Bloomsbury-Qatar Signs Radwa Ashour’s Novel ‘Farag’

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing has signed with novelist Radwa Ashour to translate her novel Farag into English. The novel, originally published by Dar el Shorouk in 2008, has been perhaps Ashour’s most popular work.

According to Dar el Shourouk:

Farag (2008) is a novel about political detention. Nada, the central character, born to an Egyptian father and a French mother, narrates her childhood experience as the child of a political detainee in the late 50s, a detained student activist in the mid -seventies and the arrest of her younger brother during the anti war demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The novel alternates between the fictional world of a domestic drama and the documentary material of modern Egyptian history; it brings together fictional characters like Nada, and historical characters like Arwa, Siham and Marzouki (two young women activists who eventually committed suicide, and a Moroccan detainee for 18 years in Tazmamarte). Prison in the novel is both real and metaphorical: What happens when life turns into a prison? Some commit suicide, physical or metaphorical, others survive the ordeal and their triumph however modest, is rooted in the comforting intimation that humans can nurture hope even in the midst of hell.

In Ashour’s words, from a 2009 interview with Marwa Kamel for El Shourouk (newspaper):

In its first layer of meaning, prison in the novel is the experience of political arrest over three generations of the same family. This prison could destroy or could strengthen, could make one off-balanced or could provide them with more balance.

There is another prison present throughout the novel, that is the one of the cruel society. Here I made use of Foucault’s concept of the “disciplinary society”, and his theory in his important book Discipline and Punish in which he states that the authority in the period prior to the second half of the nineteenth century used prison and torture as tools of punishment. However, later on, especially in the twentieth century, this was not only restricted to prison. The authority exercised full control on all aspects and details of the society; it thus became a “disciplinary society”, just like the prison.

In Farag, I have used the Panopticon image, a Greek word of two parts: “pan” meaning all and “opticon” meaning to observe. It refers to the concept of the prison design architecture allowing some guards to watch all prisoners without them knowing, making them always feel observed, even if there was no one actually or directly watching. The observer thus, becomes inside the prisoners themselves.


Insights from Ashour and others about the novel at Kholoud Said Amer’s paper “The Women’s Voices in Radwa Ashour’s Farag: A Feminist Read

 Farag‘s Goodreads page.

Who’s your daddy? Adel Iskandar offers commentary on Farag.