12 Must-read Memoirs in Arabic

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)

Translated to English by Olive E. Kenny and Naomi Shihab Nye, this is the memoir of Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003.

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Paxton, Hilary Wayment, Kenneth Cragg, which a young Naguib Mahfouz attempted to imitate in one of his earliest (yet unpublished) works.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 60an 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.