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Hafsa Zayyan speaks about how important Kahlil Gibran was in her life

The parable nature of the Lebanese writer’s work makes it good for children, Zayyan tells Christine Manby

Monday 18 January 2021 00:01
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Hafsa Zayyan did not set out to become a writer. After studying at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, she became a lawyer, specialising in dispute resolution. “As a child of an immigrant, only certain career options are culturally acceptable,” she says. “Medicine, law, accountancy. You have to do something that makes immigration worth it. It’s the society I was raised in.”

But perhaps Zayyan’s Nigerian grandfather thought differently when he gave her the set of books by Kahlil Gibran that she wants to talk about today. “I was really surprised. He was a formidable character, a very strict Muslim and I didn’t expect him to be interested in something that didn’t have its origins in the Quran.”

The books were a gift that nurtured teenage Zayyan’s love of literature and while she still chose one of the “acceptable” career options, this year sees the publication of her debut novel, We Are All Birds Of Uganda, the opening chapters of which have already made her an award-winning author.

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