Acclaimed educator Laila Familiar recently published a call for recommended memoir written in Arabic:
She received dozens of excellent answers, and the threads and sub-threads are well-worth pursuing. Below is a list of 12 of the books that received more than one nod, half of which have been translated into English.
A Mountainous Journey: A Poet’s Autobiography, by Fadwa Tuqan (Selection: Bayan Haddad, Alaa Samara)
Stillborn: Notebooks of a Woman from the Student-Movement Generation in Egypt, by Arwa Saleh (Selection: Yasser Abdellatif, Amr Akosh)
Translated by Samah Selim, this political manifesto + memoir + philosophical treatise by Egyptian activist and thinker Arwa Saleh (1951-1997) is as relevant today as it was to the 1970s student movement.
My Intellectual Journey: Seeds, Roots and Fruits — A Non-subjective, Non-objective Autobiography, by Abdel Wahab Al-Messiri (Selection: Abdul Wahab Al Hammadi, Khaled Al-Awadh)
This has not been translated, as far as I can see, but you can read a review in Al-Ahram Weekly. “These somewhat dry academic concepts Elmessiri brings delightfully to life through anecdotes from his academic career first in the United States (1963-69 and 1975-1979), and then in Saudi Arabia (1983-88) and Egypt.”
The Journey: Memoirs of an Egyptian Woman Student in America, by Radwa Ashour (Selection: Ibrahim Farghali, Alaa Samara)
Translated by Michelle Hartman, this beautiful memoir of Ashour’s PhD years in the US gives a view of 1970s Massachusetts from the outside, while also reflecting on what’s going on back in Egypt.
The Days, Taha Hussein (Selection: Ibrahim Farghali, Mansoura Ez Eldin)
A seminal autobiography, translated to English by E.H. Paxton, Hilary Wayment, Kenneth Cragg, which a young Naguib Mahfouz attempted to imitate in one of his earliest (yet unpublished) works.
Seventy, Mikhail Naima (Selection: Hussain, Dalal Nasrallah)
Naima’s (1889-1988) autobiography has not been translated, but you can read his short story “The Barren,” translated by Maha Hilal Hawana.
The Search: Personal Papers, Latifa al-Zayyat (Selection: Mansoura Ez Eldin, Yasser Abdellatif)
Translated to English by Sophie Bennett — although, I believe, out of print — a greatly underrated work by a towering figure of mid-twentieth-century Egyptian letters.
I Saw Ramallah, by Mourid Barghouti (Selection: Mansoura Ez Eldin, @raindaughter)
Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, this has been translated to English, beautifully, by novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
My Beloved Dog, My Old Dog, by Osama Aldansouri (Selection: Ahmed Naji, Yasser Abdellatif)
Tarek Sherif and Iman Mersal have translated two short excerpts from this sharp, funny, biting book.
The Formative Years, by Louis Awad (Selection: Mohamed Rabie, Amr Akosh, Mansoura Ezz Eldin)
The story of scholar Louis Awad and of Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century.
A Pause Before the Decline, by Alaa al-Deeb – (Selection: Mahammed Bouabdallah, Hend Jaffer)
An excerpt was translated in Banipal 60, an issue dedicated to al-Deeb.
From Childhood to Prison, by Inji Aflatoun (Selection: Najwa Al Ameri, Dalia Ebeid, Mansoura Ezz Eldin)
Although Aflatoun’s book has not been translated, that I could find, Menna Taher has written a portrait of Aflatoun and her work in Ahram Online.
Thank you for a great list! I also liked reading “I shall not hate” by Ezzeldin AbulAish – a heartbreaking story with an ultimate string of hope.
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