Classics, Revisited: Enayat al-Zayyat’s ‘Love and Silence’

On Sundays during Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth), we will feature a look at classics — in translation, or not — by Arab women writers. This Sunday, it’s Enayat al-Zayyat’s Love and Silence, which gets a fresh look in Iman Mersal’s new work of nonfiction,”في أثر عنايات الزيات,” Following Enayat al-Zayyatout now from Kotob Khan Books:

This new book focuses on a nearly-forgotten Egyptian writer, who published one novel, Love and Silence, and committed suicide in 1967. Al-Zayyat’s novel, which remains relevant to the present moment, will also be re-issued by Kotob Khan.

It was 1993 when Iman Mersal stumbled across Enayat al-Zayyat’s novel at the Sur Azbikaya book market, and, from then, it turned into an obsession with al-Zayyat’s life and work. According to her publisher, Mersal’s book shifts between discussions with those who knew al-Zayyat’s work, to research, to imaginative renderings that bring the author back to life in our present time.

Indeed, Iman Mersal seems to have an affinity for women writers whose works have been effaced or nearly forgotten; she has written previously on work by the poet Saniya Salih.

Enayat al-Zayyat also apparently wrote short stories, which were published by Anis Mansour in 1960, but these are even less well-known.

When asked by The Guardian, Ahdaf Souief had listed Love and Silence as one of the great Arabic love stories, along with Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, Colette Khoury’s Ayyam Ma’ah (1959), and Layla al-Juhani’s Jahiliyya (2006).

In the “Egypt” chapter of Arab Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide, 1873–1999Hoda Elsadda writes, of Love and Silence:

Next Sunday in “Classics, Revisited”: Nineteenth-century Arab feminist writer Zaynab Fawwaz.