On August 8, Google users in North Africa and several Middle Eastern countries were greeted with a doodle of Egyptian novelist and activist Latifa al-Zayyat on what would’ve been her 92nd birthday:
Al-Zayyat died in 1996.
Google tipped its hat to the central character (Layla) in her most popular novel, The Open Door (1960), which the Arab Writers Union listed as one of the Top 105 books of the 20th century. Although imprisoned by the state several times, just before her death al-Zayyat won one Egypt’s highest state-sponsored literary prize. She was also co-winner of the inaugural Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for The Open Door.
According to a profile in Al Jadid:
“I don’t have any regrets,” al-Zayyat responded when asked to evaluate her life and achievements. She went on to say: “Perhaps it would have been possible for me to be a better writer, or a better fighter, or a better professor if I had confined myself to one role. But my languages are multiple. And it is through my use of these many languages that I have enriched myself and others.”
Al-Zayyat was an inspiration to many other Egyptian writers, notably Radwa Ashour, who mentioned al-Zayyat in Spectres and The Cry, and Ahdaf Souief.
From Ashour’s Spectres, trans. Barbara Romaine:
In my initial meetings with Latifa al-Zayyat, her laughter brought me up short. The woman was always surprising me with her continuous, sometimes abrupt, and loud laughter; and then she no longer surprised me — I got used to and grew to love both Latifa herself and her laughter. She was constantly laughing, but when she told me about her experience in prison, she laughed even more. … Latifa al-Zayyat would laugh at herself and at her comrades in the cell as she told the story, so that the whole subject seemed like a comic play — no, not black comedy, despite the darkness of the experience, but rather a marvelous comedy that redeems the tale of stark realities by cleansing it of the blemish of fear, of bitterness, of petty grudges. What remains is the lightness and transparency of the story, as well as the capacity of human beings to overcome adversity with humor.