq war when I was only an infant. This is what makes novels interesting, though they are imaginative works, you can also find similar real-life events, people, settings or ideas you are familiar with in reality.
4. Aras Ahmed: Do you think the rise of novel has marginalized poetry and drama?
Pishtiwan Faraj: This is a tough question and I am not sure of the answer. I will try to express my understanding of this issue. This question might be a good topic for a senior student to consider for his/her graduation research paper.
According to my understanding, both poetry and drama have very long histories. They are written very carefully with words that are very powerful and effective because they were performed for the public or read in large gatherings in the past.
But novels are in prose and often in simple prose, and by considering how time has changed, the writing has also changed. Writing novels is a solitude act and reading them is too; a novel is read by one person at a time whereas poetry and drama were written for actors or speakers in the past to educate, entertain or enlighten people like the Greeks, Romans or Elizabethan did.
People still write and read poetry, they also go to the theatre. But for me, and considering the fact that I live and study in London; I have noticed people are more prone to reading novels than other genres. I have noticed thousands of people every day on the London underground carrying a novel.
Yesterday I was coming back from Kent and I saw an old woman reading a novel entitled Trickster Makes this World which I found fascinating to read. So generally speaking I think reading novels are much more popular and dominant than drama and poetry.
5. Aras Ahmed: What are the main characteristics of a novel?
Pishtiwan Faraj: Novels are unique fictional works that have some length between 50,000 to 100,000 words that tells a story in a narrative form either in some chapters or one lengthy chapter.
It should have a single or a group of characters that are in conflict. It has a plot with either a linear structure of beginning, middle and end or what we academics call the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution formula or non-linear structure.
6. What are the main factors behind the rising of the genre?
Pishtiwan Faraj: As for the factors that led to the rise of novel, I think the publication of newspapers in Britain in the 18th century in which many novels were first serialized and later collected and published, was one of the factors.
Another factor was the rise of the middle class and the social environment after the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England, the role of trade, commerce, markets and shop-keepers, the nouveaux riches, the coffee houses, the fall of feudalism, the increasing role of democracy and the liberal market, liaises Faire, the role of Parliament.
The increasing role of the mass are reflected in the novels in which most of the main protagonists are normal people; not kings, knights, heroes or nobilities that were found in tragedies, epics and romance.
The increasing role of the novelists as social critic and intellectuals who questioned the reality of the life of people led to the development of realism in novels. The decline of drama in the 18th century led to the rise of the novel.
Unlike the Elizabethan times, drama eclipsed for a period and novels took their positions. The freedom of writing found in the process of writing a novel motivated many novelists to adhere to this particular genre and avoid the writing of drama and plays which was mostly censored by the state.
Pishtiwan Mohammed Faraj is Assistant Lecturer at Slemani University where he teaches English literature. He is currently studying for his PhD in Brunel University in London, writing on Post-millennial War Literature. He joined the University of Slemani in Iraq in 2006, and taught American and English Literature until 2012; where he was a faculty member in the Department of English\ College of Languages, in the University of Slemani where he received a BA and MA in English and Literature. He is also the recipient of the Ministry of Higher Education scholarship for his PhD study in United Kingdom. He also lectured in the University of Human Development in Kurdistan from 2009 to 2012. In addition to teaching, He is also a freelance translator, interpreter and Journalist.