Kuwaiti author on International stage with debut novel

Young Kuwaiti author Layla Al Ammar is set to make her international debut with the launch of her book, ‘The Pact we Made’, which is slated for release on 7 March, by Borough Press, the literary fiction imprint of Harper Collins.

Al Ammar joins an exclusive and small group of Kuwaiti authors whose works in English have been released by international publishing houses. Her debut novel, based on her native country’s culture, revolves around the heroine, Dahlia, a young Kuwaiti woman who is forced to lead a dual life. In one life, she has an active social life and a successful career; in the other, she is plagued by anxiety over a secret that if disclosed would bring shame to her family. With pressure mounting on her to marry, Dahlia sees escape as the only alternative.

In a way, the duality theme of the book mirrors the author’s own dilemma, arising from being torn between two different cultures and expectations. From an early age, Al Ammar, born to an American mother and a Kuwaiti father, had to conform to differing customs and norms.

She did her early schooling in an all-girls Arabic school in Kuwait, while learning English at home and from books she read. Her favorite childhood classics like The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows influenced her to a great extent and sowed the seeds for a love of literature.

However, in university, she had to pursue economics rather than English as her father believed literature was something one studied for enjoyment and not for a professional career. Nevertheless, she enrolled for a Masters in Creative-Writing at the University of Edinburgh, and it was from here that the genesis for her debut novel took shape.

Encouraged by her friends she wrote a short story about Kuwait that over the years and over several editing and shelving bouts eventually condensed into ‘The Pact we Made’. The book brings to light several cultural conflicts while also raising questions about marriage, family, choices, and, more importantly, the pursuit of individuality in a society that encourages conformity.

Besides having her short stories published in a variety of international publications, Al Ammar was recently selected by the British Council in England to participate as the International Writer in Residence at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival in Charleston in the UK.

To further her career, in September, Al Ammar will commence her PhD in England, researching the topic of Arab women in literature. Despite the workload of preparing a thesis, Al Ammar is already working on her second novel about a Syrian refugee living in the UK.

Currently working as an English Instructor at a private college in Kuwait, Al Ammar is keen to show how a new generation of Anglo-Kuwaiti writers are beginning to claim their own voice and bring their experiences to a Western audience.

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