Russian author Yaser Akel and Bahraini novelist Leila Al Mutawa discuss the influence of history on literature at SIBF 2020

During a virtual session held as part of 39th edition of Sharjah International Book Fair

Sharjah, November 13, 2020

Russian author and researcher at St. Petersburg State University, Yaser Akel, and Bahraini novelist, Leila Al Mutawa, have shared interesting views about the influence of history on literature at the 39th edition of Sharjah International Book Fair. The virtual session was held as part of the book fair, running from November 4-14 under the theme ‘The World Reads from Sharjah’.

Moderated by Emirati writer Safia Al Shehi, the session saw the two speakers debate over the question whether history, which is based on facts, can support literature which relies largely on imagination.

Yaser Akel opined that history may evolve over time if additional facts are unearthed about incidents which may strengthen the theories of earlier historians, or cause history to be rewritten. He emphasised that historical research methods are universal and rely upon information from multiple sources that are compared and analysed to identify their impact and value as historical facts. He called on researchers in the Arab world to contribute to history by focusing on Islamic medical manuscripts, which are an invaluable source for historians.

Leila Al Mutawa, who supported the idea of the evolution of history, called for examining history from different perspectives. She underscored the importance of historians being honest in their research and documentation of events and facts. They should not allow personal biases to influence their work or base it on unverified assumptions and theories.

Replying to a question about the relationship between novelists and history, she explained that imagination played a major role in shaping literature, while history was based on facts. A historian relies on research, investigation, and verification to confirm or deny historical facts, while a fictional work is fuelled by the writer’s imagination even if it is based on historical facts.

Regarding the reliability of historical sources, Al Mutawa said that later archaeological discoveries and research had disproved several long-held historical facts. But while history was constantly changing, it remained an important source of information. Historians must be open to their findings being questioned and subject to further research.

Al Mutawa pointed out that the rise of digital platform had led to an increase in adaptations of historical subjects for the medium. She saw the recent historical discoveries as a source of inspiration for novelists.