In/for Translation: 5 Arab Women’s Memoirs

In May, educator Laila Familiar launched a call for memoirs in Arabic that resulted in a list of dozens of recommendations. Below are five by women that were recommended more than once:

IN TRANSLATION: Fadwa Tuqan’s A Mountainous Journey: A Poet’s Autobiography, in translation by Olive E. Kenny and Naomi Shihab Nye.

This book, selected by Bayan Haddad and Alaa Samara, follows the journey of Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003), from her birth in 1917 (her mother didn’t remember the exact date, but she did remember what she cooked that day) to her emergence as a major poet, to her life post-1967. Although there seems to be no excerpt of the translation available online, some of her poems are floating around in translation.

IN TRANSLATION: Arwa Salih’s Stillborn: Notebooks of a Woman from the Student-Movement Generation in Egypt, tr. Samah Selim

This book, selected by Yasser Abdellatif and Amr Akosh, is the political manifesto + memoir + philosophical treatise by Egyptian activist and thinker Arwa Saleh (1951-1997), and is as relevant today as it was to the 1970s student movement. We discuss the book in Episode 11 of Bulaq.

IN TRANSLATION: Radwa Ashour’s The Journey: Memoirs of an Egyptian Woman Student in America, tr. Michelle Hartman.

Ashour is surely one of the most important Egyptian memoirists of the twentieth century, and this book, selected by Ibrahim Farghali and Alaa Samara, is beautiful and brief reflection on Ashour’s PhD years in the US. It gives us a view of 1970s Massachusetts from the outside, while also reflecting on what’s going on back in Egypt. Discussed in Bulaq Episode 18.

IN TRANSLATION: Latifa al-Zayyat’s The Search: Personal Papers, tr. Sophie Bennett

This book, selected by Mansoura Ez Eldin and Yasser Abdellatif, is an underrated work by a towering figure of mid-twentieth-century Egyptian letters. The book, which is unfortunately out of print, is sharply and painfully honest. “For there is no worse crime than burying one’s self alive. My hands are stained with my own blood.” Al-Zayyat was, with Inji Aflatoun (below), a founding member of the The League of University and Institutes’ Young Women in 1945.

SOON-TO-BE-TRANSLATED: Inji Aflatoun’s From Childhood to Prison

This book was selected by Najwa Al Ameri, Dalia Ebeid, and Mansoura Ezz Eldin, and probably by others as well.

Menna Taher has written a portrait of Aflatoun and her work in Ahram Online, in which Taher translates a second of Aflatoun’s memoir dealing with her imprisonment by the state: “When I first entered the prison I had a strong urge to draw and not to give in to the reality.” Aflatoun made a deal with the dead of the women’s prison, that she would be allowed to paint on the condition that her works became the prison’s property.

The “In/for Translation” series has run every Tuesday in August for Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth). This is it! Hopefully we’ll be back again next year.

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