Listening to Leila speak is similar to hearing anecdotes from an old friend. Her words tumble out with the richness and experience only someone with a wealth of knowledge and a hardened worldview can possess.
There are a little over forty people in attendance as we sit and wait for Leila to begin. As she is introduced we are greeted by a warm smile and a charmingly defining accent, which lilts and sways whilst she tells us of the precise ways to articulate Arabic sounds. This writer is passionate. She is connected to her culture and as she recalls childhood stories I find myself listening in a way that absorbs and self reflexively examines myself.
“It’s up to all of us to materialise your own creations, ‘Chasing Shadows’ is like a handmade rug made of pieces observing and listening to life around me. A quilt made of all colours shapes and sizes in life.”
We get a sense that Leila’s life has been punctuated by an endless imagination, one that flourishes into the composition that brings her here today. ‘Chasing Shadows’ is a reflection of Leila’s experiences, it is both a direct an indirect amalgamation of her life and the relevant stories that have shaped her into the person she is today. The book she says overall is a:
“Story with the main message of peace, love and oneness.”
It is a story that helps to identify and unite people of all cultural backgrounds. A story that Leila has fashioned with such dedication to the idea that our experiences and how we can relate them become the strongest tools of all in humanity’s survival.
This is a person that believes in the enriching power of storytelling, the transcendent qualities of carefully crafted syllables, of poetically influenced syntax of rolling sentences that just tell. A woman who grew up in Lebanon and moved to France, only to relocate to Australia and marry a Chinese man. A geographical tale in itself. A woman who believes that:
“Stories define us and give us a sense of reality, open up the world and enrich our lives.”
And it is captivating.
Leila also shares her philosophical views and gently poses the idea of a circle as a symbol within society. The circle is seen as something that conveys hope and unity but why when slightly modified does it become a metaphor for restriction and fear?
“A circle is seen as unity but a rope circle strangles. To encircle is to put a population under siege, the fear of the other makes humans do terrible things. Palestinians are encircled in camps. Societies form stereotypes and encircle ourselves within like-minded people.”
This duality of the circle serves to express Leila’s thoughts on storytelling and its complex role within the boundaries of our politically governed environment. Most ideas are perceptual and it is through the art of telling these ideas that meaning is formed. The circle both liberates and ensnares us and we must learn to exist in a way that preaches harmony and acceptance.
“Story transcends social barriers and helps us learn about the other and break cultural barriers.”
This to me is why her book is so important. It is a collection of an individual’s stories manifested into a novel that displays love and peace as all encompassing values. Something that all people can gather hope from and in its unique personality help us find our very own connection to a wider cultural acceptance and mutual love for one another.
Leila imbues a desire to listen and tell and at the heart of it that is exactly what a good storyteller does.
Talk delivered at Hornsby Central Library, Thursday 12th 6:30pm.
Chasing Shadows is published by Vintage Books, $32.99.