Three compelling memoirs by Egyptian women are set for a 2018 release in English translation:
Memoirs are relatively rare on the landscape of Arabic literature in translation, although fiction — particularly fiction by women — is often sifted for self-writing. There are some pioneering and popular memoirs by Egyptian women that were either written in English (Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage) or have been translated (Huda Shaarawi’s Harem Years, tr. Margot Badran; Nawal El Saadawi’s Memoirs from the Women’s Prison, tr. Marilyn Booth).
But this year, at least three significant memoirs are forthcoming in translation, all of them intimately relevant to women’s lives in 2018, from #metoo to intersectionalism and global solidarity to the fraught spaces between the performance and experience of motherhood.
- The Journey, by Radwa Ashour, tr. Michelle Hartman. (Interlink Books, April 2018)
The Journey is Ashour’s first book-length work, her memoirs of 1973-1975, her years doing a PhD in Massachusetts on African-American Literature. Translator Michelle Hartman writes that “they work to tie together struggles in the US, Palestine, and Egypt, much like Angela Davis’s Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement does from a US vantage.”
In “Tracing Global Solidarities: Radwa Ashour’s “The Journey” and Histories of a World Revolution,” Dina Fergani writes: “Throughout The Journey, Ashour weaves in her experiences as an Egyptian woman with those of fellow students and activists from the Global South, describing both their personal lives and the political climate that surrounded them. This narration is often linked to excerpts from African-American and other literary works that Ashour herself translated into Arabic.”
2. How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts, by Iman Mersal, tr. Robin Moger (Kayfa Ta, 2018)
In How to Mend, Mersal — best known as a poet — writes about motherhood’s hidden, interior spaces. In an earlier excerpt and an earlier translation by Anna Ziajka Stanton: “The idea of a struggle between the mother and her newborn child falls outside the grand narrative of human experience, which records motherhood as a practice of giving, of mutual identification between two selves, of love at once unlimited and unconditional.”
3. Stillborn: Notebooks from the Student Movement, by Arwa Saleh, tr. Samah Selim
As the publisher writes:
Arwa Salih was a member of the political bureau of the Egyptian Communist Workers Party, which was founded in the wake of the Arab–Israeli War and the Egyptian student movement of the early 1970s. Written more than a decade after Salih quit the party and left political life—and published shortly after she committed suicide—the book offers a poignant look at, and reckoning with, the Marxism of her generation and the role of militant intellectuals in the tragic failure of both the national liberation project and the communist project in Egypt. The powerful critique in The Stillborn speaks not only to and about Salih’s own generation of left activists but also to broader, still salient dilemmas of revolutionary politics throughout the developing world in the postcolonial era.
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Two more to translate, suggested by Iman Mersal:
Hamlat taftish: Awraq shakhsiya (1992), by Latifa Zayat, ِand Alaa al- Jisr (1986) by Aisha Abd al-Rahman (also known as Bint al-Shati). Mersal writes: “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.”