The quiet, firm Lebanese feminist author and activist Emily Nasrallah (1931-2018) — celebrated for her debut novel Birds of September — has died. A funeral is set for today in Zahle:
Born in the summer of 1931, Emily Nasrallah grew up in Al Kfeir, a village in southern Lebanon, before moving to Beirut to study and work as a journalist and teacher. Her debut novel, Birds of September, came out in 1962 and was later listed as one of the Arab Writers Union’s 105 best books of the twentieth century. It has been translated into German as Septembervogel by Veronika Theis, but not into English.
Journalist, translator, and author Olivia Snaije, in her brief tribute Wednesday, wrote that Nasrallah was “one of the first to write short stories, to write both about her village in the south and Beirut, during the civil war” and was “a real feminist, gracious, quiet, firm.”
Nasrallah’s other widely known work is Yawmiyyat Hirr (1997), a book for children that was translated into English as What Happened to Zeeko (2001), as well as into Thai, Dutch, and German. It describes everyday life during Civil War-era Beirut from the perspective of a tomcat.
Two other books by Nasrallah have translated to English. The first by Issa Boullata, as Flight Against Time, and the second a collection of short stories, House Not Her Own, translated by Thuraya Khalil-Khouri.
Last August, Nasrallah received a Goethe medal for her work, alongside Indian publisher Urvashi Butalia and Russian human-rights activist Irina Shcherbakova. At the time of the award, journalist Emily Dische-Becker said of Nasrallah’s writing:
The uprooting, through voluntary or involuntary departure, is a consistent theme throughout Nasrallah’s work. The anguish of those left behind, the alienation of the departed in their new surroundings and the ultimate impossibility of return. Displacement is an essential part of the Lebanese collective experience and it is relevant as ever, in light of the mass displacement from neighboring Syria today. It takes courage to write about home, as Emily Nasrallah does, with both affection and honesty, to weave the intimate particularities of customs, the disappointments and sacrifices of its women into stories that may fail to pass state censors but resonate with generations of readers.
Her passing was marked by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri:
The author’s official website: www.emilynasrallah.com