9 Short Stories by Tunisian Women, in Translation

Today marks the final “9 stories” list for this year’s Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth).

We began the series in 2021, when we featured short fiction by Sudanese and South Sudanese women, by Algerian women, by Egyptian women, and by Syrian women, all in translation.

In 2022, we added a short collections of work by Palestinian women writers,by Lebanese women writers, by Moroccan women writers, and by Iraqi women writers, also in translation.

This year, we began with a list of short stories by Kuwaiti women writers, followed by short stories by Jordanian, Saudi, and Libyan women writers.

Issue 39 of Banipal, which focuses on Tunisian literature, is an excellent introductory anthology to Tunisian literature in translation. For a brief look at Tunisian women writing short stories in the 1950s and 1960s, including Hind Azouz (1926-2015) and Najiya Thamir (1926-1988), there is IA Ogunbiyi’s 1972 PhD thesis, “The Arabic Short Story in Tunisia Up to 1970.”

Unfortunately, there seem to be no short stories available online by leading Tunisian writer Aroussia Naluti. Although her “You Taught Me To Love Life, Father,” translated by Ali Azeriah, was featured on BBC as part of their “North African Short Stories” series, none of those stories are available any longer, a series that included a translation of Rachida el-Charni’s “The Furnace.”

We were unable to complete the list with short stories alone — surely, we are missing some of what’s available online — and also included one novel excerpt, by Azza Filali, translated from French by Ros Schwartz. Our gratitude to Words Without Borders for putting together a special section of writing by Tunisian women.

1) “The Way to Poppy Street,” by Rachida el-Charni, translated by Piers Amodia

It begins: “She saw him coming towards her, whistling and humming. He stopped in front of her to ask politely if she knew the way to Poppy Street. Not for a moment did she imagine that he would use the second she took to think to snatch her gold necklace and take to his heels.”

2) “Life on the Edge,” by Rachida el-Charni, translated by Aida Bamia

This story, from el-Charni’s collection of the same name, begins: “After we had let the sheep out of the barn and taken them to in the pasture next to our fields, we heard the voice of our mother warning us: “Don’t go too far, it’s going to rain soon.”

3) “The Stranger and the Old Lady,” by Noura Bensaad, translated by Roland Glasser.

From the story: “The stranger walks through the city. He comes across an old lady. In her quivering gaze, childhood flows like a river in reverse. She smiles, grabs him by the arm, and whispers in his ear:

“‘Do you know where I’m going?'”

4) “Game of Ribbons,” by Emna Belhaj Yahia, translated by Emma Ramadan.

The story opens: “So here we are, Chokrane and I, as she’s leaving school, as I’m leaving the office. Still crushed by the disorderly memories of a sleepless night, I suddenly notice as she walks toward me, something very simple about her clothing, something I hadn’t thought of before, something that requires no explanation, no commentary: the free affirmation of liberty.”

5) “The Killer,” by Emna Rmili, translated by Alice Guthrie.

The story opens: “The boy’s chest is mouthwatering, it’s luscious, that boy’s chest, provocative, in fact, under his simple striped shirt—damn! What’s making me focus on his chest? Since yesterday the orders have been absolutely clear: we will shoot.”

6) “The Moon’s Desire,” by Ines Abbasi, translated by Miled Faiza.

It opens: “The night is stained with light.

“It might end, this night, with a translucent fog covering the tops of the cypresses, like last night. Or it might end with a pale morning, crowned with a laurel wreath of terror and with an urge to run away, like the morning of that one summer night. Where does the road home start from? From the last house that I escaped from? Or from the last hurriedly booked hotel room?”

7) “The Spider’s Widow,” by Houyem Ferchichi, translated by Ali Znaidi

It opens: “The boughs of the olive tree branch out on the large room’s window, which opens onto a folktale repeated by the villagers about a spider inhabiting the old house on the plateau. A distorted spider whose shape swelled as it captured profane spirits. Alien faces to the village were caught in its nets: men with unkempt hair and beards, unpleasant faces in veils, and jelly-like features that came to hide in the spider’s web.”

8) “Bending,” by Basma Bouabidi, translated by Ali Znaidi

It opens: “She no longer endures this bending.

“She pressed her belly with both hands and moaned. She wanted to stand up from her bending positions, but she couldn’t. She fell down on the grass like a rolling ball. She pressed her belly harder when pain squeezed her and her moans grew louder.”

9) An excerpt from The Restlessby Azza Filali, translated by Ros Schwartz.

It opens: “It must have been 5 p.m. when Jaafar walked into the dermatologist’s office.

“’The doctor won’t be long. Have a seat.’

“A head shot up from behind the desk, a fair-haired young man with freckled cheeks. ‘I’m his secretary,’ he added. Newspapers lay scattered on a table; Jaafar picked one up and settled in a chair . . . Yet another new rag!”