Translate This! 21 Women You Want to Read in English

There are many Arabic books by women that you’d enjoy, and that haven’t (yet) been published in translation. Hoda Barakat’s Night Post, for one. Radwa Ashour’s Heavier than Radwa. Sahar Khalifeh’s Door to the Courtyard. Huzama Habayeb’s When the Queen Falls Asleep.

But those women, with the exception of Habayeb — whose Velvet is forthcoming — all have other books in English. For Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), we have assembled 21 women from 12 countries who have no book-length work in English. And, if they did, it would improve your day:

Apologies, the authors are in no sensible order. Also, this list is in no way definitive, and readers are encouraged to add their suggestions in the comments.

1 Sonia Nimr (Palestine)

Nimr won the Young Adult category of the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature — the top prize for Arabic literature for young people — with her YA debut: Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands. This book, set several hundred years in the past,  follows a young Palestinian narrator from several hundred years ago who’s part Ibn Battuta, part Anne Bonny (a cross-dressing pirate). Nimr has since started a trilogy, the first of which, Thunderbird, follows a Palestinian orphan whose family doesn’t appreciate her and who has strange powers she doesn’t understand, and who’s been chosen not only to save our world, but the world of the djinn. Plus, did Harry or Hermione ever have to deal with checkpoints?

2 Malika Moustadraf (Morocco)

Moustadraf (1962–2006) is a Moroccan cult classic, an author who died just as she was, it seemed, getting started. Her debut novel, Wounds of the Soul and the Body, was published in 1989, and her debut short-story collection Trente-Six came out in 2004. You can find her work in translation in BanipalWords Without Bordersand The Common.

3 Nazik al-Malaika (Iraq)

Although Emily Drumsta has won a PEN Heim Grant to translate Nazik al-Malaika’s Revolt Against the Sun, the grant is not a promise of publication, so we still include magic poet al-Malaika on this list.

Revolt Against the Sun,” trans. Drumsta, on Jadaliyya

From ‘A Song for Mankind,’ trans. Drumsta, on ArabLit

Q&A with Drumsta about al-Malaika’s revolutionary romantic poetry

4 Renee Hayek (Lebanon)

Last August, Perween Richards wrote a “Why Renee Hayek Should Win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.” The three-time longlistee has yet to make the prize’s shortlist, for reasons known only to the judges. Hayek’s Prayer for the Family was longlisted in the prize’s second year, 2009; A Short Life in 2011, and The Year of the Radio in 2017. Richards writes: “The Year of the Radio (2015) is set in contemporary Lebanon, and its protagonist Yara Ghazal is a speech therapist who lives with her parents in Beirut. A shrewd observer of her world and the environment she grew up in, Hayek’s characters are realistic, funny, and exasperating. We may not always like them, but we can’t blame them for being themselves.”

5 Fatima Qandil (Egypt)

Not only does Qandil get a mention from the great Syrian poet Golan Haji — when asked about the “most notable woman poet in the Arab world” — her 2017 poetry collection, My House Has Two Doors, was chosen as a “2017 favorite of the year” both by Egyptian novelist-translator Muhammad Abdelnabi and Egyptian novelist-critic Mansoura Ezz Eldin. If any works of Qandil’s have been translated, I don’t know where they are. Relatively few women poets have complete collections translated from Arabic to English.

6 Asmaa Yasin (Egypt)

In the 2017 “favorites,” Egyptian novelist-poet Yasser Abdellatif said, “It seems to me there’s been a wonderful female invasion of poetic territory. Or, as my friend Alaa Khaled said, Poetry lately has recovered its female character. From Syria alone, recent years have brought forward dozens of distinguished poets, among them a large number of Kurdish women writing in Arabic, and sometimes Kurdish. In Egypt, too, there is a clear quantitative and qualitative superiority of women poets over men.” Both Abdellatif and Egyptian poet Walid El Khachab recommended Yasin’s A Box of Colorful Stones.

7 Najwa Binshatwan (Libya)

In 2009, Binshatwan was chosen as one of “the 39 best Arab authors under 40” by the Beirut39 project; her story “The Pool and the Piano” was included in the Beirut39 anthology. In 2017, her Slaves’ Pens was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and she had a charming spec-fic short story in Comma Press’s Banthology.

9 Aisha Abd al-Rahman (Egypt)

Also known by her pen name Bint al-Shati (Daughter of the Riverbank), Aisha Abd al-Rahman (1913-1998) was an important scholar, critic, author, and columnist who wrote dozens of books. Egyptian poet Iman Mersal particularly suggests a translation of Alaa al-Jisr (1986), where the author speaks in her own voice, is in order.

10 Basma Nsour (Jordan)

Celebrated Moroccan short-story writer Anis Arrafai chose, among his favorites of 2016, Nsour’s collection All My Pains. It was her first work in several years, and Arrafai wrote: “This hiatus has been productive in generating grey plots overflowing with mockeries of existence, old age and of the physical deterioration of people confronting the withdrawal of beauty and desire from life. Basma Nsour’s stories are written in language that is bold, severe and terse, like flicks of a shaving blade across the world’s forehead. It strikes one that the writer is a woman who does not like Scheherazade or aspire to be her granddaughter. Basma Nsour writes with a convincing and dispassionate narrative voice that perceives everything around her with a deadly coldness, but condemns all the ugliness that surrounds her. An astonishing collection of tales by one of the doyennes of the Arabic short story.” Read Basma Nsour’s “That Pathetic Woman,” tr. Thoraya El Rayyes. Also: “Disappointments (and a Few Clarifications),” tr. Andrew Leber.

11 Samira Azzam (Palestine)

Back in 2015, ArabLit asked 9 Arab women writers to name their favorite books by Arab women writers. Palestinian writer Adania Shibli — author of the Best Translated Book Award-longlisted Touch (trans. Paula Haydar) and We Are All Equally Far from Love (trans. Paul Starkey) — chose three must-reads: Iman Mersal’s A Dark Alley Suitable for Learning to Dance and Walking As Long As Possible, as well as Samira Azzam’s The Clock and the Man, the latter clearly central to Shibli’s own writing. While Mersal has one poetry collection available in English and more forthcoming, Azzam (1927-1967) does not have a full-length work available in English.

12 Ghada @9had (Egypt)

This generous suggestion comes from critic and novelist Ahmed Naji, author of Using Life (illustrated by Ayman Zorkany, translated by Ben Koerber, and the cause of a two-year jail sentence). You can download some of Ghada’s writing off Facebook.

13 Khadija Marouazi (Morocco)

Publishing Perspectives recently ran a feature on “Authors from the Arab World: Translator Recommendations,” and one of the books recommended by translator Alex Elinson was Moroccan writer Khadija Marouazi’s Sirat al-ramador Biography of Ash. Over email, Elinson added that Biography of Ash was published in the time — the early to mid-2000s — when “fictional and non-fictional writings on the Years of Lead were coming out like never before,” and that it was a work that “aimed to creatively express and document what had, for so long, remained inexpressible.” Biography of Ash was her debut novel.

14 Assia Ali Moussa (Algeria)

ArabLit’s Algeria editor Nadia Ghanem recommends Assia Ali Moussa’s short stories in translation, as “they have a dream-like quality & internal dialogues that reminds me of how Elias Khoury writes.” Assia Ali Moussa is also the founder of MIM edition and has been a tireless advocate for Arabic literature in Algeria, publishing new voices, particularly women’s voices. Although for a time, lack of funds meant that MIM was shuttered, Ghanem reports that they’re back to publishing.

15 Djamila Morani (Algeria)

Last year, Ghanem wrote “Why Djamila Morani’s ‘The Djinn’s Apple’ Should Be on the IPAF Longlist, Not Amin Zaoui as an argument for fresh new compelling books, such as the novella Tuffa7 al-Djinn by young novelist Djamila Morani. Ghanem writes: “Part crime novel, part historical fiction, The Djinn’s Apple is a highly relevant reflection on pardon and vengeance in a society where the justice system is broken, and on the place of truth in a political environment whose key actors are bent on twisting it. Set during the caliphate of Haroun al-Rashid and narrated in the first person by twelve-year old Nardeen, Morani’s novella places the education of women and the struggle between scientific minds and obscurantism at the forefront of her protagonist’s experience.”

16 Fawzia Abu Khaled (Saudi Arabia)

Again, there are mysteriously few Arabophone women poets in English translation, despite the richness of Arabic poetry and the many women writing it. Abu Khaled is, according to interviews, a favorite poet of perpetual-Nobel-bridesmaid Adonis. Born in 1959 in Riyadh, Abu Khaled is a poet, scholar, and essayist. Her first collection came out in 1974, and while individual poems of hers have been translated for collections, there is no book-length collection of her work.

17 Taghreed Najjar (Palestine-Jordan)

One of ArabLit’s favorite children’s-book authors, Najjar is author of a range of books for readers 0-17+. We have lost track of how many times she has been shortlisted for — or has won — the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in different categories. All three of her YA novels have been shortlisted. Among our favorite books by Najjar are: the YA novel Sitt al-Koll (Against the Tide), based on the real story of a teen fisherwoman in Gaza (you can read an excerpt in Lissie Jaquette’s translation on ArabLit); The Mystery of the Falcon’s Eyea fast-paced realist mystery set in contemporary Palestine, where teens need to follow clues to find ancestors’ buried gold and pay for a sibling’s surgery; One Day the Sun Will Shinea compelling contemporary realist story that follows a young Syrian teen who starts out carefree and a little naive before the bombings start in Damascus, through when she is a very different person when she reaches a new life in Sweden; and What Happened to My Brother Ramez?  a charming chapter book about when an older sibling finds love. As a bonus, this latter book has art by the magic Maya Fidawi.

18 Malaka Badr (Egypt)

Malaka Badr has previously published one collection, Without Heavy Losses (2012), poems from which appeared in English in Maged Zaher’s selection of seven Egyptian poets’ works, The Tahrir of Poems (2014). Robin Moger, at QisasUkhra, translated seven more poems by Badr.

19 Rachida al-Charni (Tunisia)

Rachida al-Charni writes compelling, psychologically incisive short stories. One of her stories, “The Way to Poppy Street,” tr Piers Amodia. was deservedly selected for the Granta Book of the African Short Story, ed. Helon Habila. Her “Life on the Edge,” translated by Aida Bamia, has also appeared in Banipal. 

20 Bothayna al-Essa (Kuwait)

The delightful, best-selling, al-Essa — who allowed ArabLit to translate her charming commencement speech for a Kuwaiti university this spring — is the founder of the Takween platform, publishing house, and bookshop. She is author of more than a dozen books, the most recent of which was Everything. She’s won two State Encouragement Awards and been longlisted for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award. Read an excerpt from Bothayna al-Essa’s ‘Maps of Wandering,’ translated by Sawad Hussain.

21 Saniya Saleh (Syria)

The great poet Iman Mersal has written about the under-appreciated Saniya Salih (here translated by Robin Moger); she writes: “Saniya Saleh’s voice does not capture the listener’s ear because it represents a poetic movement with forebears, founders and imitators, nor because it is gifted a silence in which to be heard. It is because it is an individual voice, unique amid poetic ostentation, able to survive with its distinctive tone and pierce you, though hemmed round by prophets, heroes, martyrs and leaders.” Also read: “The Poetry of Underappreciated Saniyah Saleh” and “Cure Your Slavery with Patience.”

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3 comments

  1. There was a vote on Facebook for May Ziade, who doesn’t seem (?) to have a book-length work out, so I thought I’d add that here…

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