9 Short Stories by Lebanese Women, in Translation

ArabLit Staff

This week, we continue our Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth) Wednesday series of “9 Stories” lists. In 2021, we featured short fiction by Sudanese and South Sudanese women, by Algerian women, by Egyptian women, and by Syrian women, all in translation. This year, we added a nine-story collection of work by Palestinian women writers, also in translation.

For an introduction to the short-story form as written by Lebanese women, Roseanne Saad Khalaf’s introduction to Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women (2006) is on the Read Kutub book group’s website, in which she traces the twentieth- and very early twenty-first century short story from early practitioners such as Layla Baalbaki, Rima Alamuddin, and Emily Nasrallah to younger Lebanese authors, some of whom were her students at the American University in Beirut.

Etel Adnan (Beirut, 1925). “Untitled # 232”, 2014. Óleo sobre lienzo, 31,5×41 cm. Colección Banco de España.

Roseanne Saad Khalaf writes that Hikayat was limited by “translatability”; our spontaneous anthology is limited by accessibility. There aren’t many short stories by Lebanese women, in translation (generally from Arabic or French), that are available online. We would have loved to include, for instance, Hyam Yared’s “Layla’s Belly,” which has been translated by Frank Wynne, and Najwa Barakat′s ″Under the Tree of Melancholy,” (which appeared in Beirut Noir in Michelle Hartman’s translation), but neither story was online. Nor, it seems, is any other story by Najwa or by Hoda Barakat in English translation, nor any by Hyam Yared.

There is at least one essay by Hoda Barakat, in translation, online: “The Return of the Non-Prodigal Sons,” translated by Tarek El-Ariss.

In this ad hoc anthology, we bring together an oral tale that’s been put to paper; classic stories by Emily Nasrallah and Layla Baalbaki; works by emerging writers like Batoul Fahs; and a graphic story by Lena Merhej. If you have suggestions, please add them below. Translations from any language, into English, are welcome.

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“The Cat,” by Layla Baalbaki, translated by Tom Abi Samra. This wonderful short story about gender and animal relations originally appeared in the Fall 2020 CATS issue of ArabLit Quarterly.

Pearls on a Branch is from the collection Pearls on a Branch: Oral Talesed. Najlaa Khoury, tr. Inea Bushnaq. This oral tale was given its written form by Khoury; the whole collection is a delight.

Searching for Cumin,” by Iman Humaydan, translated by Nashwa Nasreldin and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. On cooking a chicken in an otherwise austere kitchen.

Rameemby Batoul Fahs, translated by Basma Ghalayini, is, “Dedicated to the letter hanging at the end of the clouds in the middle of the sky.”

God, It’s as Though You’re Sewing a Dress For a Flea,” by Hanan al-Shaykh, translated by Randa Jarrar. Here, a woman outwits her husband, a local judge, and her brother, Grim.

I Have the Right to Be a Stranger,” by Inaya Jaber, translated by Karen McNeil with Miled Faiza. A story of being a stranger among strangers.

“The Green Bird,” by Emily Nasrallah, translated by Thuraya Khalil-Khoury. A strange man appears, and in the atmosphere of Civil War Beirut, the narrator doesn’t dare ask why he’s there. Eventually, she discovers what he’s waiting for.

The Dress,” by Rola el Hussein, translated by William Hutchins, centers around a tense exchange between a Francophile dress-seller and a woman who wants to purchase six identical dresses: “‘Six dresses all the same size and colour?’ He was so perplexed he spoke to her in Arabic.”

“I Think We Will Be Calmer in the Next War,” by Lena Merhej, translated by Merhej. On resisting in the best way she knows how.

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