Two New Novels About Palestine from Egyptian Author Radwa Ashour

If there is a first family of Arabic literature, it might well be Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour, Palestinian poet/memoirist Mourid Barghouti, and their poet-son Tamim Al-Barghouti.

This year, Ashour has out two new books. One is really “new” (The Woman from Tantoura, الطنطورية , Dar el Shorouk 2010) and the other is “new” to English (Specters, أطياف, Interlink/AUC Press 2010). The latter is translated by Barbara Romaine, who did a lovely version of Bahaa Taher’s Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery.

According to a piece about الطنطورية this week in Al Masry Al Youm: “The book chronicles the Palestinian nakba by following the story of a woman from the village of al-Tantoura, one of the villages of the Palestinian coast which was destroyed in 1948.”

The paper asked Ashour why the nakba, why now:

Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict are strongly present in our modern history, and in the experience of my generation, as well as in my personal experience, and this is what explains their presence in my writing. Years before “Al-Tantoureyya” I wrote “Atyaf” (1999) and “Qataat min Europa” (2003) which partially address the subject.

Atyaf, or Specters, should be out from Interlink this month in the U.S., AUC Press in our region, and Arabia in the U.K.

Specters, the winner of the Cairo International Book Fair Prize, makes an interesting companion to The Woman from Tantoura. Both deal in Palestinian history: The Woman from Tantoura with one woman’s experience of nakba and Specters with two women’s views on the 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin.

Specters “alternates between the stories of Radwa and Shagar: two women born the same day, one a professor of literature, one of history. The novel that results is part fiction, part autobiography, part oral history, part documentary—a metafiction moving between Radwa, who is writing a novel called Specters, and Shagar, whose has written a history, titled Specters….” (Interlink)

Both books have been well received. My favorite review is of Al-Tantoureya, by GoodReads user Hagar Hisham:

finished it at 6 am! Finished reading it in three days! It’s a book you cannot feel but missing it when you turn the last page!

Ashour, meanwhile, speaks interestingly about how fiction and history twine in الطنطورية in the interview with Al Masry Al Youm:

…I sometimes make a fictional character like Raqia or one of her family members participate in a scene with a real personality like Maruf Saad (the Lebanese leader who was martyred in 1957) or Dr. Bayan Nubhad (the Lebanese historian), or Dr. Anise Sayegh,  founder of the Palestinian Research Center, and so on. It’s an artistic game that a reader may or may not notice and it evokes additional meanings. So I entwine the fictional with the factual, but the imagination in this novel as in other novels, for me and other writers, strives to achieve an equation not without some irony: the imagination gathers and gives wings but stays drawn to the reality in which it is suspended.

I should receive my copy of Specters today, ISA, and greatly look forward to sitting down with it. Al-Tantoureya should be available at a good bookstore near you; you can also find it on Neelwafurat.

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Categories: Egypt, fiction

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4 replies

  1. How can I buy Radwa’s books? I am based in India.

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    • In English, you can get Ashour’s /Granada/ and /Siraj/ here:
      http://books.rediff.com/book/radwa-ashour

      I don’t know who sells Arabic titles that ship to India. Funny, I’ve been trying to get hold of my friend Monideepa’s new book, to get it shipped here to Egypt… We have a number of English-language titles from India here; there must be people moving books back and forth.

      You can always fly on over!

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  2. To my unlimited delight, and boundless shame, I am reading now My first novel of Ms Ashour: A Piece of Europe , in Arabic.
    My happiness at discovering this outstanding novelist is only matched with my regret at not knowing of her and her oeuvre earlier.
    This multi leveled novel unearths , picks at and touches on, explores and uncovers mercilessly, that which we Arabs suspect, know of and are ashamed to face : our divided, nay our submerged , consciousness of what we really were and what we truly are now and of the confused image we have now of our ourselves and of our enemy.
    Ashour harbours little doubt about both and “dissects” it, the only really telling term I can honestly command , lovingly, mercilessly and fearlessly !
    Kurd Bitar, at Jenin and in his everyday life , is the real, make up and PR free genuine Israeli Zionist we are facing now : a simple minded and passionate victim of the misguided ideology that makes him what he is….. enjoying himself in the killing and destruction “outing” to Jenin his superiors at the IDF sent him to.
    He is, as portrayed by Ahour’s unmatched talent both a victim and a villain inviting hate as much as pity…in a situation that can neither afford nor allow any pity!
    Radwa Ashour will certainly NOT receive the “international ” Nobel Prize for literature but had there been an Arab equivalent few writers will be more deserving!

    Like

  3. To my unlimited delight, and boundless shame, I am reading now My first novel of Ms Ashour: A Piece of Europe , in Arabic.
    My happiness at discovering this outstanding novelist is only matched with my regret at not knowing of her and her oeuvre earlier.
    This multi leveled novel unearths , picks at and touches on, explores and uncovers mercilessly, that which we Arabs suspect, know of and are ashamed to face : our divided, nay our submerged , consciousness of what we really were and what we truly are now and of the confused image we have now of our ourselves and of our enemy.
    Ashour harbours little doubt about both and “dissects” it, the only really telling term I can honestly command , lovingly, mercilessly and fearlessly !
    Kurd Bitar, at Jenin and in his everyday life , is the real, make up and PR free genuine Israeli Zionist we are facing now : a simple minded and passionate victim of the misguided ideology that makes him what he is….. enjoying himself in the killing and destruction “outing” to Jenin his superiors at the IDF sent him to.
    He is, as portrayed by Ahour’s unmatched talent both a victim and a villain inviting hate as much as pity…in a situation that can neither afford nor allow any pity!
    Radwa Ashour will certainly NOT receive the “international ” Nobel Prize for literature but had there been an Arab equivalent few writers will be more deserving!
    Amman/jordan

    Like

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