Summer Re-Run: Arab Women Writers Recommend Their Favorite Arab Women Writers

In 2014, ArabLit did a very popular “Year of Reading Arab Women.” A number of readers asked for a follow-up in 2015. In January of this year, nine acclaimed Arab women writers chose favorite books by other Arab women writers:

>Recommendation from Mansoura Ezz Eldin

41kBW4IFS8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hoda Barakat’s Stone of Laughter (English version available from Interlink, trans. Sophie Bennett)

“The novel that I’ve loved the most by an Arab woman writer is Hoda Barakat’s Stone of Laughter, which I read for the first time when the Egyptian edition was issued in 1998, and this was the first time I knew her writing. I bought it during the last two years of exams during university from a newspaper-and-bookseller who stood in front of the University of Cairo’s main gate, after its cover grabbed my attention.

“I read the first pages and couldn’t leave the book until I had finished it. Akthough I had an important exam the next day, I spent my night with the protagonist Khalil, and sympathized with him, and tried to see the world through his eyes.

“I loved the way Hoda Barakat revealed her protagonist gradually, just as I loved the images of Beirut at the center of the craziness of the game of war, and I saw in the Beirut of the Stone of Laughter any city in a similar situation.

“Even now, I still appreciate The Stone of Laughter and see it as one of Hoda Barakat’s strongest works.”

~

>Recommendation from Miral al-Tahawy

Duna Ghali’s Orbits of Loneliness (2013)

manazilTruth is, there is a long list of Arab women’s work that I’m sure was important in the history of my reading, but what I remember is the last text I read that had a profound impact on me, and that’s Duna Ghali’s “Orbits of Loneliness,” a novel that tells about the narrator’s relationship to her young child during a time of war and siege in Iraq, both before and after the US military invasion.

The novel describes the complex relationship between a mother and her son, the loneliness and togehterness, the fears and harsh life under siege. It is a feminist novel that in incisive and bold in its psychologyical complexity, unprecedented exploration in modern Arabic literature.

More on Orbits of Loneliness:

An excerpt from the book, trans. Maia Tabet, is available on the Banipal website.

It was also one of novelist Ibrahim Farghali’s choices for his “favorites of 2013.”

>Recommendation from Iman Mersal

download (1)Hoda Barakat’s work, especially The Stone of Laughter and The Tiller of Waters, stand among my favourite works by modern Arab female writers. It’s not just the way she narrates the civil war or the madness of Beirut, but her humour, cynicism and first and foremost, her originality.

Another whose work I admire is Safinaz Kazem. When I was a young writer in my 20s, I would never have been able to admit this, as the Islamic ideology behind her work stood as a barrier between it and me. I read her 1970 Romantikeyyat, an account of her years in America as a young student, while working on my PhD dissertation on Arab Travel Narratives of America. Other female writers I read  would be filter their experiences through some ideological lense or another, as if they had left their bodies at home. Kazem’s account, on the other hand, was one of a transformative journey that made me read the entirety of her oeuvre with great relish. Likewise, there are memoirs written by some Arab female writers that deserve mention, even if one isn’t a fan of their work as a whole: Hamlat taftish: Awraq shakhsiya (1992), by Latifa Zayat, ِAwraqi…Hayati (1995), by Nawal El Saadawi, and Alaa al- Jisr (1986) by Aisha Abd al-Rahman (also known as Bint al-Shati). One feels, in these works, that the authors speak in their own voices, unfettered by the collective will or collective projects so present in their other writings.

>Recommendation from Inaam Kachachi

judgmentRasha Al Ameer’s Judgement Day (translated into the English by Jonathan Wright)

“I consider يوم الدين, (Dar Al-Jadeed, 2002) the book of the Lebanese writer Rasha Al Ameer, the fiction that one should read.”

    • “Translated into French by Youssef Seddik as Le dernier jour: confessions d’un imam, Paris: Actes Sud, 2009.
    • “Translated into English by Jonathan Wright. Judgment Day: A Modern Arabic Novel, Oxford University Press, 2011.”

More on Judgment Day:

‘Judgment Day’: A Conversation About Poetry, the Quran, and the Future of Arabic

Review of Rasha al-Ameer’s ‘Judgment Day,’ trans. Jonathan Wright

Q & A: On Translating Rasha al-Ameer’s ‘Judgment Day’

~

>Recommendations from Adania Shibli

imanIman Mersal’s A Dark Alley Suitable for Learning to Dance and Walking As Long As Possibleas well as Samira Azzam’s The Clock and the Man.

“Books I cherish and in fact allowed me finally to appreciate Arabic poetry are two collections by Iman Mersal:

  • ممر معتم يصلح لتعلم الرقص، دار شرقيات، القاهرة، طبعة أولى 1995.
  • المشي أطول وقت ممكن، دار شرقيات، القاهرة، 1997.
 “Whereas a writer who influenced my life is Samira Azzam, especially her:
  1. الساعة والإنسان ـ المؤسسة الأهلية للطباعة ـ بيروت 1963″

A number of Mersal’s poems were collected into These Are Not Oranges, My Love, trans. Khaled Mattawa. You can read some of the poems on Blackbird. 

I don’t believe a collection of Azzam’s work has ever been translated, although her stories can be found in a few collections, such as Qissat: Short Stories by Palestinian Women. You can also watch a short film based on the short story “The Man and the Clock.”

~

>Recommendation from Iman Humaydan

515775-gfAlia Mamdouh’s The Passion 

“Alia Mamdouh was my great discovery — her book al-Wala3 (published in 1993). You cannot imagine how beautiful this book is.”

This novel is available in French translation as La Passion and Mamdouh’s Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning The Loved Ones is avaiable in English (trans. Marilyn Booth) and her Napthalene is available in English (trans Peter Theroux).

~

>Recommendation from Fatima Sharafeddine

51C212DPE2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Granada Trilogy, by Radwa Ashour

Only the first part of the trilogy — named one of the top 105 books of the 20th century by the Arab Writers Union — is available in English translation, by William Granara.

More on Ashour:

Beloved Egyptian Novelist Radwa Ashour, 1946-2014

‘I Would Like To Be Radwa Ashour’

Radwa Ashour and Mourid Barghouti on the Responsibilities of Writers

‘Whenever I Think of Writing…I Remember Radwa Ashour’

Barbara Romaine on Translating Radwa Ashour

~

>Recommendations from Ghada Abdel Aal

drawRadwa Ashour’s The Granada Trilogy and Sahar Mandour’s I’ll Draw a Star on Vienna’s Forehead.

Mandour was born in Beirut in 1977 to an Egyptian father and a Lebanese mother. She studied psychology at L’Universite Saint Joseph in Beirut and afterwards worked as a journalist.

Her first novel, I’ll Draw a Star on Vienna’s Forehead, was published in Beirut in 2007. This was followed by A Beiruti Love and 32, both of which were bestsellers at the 2009-2010 Arab Book Fair in Beirut. Her fourth novel, Mina, was about a young gay actress living in Beirut.

More from Mandour:

World Literature Today: Hayat (an excerpt from 32)

ArteEast: Excerpts from Sahar Mandour’s 32

Jadaliyya: Excerpt from 32

~

>Recommendations from Reem Bassiouney

Sahar Khalifeh, Latifa Zayyat’s The Open Door and Salwa Bakr

of-noble-origins-khalifeh-sahar-9789774165429“The Palestinian writer Sahar Khalifeh — her novels are all good. And the Egyptian novelist Latifa Zayyat’s The Open Door. Also the short stories of Salwa Bakr.”

Khalifeh’s Door to the Courtyard is perhaps her most acclaimed work. Bab el-Saha, however, has not yet been translated into English. You can find it in German as Das Tor (Unionsverlag, 2004) and French as L’impasse de bab essaha (Flammarion, 1998).

Still, you can find at least these five novels by Khalifeh in English: Of Noble Origins (trans. Aida Bamia, AUC Press), The Inheritance (trans. by Aida Bamia, AUC Press); Wild Thorns (trans. Trevor Legassick and Elizabeth Fernea, Interlink); The End of Spring (trans. Paula Haydar, Interlink); and The Image, the Icon and the Covenant (trans. by Aida Bamia, Interlink).

Latifa Zayyat’s The Open Door is also available in translation from Marilyn Booth, and a collection of Salwa Bakr’s stories, The Wiles of Men and Other Stories was translated by Denys Johnson-Davies and published by AUC Press.

~

>Recommendation from Jana Elhassan

nazekLina Hoyan El Hassan’s Nazek Khanum

“Lina Hoyan El Hassan the Syrian writer, I loved her novel Nazek Khanum. It is smooth and entertaining and the main character was depicted very well.”

None of Lina Hoyan El Hassan’s (sometimes El Hosn) work has been translated into English. El Hassan was born in Syria in 1977 and studied philosophy at the University of Damascus. Her first novel, Girl of the Sun, was published in 1998, and Nazek Khanum is her most recent. She has left Syria and is currently working and writing in Beirut.



Categories: women

5 replies

  1. Reblogged this on sam tumblin favorite artists and commented:
    Arabic Literature In English…Enjoy!

  2. Hello, my name is orsola casagrande, and I am an Italian journalist. I worked for over 20 years with the daily paper il manifesto (www.ilmanifesto.it) and now I am doing some freelance work with some catalan, spanish and basque papers. I am the editor of the page, http://www.globalrights.info I would like to ask you, first of all if I could send you some questions about your great blog and arabic literature. and second if it is possible to publish some of your posts, clearly mentioning and linking them to your wonderful page. I am currently in Cuba where I am doing some work, one specifically on the arab and muslim presence in this island. I have worked for over 20 years covering Turkey, Kurdistan, the middle east… thank you for your answer and we speak soon I hope. looking forward to beginning some kind of correspondence with you. all the best orsola

    2015-07-12 0:06 GMT-04:00, Arabic Literature (in English)

  3. Reblogged this on urban chat over coffee and commented:
    A good list of modern books written by Arabic women authors

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