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Must-Read Books: Top 10 Modern Arabic Literature in Translation. Selected &Presented by: Serin Hetou. The view of the orient: desert, exoticism, illiteracy, nomad, and A Thousand and One Nights . Contemporary Vista of the Arab world.

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Must-Read Books: Top 10 Modern Arabic Literature in Translation

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must read books top 10 modern arabic literature in translation

Must-Read Books: Top 10 Modern Arabic Literature in Translation

Selected &Presented by: Serin Hetou

the view of the orient desert exoticism illiteracy nomad and a thousand and one nights
The view of the orient: desert, exoticism, illiteracy, nomad, and A Thousand and One Nights
contemporary vista of the arab world
Contemporary Vista of the Arab world
  • 22 countries, a combined population of over 338.4 million, in 2009. (
  • Diverse belief systems: Christianity, Islam, Judaism.
  • Diverse ethnicity: Arab, Africans, Armenian, Assyrian, Kurd, Turkmen.

Baghdad National Library (photo taken in 2003)

The New Library of Alexandria, Egypt.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Opera House, Damascus, Syria

inherited arabic literature
Inherited Arabic Literature:
  • Rich poetic language
  • A passion for the word
  • Rhetorical style: famous essayists, Mustafa Lutfi Al-Manfaluti and Abbas Al Akkad.
  • Poetry is the earliest form
  • Classical form of poetry: meter, rhyme, and variations of syllabic lines.
  • The novel is a relatively new phenomena, started out in the early 20th century.
top 10 modern arabic literature in translation
Top 10 Modern Arabic Literature in Translation
  • The following list comprised some of the Modern Arabic writers who basically made it to the western world. Their works are not only translated, but the translations appear to be sound.
  • The objective of this list to illustrate the diverse backgrounds of authors as well their subject matter: men & women, Christian & Muslim faiths, conservative & secular political views.
the poetry of arab women a contemporary anthology ed nathalie handal 2000
The poetry of Arab Women: a Contemporary Anthology. Ed., Nathalie Handal. 2000.

Nazik Al-Malaika

Naomi Shihab Nye

Born in 1952, St. Louise, Missouri.

Currently, lives in San Antonio, TX.

Received many awards, Guggenheim fellow.

Her poems touched on the subjects of land, home, the experience of an Arab-American.

  • Born in 1922, in Baghdad, Iraq. Died in 2007 in Cairo, Egypt.
  • A pioneer in writing in free verse poetry which was a relatively new phenomena
  • Started out with experimentation away from the classical structure…
  • Influence from western tendencies
  • The pioneer effort dates back to the 40s & 50s,
  • Her poetry is characterized by its terseness of language, eloquence, original use of imagery, and delicate ear for music.
hanna mina fragments of memory a story of a syrian family tran olive kenny and lorne kenny 2004
Hanna Mina. Fragments of Memory: A Story of a Syrian Family . Tran. Olive Kenny and Lorne Kenny, 2004.
  • Hanna Minna, born in 1924, Latakia, Syria.
  • His narrative style is similar to that of Emile Zola and other naturalist writers like John Steinbeck & Frank Norris. He captures the realistic depiction of human life, misery, & struggle.
  • Usually the setting of his novels are sea-inspired.
edwar al kharrat stones of bobello tran paul starkey 2005
Edwar Al-Kharrat. Stones of Bobello. Tran. Paul Starkey, 2005.
  • Edwar Al-Kharrat, born in 1929, Alexandria, Egypt.
  • A prolofic writer, critic, & translator.
  • His novel Stones of Bobello has been translated into French, Italian, Catalan, German, Polish and English.
  • Won several international & local awards.
  • Many scholars saw in this novel as an autobiography of Al-Kharrat’s life and childhood. It narrates the life & struggle of a young coptic/Christian child in Egypt in the 1940s and the mixture of socio-economical polarities around him: male, female, copt, muslims, rich, poor, city, & village.
edward said orientalism
Edward Said. Orientalism
  • Edward Said (1935-2003) in Jerusalem.
  • American-Palestinian writer, critic, & theorist.
  • A late Columbia professor.
  • The idea of the orient stems from, as Said’s argue, the western projection of what the middle east is.
Naguib Mahfouz. Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, & Sugar Street. Trans. William Maynard Hutchins, et. El.
  • Naguib Mahfouz (1882-1976), Cairo, Egypt.
  • Won the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1988.
  • Tells the tale of three generations of family saga in the socio-political setting of Cairo from 1917-1944.
  • Published in 1957, English translation in 1992.
taha hussein the days trans e h paxton 2001
Taha Hussein. The Days. Trans. E.H. Paxton, 2001.
  • Taha Hussein (1889-1973).
  • Was born blind.
  • The most influential Egyptian novelist , intellectual, and forerunner of the modernist movement in Egypt.
  • He earned his Ph.D. from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France.
  • His writing is so sensuous and lively that a reader could hear, taste, & visualise the image he is conveying.
ulfat idilbi sabriya damascus bitter sweet trans peter clark 1997
UlfatIdilbi. Sabriya: Damascus Bitter Sweet. Trans. Peter Clark, 1997.
  • UlfatIdilbi (1912-2007).
  • A Syrian novelist, lecturer, & feminist.
  • Her book is set in the 1920s in French occupied Damascus. Quote: "My countrymen demand freedom," Sabriya, the central character says, "but cannot even give it to one another. Half the nation remains bound by chains imposed by you men."
malika oufkir stolen lives twenty years in a desert jail co author michelle fitoussi 2001
MalikaOufkir. Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail. Co author Michelle Fitoussi, 2001.
  • MalikaOufkir was born in 1953, in Marrakech, Morocco.
  • Oprah’s Book Club
  • Tells her own story of a General’s daughter. She was a frequent visitor and later on a resident at the King’s court and Palace. However, in the aftermath of an attempt to assassinate the king, her father, the minister of defense at the time, was accused and sentenced to death. His wife and children (Malika is one of them) lived a life of confinement, torture, and terror in a remote desert jail in Morocco.
  • Wrote a sequel, titled, Freedom: The Story of My Second Life, 2007.
mahmoud darwish the butterfly s burden trans fady joudah 2007
MahmoudDarwish. The Butterfly’s Burden. Trans. FadyJoudah, 2007.


Land, Woman, and Exile

In Damascus:

the traveler sings to himself:

I return from Syria

neither alive

nor dead

but as clouds

that ease the butterfly’s burden

from my fugitive soul (117)


Ali Ahmed Said, known by the pseudonym Adonis. Born in 1930, Latakia, Syria. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Oct. 2007, Paris, France.

adonis the pages of day night trans samuel hazo 2000
Adonis. The Pages of Day & Night. Trans. Samuel Hazo, 2000.
  • His poems stand restless; not being satisfied on a ground of defiance –a political-social commentary –. He elevates the texts to a higher status of aesthetic expression in his playfulness of words, imageries, and the inner musicality of his lines. The realm of imageries that he conceives in his poetry shapes his individuality as a poet that is unexampled of in any other current Arab author. Two lines intertwine in his writing, namely: his observation of the human condition: chaos, war, love, and exile along with his enchantment of words and language.