Iowa City residents enjoy coffee and the quiet atmosphere at Prairie Lights on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. Many businesses downtown were closed for the federal holiday. (James Year/Daily Iowan)

Two dispatches from the uprisings


Siobhan Fallon and Bianca Marais read from their newest books, which take place in Jordan and South Africa.

By Levi Wright

Siobhan Fallon’s and Bianca Marais’ newest books show readers a glimpse of two distinct cultures in the world.

Fallon will read from her new book, Confusion of Languages and Marais from her début novel, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Prairie Lights event coordinator Kathleen Johnson organized the event, initially setting it up only for Fallon because Johnson enjoyed Fallon’s short story collection, You Know When the Men are Gone. However, she saw the similarities between the two books and decided to pair them. The event will help give Marais a larger audience, because she is paired with a better-known author.

Hum if You Don’t Know the Words, shares themes of an unlikely friendship or situation that causes characters who wouldn’t normally choose to depend on one another to be brought together … ” Johnson said. “Both books are very well-done literary fiction and would be likely to appeal to the same type of audience, so it works well to pair them, because people who come because they are interested in one book over the other might find they are equally interested in both.”

Fallon and her family were stationed in Amman, Jordan, in 2011, less than a year after the Arab Spring began. With this experience, she can give readers a unique perspective on what it was like in Jordan at the time.

“I hope my book offers a glimpse into the day-to-day life of Jordanians and sort of how their faith plays into their behavior or their social traditions in a way Americans may not think of just from reading the news,” Fallon said.

Marais’ book is also a work of fiction that has been grounded in reality. Hum If You Don’t Know the Words takes place in the 1970s during the Soweto uprising. Marais also has firsthand experience of some of the events that took place. She has coupled that with facts from her research, so that while the character is going through fictional experiences, the events happening in the background are true to history.

“When you’re writing about systemic racism in the 1970s in a country far away like South Africa, you don’t expect it to resonate today as much as it does, and unfortunately, it does,” Marais said.

Though both of these books are fiction, they are based on events that occurred. Audience members will have a chance to get a more in-depth look at what it was like to experience these events to some degree even if they aren’t real.

“Fiction is formed to help us understand what’s going on in the world in a historical and emotional sense,” said Hugh Ferrer, an associate director of the International Writing Program. “These are books written from research and first-hand understanding of places that are unfamiliar to most Americans. It brings us news we didn’t have before and makes sense of what’s happening in the world in a way that Americans wouldn’t be able to otherwise know about.”

If You Go

Siobhan Fallon and Bianca Marais

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: 15 S. Dubuque

Cost: Free

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