Beirut’s Feminist Library Picks 5 #WiTMonth Reads

The Feminist Library suggests five reads for your #WiTMonth from their shelves, either in translation or translations-to-be:

Special from The Knowledge Workshop

The Knowledge Workshop is a space of feminist organizing in Lebanon, and it is also a place where you can relax and read on our comfortable and colorful couches, or study and write in a quiet and friendly environment. At KW’s Feminist Library, we have a very wide collection of books in different genres and languages (mainly Arabic and English, but also some French) and for different age groups. Where else in Lebanon can you find comic books, including feminist comics, books on feminist theories and scholarship, literature, memoirs, and children’s books? And you have the choice of reading at our space or borrowing books when you become a member of the library.

We were thrilled when we were asked to recommend books in celebration of Women in Translation Month this August. So we present to you here 5 books by women, in Arabic, that you can find at KW’s Feminist Library.

Radwa Ashour is one of our favourite writers at the Feminist Library, and most of her books sit proudly on our shelves. She is so skillful at historical fiction, like the Granada trilogy and the Woman from Tantoura: A Palestinian Novel, but we also love her autobiographical books. We chose this book in particular because it was her last, a posthumous publication that, like its first part (اثقل من رضوى, Heavier than Radwa) talks about her battle with cancer in the midst of struggles for justice in Egypt, including at her university in Cairo. But there is something so sad in those last pages where you read not full paragraphs, but main points that she had wanted to write about.

Translated from French by Mary Taouk, this is an enjoyable work of fiction. Grandmothers make some of the best central characters of stories, especially when their history and their lives intermingle with political and historical events, and when they are free spirits living alone during the civil war in Lebanon. The story starts at the grandmother’s funeral in July 2006, and then takes a turn into corners of the grandmother’s life that the granddaughter/narrator had not known.

The storytelling is what drew us to this novel. This is a story/stories about women, but there is also something to be said there about authorship, memories and narration. This is not an easy read, because stories about women, their desires and their losses, their experiences during the war, their families, are not easy and smooth. But it is a beautifully written book, and so we recommend it.

  • الخائفون، ديمة ونّوس (Dima Wannous, The Frightened, forthcoming tr. Elisabeth Jaquette)

The story of this novel plays out like a work of fiction within the main story, but from the opening pages, the narrator meets and begins a relationship with a man (they barely share a single word during their first date), and he eventually gives her an unfinished manuscript that he had written. From the first page, you know that this novel is meant to be a commentary on the state of political and social affairs in Syria: the story begins at the therapist’s office, and in the opening page, we learn about the brother of the narrator’s friend who lost his mind because he was tortured in prison. Again, we love the narration style of this book.

  • حكايات وحكايات: حكايات شعبية من لبنان، نجلا جريصاتي خوري (Najla Jraissaty Khoury, Tales and Tales)

Najla Jraissaty Khoury spent thirty years collecting folktales from Lebanon, those that are told orally, mainly by women, parallel to the more male-dominated hakawati tradition, as she explains in her introduction. Some of the stories that she has collected were translated and recently published in Pearls on a Branch: Oral Tales, but if you can, we recommend that you check out the book (actually two books, it’s in two volumes) in the original language, where she often preserves the spoken Arabic in her text.

If there are books you want to ask us about, you can check our database here, drop us an email, or drop by our space if you happen to be around.

The Feminist Library is just one of the Knowledge Workshop’s projects— other projects include a Feminist School and a women’s oral history project. To learn more about us, visit our website, facebook page, or twitter page.