Reflection on Suhayl Saadi Course
As soon I received news of another author being brought to campus as a GW-British Council Writer in Residence, I jumped at the opportunity to be a participant of the course. I had heard of the Nadeem Aslam course last year too late to sign up for it and would constantly hear praise from his students about his knowledge and the course itself. I refused to let another great opportunity pass me by.
I had never read any of Suhayl Saadi’s work so I did a bit of background research on the accomplished author before applying for the course. I found him to be intriguing because of his South Asian, Muslim, and British backgrounds – all identities that I also associate myself with. As a self-described bookworm, I become very disheartened by the lack of time I have to read a new novel and further reasoned that this course would allow me to do just that.
I kept notebook and pencil handy while I read the course texts, jotting down notes and questions as they came to me. This proved to be helpful when we met each week because I’d often have several questions or comments written down, which I never would have been able to completely recall otherwise.
I soon learned I was to be one of five students in the class. At first, I was surprised by the small number of students in the class but soon became grateful for it. The texts we read proved to be complex and prompted much discussion. The small size allowed each of us to offer our opinions and perspectives at length as well as have more critical dialogue than would have been possible in a larger class. All of my fellow classmates seemed well-read and articulate and were able to offer interesting perspectives and analyses during discussion.
Our first text was, “How Late It Was, How Late,” by James Kelman. It was a complex, dense text especially given we only had a week to tackle it. The language was written in a rough Scottish dialect, which took a while to decipher. The plot had its peaks but I felt the conclusion was a bit abrupt. I appreciated the disability perspective that this novel focused on since I have a strong interest in disability literature after taking “Disability Studies and Culture” with Robert McRuer last semester. Although I did not enjoy this novel as much as I assumed I would (it had a really sweet cover), it was definitely unlike anything else I had ever read before which I very much appreciated.
I found the next text, “This Other Salt,” by Aamer Hussein, to be much more enjoyable. Again, it was unlike anything I had ever read before and very different from what I had expected. It was a collection of short stories wrought with passion, sexuality, and exoticism. The settings of the stories ranged from Italy to Pakistan to England, among others. There was a recurring theme of passionate love affairs and infidelity. Since I knew Aamer Hussein was a Pakistani Muslim, I had stereotypically assumed his stories would reflect these identities. While the stories did accomplish this, they did so in a very eclectic, edgy way.
The third and final text was also a collection of short stories called, “Monsieur Shoushana’s Lemon Trees,” by Patricia Duncker. Again, sexuality arose as a predominant theme, which held my interest throughout. I have always been keen of LGBT literature and Duncker’s short stories offered unique examples of it. Unlike the other texts, this book also introduced a supernatural element. This was probably my favorite book of the course, very closely followed by Aamer Hussein’s.
Suhayl always came prepared with fresh perspectives and a critical eye, with lots of notes to supplement his points or highlight specific phrases he found poignant or beautifully descriptive. He provided a laidback environment where we were never embarrassed to offer our criticisms or comments. I also really appreciated Suhayl’s sense of style. I like to consider myself a hat connoisseur and would definitely consider Suhayl one as well. He was able to rock a fedora AND a beret – definitely an uncommon gift.
Suhayl’s knowledge of global literature opened my eyes to realms of literature I have yet to explore. This course helped to introduce me to some of these realms and was definitely an experience I was grateful to have had an opportunity to be a part of. It was incredible to get the perspective of such an experienced author in a classroom setting and I would wholeheartedly encourage students to take advantage of similar future opportunities.