When Kathryn Abdul-Baki was a young journalist working as reporter for the Gulf Mirror in Bahrain, she was asked to cover an archeology dig that was being conducted by archeologist Geoffrey Bibby. It ended up becoming one of her most enjoyed assignments.
“I was just fascinated by all of this pre-history in the Persian Gulf — none of which was above ground,” said Abdul-Baki, who has lived in McLean for over 25 years.
Her own positive encounter with archeology inspired her to have the female protagonist in her latest novel “Sands of Zulaika” undergo a similar experience. In the book, Gina and Dirk Monroe, an American couple from
New York, relocate to Abu Samra, in the Arabian/Persian Gulf as the result of Dirk Monroe’s job. Once there, they are forced to come to terms with their own precarious marriage. Abdul-Baki began writing the novel 10 years ago, but said it took so long to complete because she was working on other projects at the same time. She also based some of the novel on her own observations of “ex-pat” behavior in the Middle East.
“I noticed that different ex-pats had different ways of reacting to their new environment, and Americans were always very good about it because they had this sort of ‘cowboy’ attitude about it, so in a way, they were much more open to everything,” said Abdul-Baki. “But each group had its own way of diving into the pool and mixing with the indigenous population — which isn’t so easy all the time … but it’s an interesting experience in terms of just looking at oneself.”
In addition to “Sands of Zulaika,” Abdul-Baki has published a collection of short stories called “Fields of Fig and Olive: Ameera and Other Stories of the Middle East,” and two other novels — “Tower of Dreams” and “Ghost Songs.” Born in Washington D.C. to a Palestinian father and an American mother, Abdul-Baki grew up in Iran, Kuwait, Beirut and Jerusalem, attending a mixture of Arabic, British and American schools. She attended the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, for two years and then earned her B.A. in Journalism from George Washington University. She went on to earn her M.A. in creative writing from George Mason University.
Abdul-Baki occasionally runs writing workshops in the area, and has earned accolades from critics for her previous works.
“It bids fair to establish Kathryn Abdul-Baki as an Arab-American fiction writer worthy of wide recognition,” said Issa Boulata of World Literature Today. “She presents Arab culture to readers in narratives of exquisite technique, deep insights and beautiful English.”
AFTER COMPLETING her first books, Abdul-Baki took a break from writing to pursue one of her other passions — dancing. In her spare time, Abdul-Baki teaches Latin dancing, the Argentine Tango and belly dancing.
“I had to get away from writing for a while,” she said. “Writing is good but sometimes you need to be around people.”
But now that “Sands of Zulaika” has finally been published, Abdul-Baki said she has gotten the fiction bug again and is gradually easing herself back into full writing mode.
“I’m already in the process of writing another book, but this one is going much more slowly because I am teaching so many dance classes,” she said.
Her current project “Hotels: A Marriage in Four Seasons,” is about a married couple’s 40 years of travel experience together. It will be her first work with completely American characters.
“You see them over the course of 40 years of marriage, but you only see them as they travel to different countries — in other words, you only see them outside of their normal environment,” she said.
Abdul-Baki is also working on a non-fiction book about dance, however, she said she does have one future goal as far as her writing projects are concerned, and that is to keep them short.
“It takes me a long time to get things to where I like it, and this last book was so long — 320 pages,” she said with a laugh. “That’s a lot of re-writes and adjustments. So this next book will be 200 pages maximum.”