#TranslateThis: 10 Arab Authors Recommend Books by Women Writers

For the last day of Women in Translation Month, ArabLit contributing editor Sawad Hussain asked Arab authors around the world to recommend their favorite women writers:

Ten authors gave nods to more than thirty writers hailing from eleven different countries; Hussain has translated their responses to English below.

🧿 Layla Al Ammar recommends:

Laila Al Othman’s Wasmiya takhruju min al-bahr (Wasmiyya Comes Out of the Sea).

Why? “…just by virtue of her being such a pioneering force for women writers in Kuwait.”

Arablit weighs in: This title is also on the Arab Writers Union’s “Top 105” of the 20th century and was made into a TV film which you can find on Youtube. You can also read two short stories by Othman in translation in Banipal 47. Definitely an overlooked classic that needs to be in English.

🧿 Dunya Mikhail recommends:

Lutfiya Al-Dulaimi (Iraq)

Why? “She has many fans in the Arab world, but none of her novels have been translated into English.”

Arablit weighs in: Banipal’s issue 61 delves into her works and an excerpt can be found in Banipal issue 62. Al-Dulaimi has a rich oeuvre, but one of her more popular works appears to be: Usshaq wa fonograph wa azmina (Lovers, A Phonograph and Times).

You can read her “What the Storytellers Did Not Tell,” by Lutfaya al-Dulaimi, trans. Shakir Mustafa, online.

🧿 Taleb Alrefai recommends:

  1. Shahla Al-Ujayli’s (Syria) short-story collection Sarir bint Al-Malek (Bed of the King’s Daughter)
  2. Khulood Al-Mu’alla’s (United Arab Emirates) poetry.
  3. Anything by Alia Mamdouh. (Iraq)

Why? “Alia’s language is bold, her content painful yet so relevant to humanity.”

Arablit weighs in: Sarir Bint Al-Malek, which won the 2017 Almultaqa Prize for the Arabic Short Story, is soon to be translated. Two poems by al-Mu’alla, co-trans. Rasheeda Plenty, are online. Alia Mamdouh has a new novel out this year called At-tanki, which has been received well by critics. Her The Loved Ones won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2004 and was translated by Marilyn Booth.

🧿 Amir Tag Elsir recommends:

  1. Sawsan Hassan’s (Syria) novel Al-Nabbashoon (The Trash Collectors).

Why? “This novel delves into the poorest strata of society in Syria before it was torn apart, the garbage collectors.”

  1. Maryam Mushtawi’s novel (Lebanon/England) Jusur Al-hub, Grenfell Tower (Bridges of Love, Grenfell Tower).

Why? “An important novel that talks about many things among them: the foreign colonization of Algeria; the migration of the main character to Britain who ends up living in Grenfell Tower and witnessing the fire; and the delving into relationships whether in Algeria or Britain.”

  1. Maha Hassan’s (Syria) novel Metro Halab (Aleppo Metro).

Arablit weighs in: This title made the Sheikh Zayed Book Award longlist. You can read an excerpt of this novel from an earlier post; a reader’s report is also available; email info@arablit.org.

  1. Aisha Al-Mahmud’s (Kuwait) Watan Muzawwar (Counterfeit Nation)

Why? “This novel tackles the question of identity and the countless number of migrants to Kuwait from different countries. It addresses the issue of how those who helped build the nation are still without a nationality and the same goes for their children.”

🧿 Wajdi Al-Ahdal recommends:

  1. Bushra Al-Maqtari’s (Yemen) novel Khalf Al-Shams(Behind the Sun).
  2. Fatiha Murshid’s (Morocco) novel Makhalib Al-Mut’a (Claws of Enjoyment).
  3. Mariam Al Saedi’s (UAE) short story collection Maryam wa Al-Hadh Al-Saeed (Maryam and the Good Luck).
  4. Najat Abdul Samad’s (Syria) novel Bilad Al-Manafi (Country of Exiles)

Arablit weighs in: Al-Maqtari was selected for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction nadwa; you can read more about her in Qantara. A short translated work by Abdul Samad, set to music, appears on YouTube. Two of her short works also appeared on PBS. A short story by Mariam Al Saedi was published in Banipal 42.

🧿 Golan Haji recommends:

  1. Fatima Qandil’s (Egypt) poetry, specifically Questions Hanging Like Slaughtered Animals and My House Has Two Doors.

Why? “The range of her poems and of their mood is as admirable as that of style. Despite all shifts in attention and approach, she builds a stable familiar vision made of poems intensely personal.”

  1. Saniya Saleh’s (Syria) poetry.

Why? “Saniya Saleh’s poetry often celebrates in solitude two major topics of poetry: love and death. I hope Marilyn Hacker or Robin Moger would translate more of her work, especially of the later poems that poignantly question womanhood, motherhood and childhood.”

Arablit weighs in: https://arablit.org/?s=Saniya+Saleh

  1. Amal Nawwar’s (Lebanon) poetry.

Why? Amal Nawwar’s internal worlds in Hers Is Blue Wine and Intimate to Glass and The Jungle Woman originate from various experiences in Lebanon and abroad. Her dense poems grow like dark flowers at the edge of an abyss inside the poet herself, and no one can jump into it since it’s already full of restless words and muffled emotions.

🧿 Amin Zaoui recommends: 

  1. Rabia Djelti’s (Algeria) novel Al-Zarwa (The Peak) and her novel Nadi Al-Sanubar (Club of Pines).
  2. Zuhur Wanasi’s (Algeria) novel Jisr lil-buh wa akhr lil-haneen (A Bridge for Confession and Another for Yearning).

🧿 Ali Abdeddine recommends:

  1. Wafa Albueise’s (Libya) novel Lil-Ju’ Wajuh Ukra (Hunger Has Other Faces).

Why? “I’ve suggested this book because it’s one of the most important works by any female Libyan writer. Its importance lies in the topic that it broaches which caused a controversy in religious circles. It’s a call to look at the double standards applied to mean and women when it comes to religion.” 

  1. Zuhur Garam’s (Morocco) novel Qiladat Qarnaval (Carnival Necklace).

Why? “It’s a book of forgotten memory written in wonderfully poetic prose. The writer pieces together memories, and draws the reader’s attention to origin of injustices committed against women and the subjugation that they face.”

3. Fadhila Al Farouq’s (Algeria) novel Ta’ Al-Khajal (Ta of Embarassment)

🧿 Abdel Baraka Sakin recommends:

1) Ann El-Safi’s (Sudan/UAE) novels. For example, her novel: Kama Ruh.

2) Stella Gaitano’s (South Sudan) works.

3) Ishraga Mustafa’s (Sudan/Austria) works. For example, her autobiography: Untha Al-anhar.

4) Sarah Aljak’s (Sudan) works. For example, her novel: Al-Sus.

5) Najat Abdul Samad’s (Syria/Lebanon) works. For example, her novel:  La Ma Yarweha.

Arablit weighs in: If you haven’t yet gotten a copy of Stella Gaitano’s Withered Flowers, you can still become an ArabLit subscriber and get a free copy (within the US). Or you can read her, tr. Anthony Calderbank, in the first issue of ArabLit Quarterly. Read an interview with El-Safi on Sudanow; watch a video interview with Mustafa; a short translated work by Abdul Samad, set to music, appears on YouTube. Two of her short works also appeared on PBS.

🧿 Mahi Binebine recommends:

1) Bahaa Trabelsi’s (Morocco) novel Une vie à trois. (A life for three).

2) Karima Ahdad’s (Morocco) novel Banat Al-Sabar. (Cactus Girls).

Why? “It’s an ode to female emancipation in a very conservative society in Al Hoceima.”

3) Sanaa El Aji’s (Morocco) non-fiction work Sexualité et célibat au Maroc (Sexuality and Celibacy in Morocco).

4) Leila Bahsain’s (Morocco) novel Le ciel sous nos pas (The Sky Under Our Feet).

Why? “It’s a tale of female revolution.”

About the recommenders: Kuwaiti novelist Al Ammar’s acclaimed debut novel, The Pact We Made,came out earlier this year. Iraqi writer Dunya Mikhail’s The Beekeeper, tr. Mikhail and Max Weiss, was recently shortlisted for a National Book Award. Taleb Alrefai was twice-longlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and you can read his Outclassed in Kuwait in English; an excerpt of his IPAF-longlisted Najdi, trans. Russell Harris, is in the forthcoming ArabLit Quarterly: The Sea. Sudanese novelist Amir Tag Elsir has had three books on IPAF lists; his The Grub Hunter, Ebola ’76, Telepathyand French Perfume are all available in translation. Wajdi al-Ahdal is a Yemeni novelist, short story writer, screenwriter and dramatist, author of A Land Without Jasmine (published in William Hutchins’ English translation in 2012). Golan Haji is an unmissable poet; his A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know was co-trans. by the poet and Stephen Watts. Amin Zaoui is an Algerian novelist who writes in French and Arabic; his Banquet of Lies was translated by Frank Wynne. Ali Abdeddine was born in the south of Morocco, in the small town of Anguizem, in the region of Essaouira; he is also a poet, translator, and contributor to ArabLit Quarterly. Abdel Baraka Sakin is one of the most prominent novelist and short story writers in Sudan; you can read his seminal novel Jungo trans. Adil Babikir. Mahi Binebine (mahibinebine.com) is a Moroccan painter and novelist born in Marrakech; he has written six novels which have been translated into various languages and turned into films.