Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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Listen Up: Local author releases 2nd novel about Middle East

Cathy Sultan's books draw from her experience living in Beirut

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    Eau Claire author Cathy Sultan recently released her second novel about the turmoil in the Middle East, where she has spent a good part of her life.

    Contributed photo

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    Sultan

    Contributed photo

Editor’s note: Listen Up is a Q&A featuring locals in the arts and culture community.

This week: Cathy Sultan, a local author. She will talk about her novel, “Damascus Street,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St.

What is “Damascus Street” about?

In a sense it’s a sequel to, “The Syrian,” my first attempt at fiction after writing three books of nonfiction. (“Damascus Street”) is really part of a trilogy, so it was a bit tricky for me to figure out how to connect this with “The Syrian” and the third book, which has yet to be written.

Basically, it’s about the conflict in Syria. There are four perspectives, or four points of view, and they tell their story. It’s a story about intrigue and love. An idealist American physician comes to Lebanon to celebrate his marriage to Nadia only to find himself witnessing her kidnapping. He is seeing his best friends killed, embroiled in a war and being caught in web of intelligence agents. 

It’s a pretty complex story, but I’ve managed to incorporate some of the history of the Middle East, which makes it a little easier to understand.

Why did you want to write about this topic?

We lived there. My husband is Lebanese, and 49 years ago we left the states and took our two small children to Beirut. We planned to live there the rest of our lives, but a civil war broke out and that completely altered our lives and became too much for our family, so we came back to the states. That did not end our life in the Middle East. We keep an apartment there. I sat on a non-government organization’s board of directors and co-led six of their delegations to Israel, Palestine and Gaza, so I feel pretty versed in that particular area.

Plus, living in a war zone you become a news junky, and I have not lost that attribute. My pulse is really on what is happening there. 

It’s very important to understand what the western government and in particular our government was doing in Middle East. I think we have a tendency to have a one-sided conversation in this country via mass media, and there’s always more to the story.

Having lived in both places I can see how both sides see the story. There’s nothing black and white about the Middle East — there’s not one good person versus one bad person.

How does ficton allow you to explore this topic differently than nonfiction?

I’ve found a better vehicle to tell the truth about what is happening in the Middle East. I think I have a different audience than I did with my nonfiction — two of those books were academic. 

With fiction, if you can tell a good story and know your subject matter, you can weave in your truth as you see it. It’s a vehicle telling an author’s opinion of what she see’s going on in the Middle East. And if someone reads a really good story, they might think maybe there’s more truth to this and maybe they should be paying more attention. It does include a lot of historical facts.

Where did the storylines come from?

Mostly coming from my experiences. I’m in Beirut often enough, and the second I hit the ground I start asking questions. There are a couple chapters in refugee camps and I spent a lot of time there. Because most are first-hand, I think I have the ability to come across as an authentic story teller.

What will you share at the reading?

I’ll give a brief overview of my life story and I’ll be reading little blurbs about each of my characters in a particular scene that provides an overview of who these characters are. But I won’t give away the ending.

Are you working on anything else?

I’m working on the third book in the trilogy — I’m plotting the chapters out now.

What do you hope readers take away from “Damascus Street”?

I hope their curiousity will be aroused enough to pay closer attention to news and to be curious enough to look further than the New York Times or Washington Post and discover for themselves there are alternative news sources and there are two sides to every story.

— Katy Macek


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