Exchange: Green-Eyed Thieves

Imraan Coovadia wrote the following letter to the Sunday Times, regarding my review of his Green-eyed Thieves. The paper did not publish the letter - it merely printed a correction - so here it is, with my brief response, in full.

Dear Editor:

In his review of my novel, Green-eyed Thieves, published 6 August in the Sunday Times, Ben Oswest twice refers to the brother of the narrator as Ahmed. The review is interesting but that character’s name is Ashraf. By my computer’s count the name Ashraf appears in the manuscript 414 times, or almost exactly twice on every page. Surely these names don’t sound alike? It’s like mixing up Benjamin and Bjorn…Benjamin Borg? Bjorn Franklin? And anyway (you could ask) what’s in a name? Fictional characters come into existence, not by the collision of a sperm and an egg like the rest of us, but by being given a name. Ahmed is a typical, even stereotypical, Muslim name. Ashraf is not. I was recently introduced to a lady who told me, very politely, that Imraan wasn’t a name you heard every day. Well, I explained, it’s a name I hear every day.

Sincerely,

Imraan “Ahmed” Coovadia
New York

—————–

The error is entirely mine - thank heavens I didn’t repeat it 414 times. I regret it very much, hope that the ensuing controversy helps boost sales of Coovadia’s interesting novel, and commit myself to being more scrupulous about getting people’s names right, fictional or otherwise.

- Bjørn Oswest

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