#WiTMonth Picks: 5 of Novelist Donia Kamel’s Favorites

Egyptian novelist Donia Kamel — whose charming Cigarette Number Seven recently came out in Nariman Youssef’s equally charming translation — shares five of her favorite books by Arab women for Women in Translation Month:

Donia Kamal

Kamel’s Cigarette Number Seven is a family story set around Egypt’s “18 days,” which began on January 25, 2011. While an avalanche of stories, novels, and memoirs have been written about this period, Kamel’s 2012 novel stands apart for its well-crafted characters and its loving romantic disillusionment.

The book is narrated through the eyes of one of Egypt’s young, middle-class protesters: Nadia. Yet Nadia’s lenses are not quite rose-tinted, nor does she treat the uprising as though it’s appeared from nowhere. Instead, these 18 days are set against her leftist father’s long struggles against the regime, which led to the jail time he fondly remembers.

Moreover, the country’s 18-day whirlwind “romance” — in which Nadia grudgingly and fearfully participates — doesn’t only run alongside her bittersweet relationship with her father. It’s also interwoven with two doomed romantic relationships: one with an older man, and the other with a childish man Nadia’s own age.

When the 18 days begin, Nadia is shut up in a small unambitious life in a tiny apartment, mostly existing on her couch, and occasionally visited by her then-boyfriend. The 18 days draw her out of her cramped (prison-like) existence, but this new romance doesn’t produce a happily ever after, and — thankfully — Nadia always retains her prickly spirit.

Cigarette Number Seven was one of ArabLit’s favorite novels of 2017, and so we asked Kamel if, for Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth), she would share five of her favorites by women. They are:

1- Khadija and Sawsan / خديجة وسوسن: Radwa Ashour

This novel, by the great Egyptian writer Radwa Ashour, was published in 1989 and has unfortunately not yet appeared in English.

2- Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood / أحلام النساء الحريم: Fatemah Mernissi 

Written originally in English, this seminal work — about growing up female — also has French and Arabic translations.

3- Tiller of Waters / حارث المياة: Hoda Barakat

By the great Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat, a finalist for the 2015 Man Booker International, this novel has been translated to English by Marilyn Booth.

4- Stillborn / المبتسرون: Arwa Saleh

A brilliant cult classic, this work — part memoir, part political theory — was recently re-issued in Arabic and translated to a rich English by Samah Selim.

5- How to Heal / كيف تلتئم: عن الأمومة وأشباحها : Iman Mersal

A beautiful prose work by Egyptian poet Iman Mersal, this book — part of the “Kayfa Ta” or “How To” series founded by Maha Maamoun and Ala Younis — is forthcoming in Robin Moger’s translation.

Also read: An Author-Translator Conversation: Donia Kamal’s ‘Cigarette Number Seven’ and Archiving Romantic Ideals