Arabic Novel (Mashreq)

The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Peter Melville Logan 2014

Arabic Novel (Mashreq)

Waïl S. Hassan

One of the longest literary traditions in a living language, Arabic literature began in the fifth century CE (two centuries before the start of the Islamic calendar in 622 CE), with the oldest recorded poetry in that language. Dubbed “Diwan al-’Arab,” or “the Register of the Arabs,” poetry has remained the preeminent genre throughout the history of Arabic literature, with the poet enjoying the status of seer, philosopher, moral authority, and spokesman for the community—so much so that the Qur'an had to state emphatically that Muhammad was neither poet nor priest, but a prophet with a divine message, and that the Qur'an itself was no poetry, but the Word of God (69:40—43). Various narrative genres existed alongside poetry, but aside from Qur'anic narratives, which as divine speech were considered to be on a plane higher than that of literature, the arbiters of literary taste regarded most as inferior. Such narrative forms as the qissa (story), hikaya (tale), usturah (myth), khurafah (fable), and sirah (saga) enjoyed great popularity but none of the prestige of poetry, with its elaborate prosody and highly formal diction and imagery. And whereas works belonging to those narrative genres were of unknown authorship, as is always the case in oral cultures, poetry brought distinction to the individual poet who composed it. Annual trading fairs held in various parts of Arabia served as poetry conventions, at which panels of respected authorities judged the poems recited by representatives of different tribes. This functioned as a formal mechanism for canonizing great poets and recognizing emerging ones, whose fame would spread far and wide, enhancing the prestige of their tribes. No such forums honored narrative genres in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Islam turned Arabic from an oral into a literate culture. After the death of Muhammad, it became necessary to preserve in writing not only the text of Islam's holy book but also the prophet's hadith (sayings), which together with the Qur'an constitute the main sources of Islamic doctrine and legislation. This gave rise to a host of scholarly disciplines concerned with the interpretation of the Qur'an and the hadith, as well as the study of the Arabic language and its literature. However, that historic switch from orality to literacy did nothing to diminish the status of poetry as the most important genre of Arabic literature; the oral recitation of poetry remains now the highlight of literary festivals in the Arab world, with celebrated poets drawing audiences in the thousands. Yet the spread of writing and reading made possible the development of new branches of learning and of literature, including narrative genres.

The first great narrative work in Arabic was Kalila wa Dimna, a translation, via Persian, of the Sanskrit Panchatantra, a collection of beast fables, by the eighth-century litterateur Ibn al-Muqaffa’. However, the best-known work of Arabic fiction is undoubtedly Kitab alf layla wa layla (Book of the Thousand and One Nights), also known in English under the mistranslated title, The Arabian Nights. A compilation of stories of Chinese, Indian, Persian, and Arabic origins (the names of the main characters are Persian and the FRAME story is set vaguely in the lands between India and China, clearly denoting a faraway, exotic locale for the stories' Arab audiences), it is a work of complicated textual history that exerted a tremendous influence on the literary imagination of both Arab and European writers, the latter being introduced to it by means of successive TRANSLATIONs from the eighteenth-century onward. Enjoying mass appeal through the medium of the hakawati, or oral storyteller who entertained crowds at coffeehouses and festivals, the work's literary reputation in the Arab world nevertheless remained low, a function of its prosaic style and sensationalism, until the middle of the twentieth century, when major Arab scholars began to study it and novelists to rework its themes and motifs.

Very different was the reputation of the maqama, a narrative genre that emerged in the eleventh century and continued well into the twentieth. The maqama combined poetry and the highly stylized prose characteristic of adab (belles-lettres) with the thematic concerns and narrative tastes of the lower echelons of society, thus securing both literary and popular appeal. Formalized by Badi' al-Zaman al-Hamadhani in the tenth century and popularized by Abu Muhammad al-Qasim al-Hariri in the eleventh, the maqama related the adventures of wandering rogues and mendicants and is said to have influenced the rise of picaresque fiction in Spain during the late Middle Ages. As one critic contends, the maqama's enduring popularity, its use of travel and adventure as a framework, its use of narrative framing and multiple narrators, its mixture of styles, and its alternation of humorous and serious tone, allowed the maqama to play a key role in facilitating the emergence of the Arabic novel in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (Omri). It was in that genre, for example, that the first French novels were translated into Arabic in the nineteenth century (see TRANSLATION); this development, along with the original maqamas and Arabized European novels written at the time, helped domesticate and popularize the novel.

Contexts of the Novel

The colonial period in the Arab world—the region stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean, most of which had been part of the Ottoman Empire since the seventeenth century—began with the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. The French occupation of Egypt lasted only three years, but in 1830 France annexed Algeria, then occupied Tunisia in 1881 and Morocco in 1912. Spain occupied parts of Morocco in 1886, and Italy occupied Libya in 1911. In 1882, Britain occupied Egypt and then the Sudan in 1898. In the aftermath of WWI, the remaining parts of the Arab world—Greater Syria (which the colonialists divided into what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine), Iraq, and the Persian Gulf—were divided into British and French colonies and protectorates, except for parts of the Arabian peninsula which remained relatively independent.

Insofar as it addresses the issues arising from Arab societies' experience under European colonialism, modern Arabic literature may be said to be postcolonial. Yet it must also be noted that during the preceding three centuries, the Arab world had been dominated by the increasingly weak and decadent Ottoman Empire. Anti-Ottoman movements began to emerge in the nineteenth century, culminating with Arab collaboration with the Allies in WWI. At the same time, however, the European colonial threat led to a movement called the Nahda (revival), which aimed first at borrowing European science and technology but eventually exposed Arab intellectuals to European culture, thought, and literature. Nahda intellectuals saw their task as one of selective borrowing from Europe while at the same time striving for authenticity with regard to Arab cultural identity. Together with the renewed interest in classical Arabic literature, which came to be seen as the repository of Arab cultural identity, European literary styles, genres, and movements became a source of influence. Much of modern Arabic literature is, therefore, the product of both anti-Ottoman and anti-colonialist impulses, some of which paradoxically aimed at achieving their goal through the selective adoption of Europe's modernity while at the same time resisting its cultural imperialism. Thus in a broad sense, a great deal of modern Arabic literature negotiates this complex response to Europe, encompassing such themes as the reassessment of the Arab Islamic cultural tradition; social, political, and religious critique; the status of women; resistance to colonialism and imperialism; the challenges of nation-statehood and pan-Arab nationalism; and the Arab—Israeli conflict, among others.

These themes are not always explicitly or directly tied to colonialism, but they arise out of a social milieu that has been affected in many ways by the multiple forms of political and cultural domination in the Arab world. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example, the renewed interest in classical Arabic literature was to a great extent an attempt to articulate a cultural identity associated with Arab civilization at the height of its power. Not surprisingly, therefore, poetry, which Arabs have always considered to be one of their greatest cultural achievements, reclaimed its function as the expression of social values and aspirations, as well as becoming an important organ of social and political mobilization. The classical poet was first and foremost a public figure, both in pre-Islamic times, when he championed his tribe and satirized its enemies, or after Islam, when he used the conventional ode for personal or political ends, praising or denouncing a prince or governor. In all cases the poet adopted the stance of a sage who formulated maxims and gave memorable poetic expression to prized moral values. In other words, classical Arabic poetry was a powerful form of public discourse in which the poet consciously assumed the role of spokesman for the community. It is precisely such a role that poets in Egypt, then later in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and elsewhere assumed, as they voiced their opposition to, and rallied the masses against, foreign occupation.

The novel also participated in the nationalist project (see NATIONAL). Although it was imported from Europe, the abundance of other narrative genres in Arabic literature informed and facilitated the appropriation of the novel. For example, intended for entertainment, social commentary, and moral instruction, the maqama genre was used in the nineteenth century by the Lebanese Nasif al-Yaziji and Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq as part of the effort to recover and disseminate the classical heritage in an age of rising anti-Ottoman sentiment, spreading literacy and increasing the availability of print materials. Al-Yaziji's work harkened back to al-Hariri, evoking his protagonist Abu-Zayd al-Suruji, while al-Shidyaq's Al-Saq ’ala al-Saq fi ma huwa al-Fariyaq (1855, Al-Fariyaq's Crossed Legs) confronted the cultural ascendancy of Europe and its impact on Arab culture. Muhammad al-Muwailihi's HadithIsa Ibn Hisham (1898—1902, The Tale of ’Isa Ibn Hisham), the title of which clearly establishes a link with al-Hamadhani's work across a thousand years, satirized Westernization, corruption, and other social and moral ills.

The Emergence of the Novel

The novel as such began with loose translations and adaptations of European novels in the rhymed prose characteristic of the maqama. The pioneer of the Nahda and founder of the first school of translation, Rifa'ah Rafi' al-Tahtawi, translated François Fénelon's Les aventures de Télémaque (1699, The Adventures of Telemachus) in 1867, followed in 1871 by Bishara Shadid's translation of Alexandre Dumas's Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1844—45, The Count of Monte Cristo), and in 1872 Muhammad ’Uthman Jalal Arabized Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Paul et Virginie (1788). Yusuf Sarkis and Salim al-Bustani during the 1870s, and others during the 1880s—1890s, popularized the genre of the historical ROMANCE through translations published serially in magazines (see SERIALIZATION). By one estimate, more than a hundred novels were translated or adapted from French alone by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century (Badawi, 93). Translations from English, particularly of Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Charles Dickens, as well as other European writers, also appeared eventually. Other writers turned to Arab Islamic history for themes and wrote original novels that served as a vehicle for moral instruction. Jurji Zaidan popularized this trend, along with Salim al-Bustani, Niqula Haddad, Ya'qub Sarruf, Mahmud Tahir Haqqi, and others.

Women writers also contributed to the emerging genre during the same period. The first Arab woman to write a novel was ’A'ishah Taymur, and her Nata'ij al-ahwal fi al-aqwal wa al-af’al (1887—88, The Results of Speech and Action) at once betrays the influence of the maqama—the title uses the rhymed prose characteristic of the genre and of much Arabic prose in the nineteenth century—and of the newly translated French novels, particularly in the construction of a unified plot rather than the episodic structure of the maqama, something that represents an important step in the development of the Arabic novel (Zeidan, 62—63). Other women writers, such as Alice al-Bustani (daughter of the above-mentioned translator) and Zaynab Fawwaz (an important figure in early Arab feminism), also wrote novels during the 1890s that, like many works by their male counterparts, had moral instruction as their objective (see FEMINIST).

The conventional, though now highly disputed view among literary historians is that the Arabic novel proper began in 1913 with the publication of the Egyptian Muhammad Husayn Haykal's Zaynab. According to Haykal (who wrote the novel in Paris, London, and Geneva and published it in Cairo anonymously for fear that writing fiction might compromise his professional reputation as a lawyer), the novel's focus on the Egyptian peasantry was intended as part of the rising tide of nationalism that led to the 1919 revolution against the British occupation (Badawi, 105). Those who see Zaynab as the first Arabic novel cite its explicit focus on contemporary conditions, comparable to the European novel during the two preceding centuries, its unadorned prose style that breaks with the conventions of the maqama (see NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE), its limited realism (which is mixed with lyricism and romantic idealization of the countryside), and its unified (rather than episodic) plot.

The development of the novel written in Arabic was relatively slow in the three decades following the publication of Haykal's Zaynab. Not surprisingly, novelists tackled the relations between the Arab world and Europe with various degrees of emphasis during the colonial period. Two of the novels that appeared during that period, Tawfiq al-Hakim's ’Usfur min al-sharq (1938, A Bird from the East) and Yahya Haqqi's Qindil Umm Hashim (1944, A Saint's Lamp), depicted Egyptian students who travel to Paris and London, respectively, to pursue their higher education. They fall in love with European women, and those romantic affairs provide the opportunity for exploring the complexities of Arab—European relations, as well as for criticism of outdated customs in Arab societies. This pattern continues in the post-independence period (the 1950s and after throughout the Arab world) to inform a great many novels, most famous of which is the Lebanese Suhayl Idris's Al-hayy al-latini (1953, The Latin Quarter) and the Sudanese Tayeb Salih's Mawsim al-hijra ila al-shamal (1966, Season of Migration to the North). One of the most important Arabic novels, Season of Migration, uses two narrators of different generations, both of whom travel to England to study, and multiple, sometimes contradictory narrative viewpoints to depict the violence of colonialism and the psychological damage that racism and sexism inflict on the protagonist and the women he encounters in London, as well as the violent social upheavals caused by the clash of European and indigenous cultures in the Sudanese context (see NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE). While unstinting in its condemnation of colonialism, the novel attacked in equal measure native patriarchal values and the corruption of the postcolonial ruling elite.

Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz (also written Najib Mahfuz) is credited with single-handedly establishing the novel as a preeminent genre of modern Arabic literature. Over the course of seven decades, he published more than forty novels and short story collections, many of which are landmarks in modern Arabic fiction, in addition to seven volumes of articles, several more of interviews, and twenty film scripts. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, Mahfouz studied philosophy at Cairo University during the early 1930s and then worked as a civil servant in a number of ministries until his retirement. Mahfouz read extensively in the European novel early in his writing career, which began with the ambitious plan of writing forty historical novels set in ancient Egypt. He only wrote three such novels during the late 1930s and early 1940s, of which Kifah Tibah (1941, Thebes at War) is best known for allegorizing Egypt's successful struggle against foreign occupiers, with the Hyksos clearly standing for the British. After the 1952 revolution, that novel became required reading in Egyptian schools—the first time that a novel was enshrined in official culture and an indication of how far the genre had come since Haykal published Zaynab anonymously four decades earlier.

Mahfouz abandoned his grand plan when he realized that realistic fiction was better suited to chronicling and analyzing modern Egypt. With that began a new phase of his career that, from 1943 to 1957, saw the publication of eight novels, including some of his best-known works. Zuqaq al-midaqq (1947, Midaq Alley) vividly depicts the inhabitants of an alley in one of Cairo's older, lower-middle-class neighborhoods during World War II, focusing on a beautiful and ambitious young woman who becomes a prostitute catering to British soldiers. The novel displayed Mahfouz's great skill at drawing a memorable cast of characters and weaving a complex plot that slowly builds toward a dramatic, symbolically charged climax. The Cairo Trilogy, written over a four-year period in the early 1950s and published in 1956—57, is a monumental work that traces the transformations in Egyptian society from the late nineteenth century to the eve of WWII through the saga of the ’A'bd al-Jawwad family. This rich panorama of events and characters put on full display Mahfouz's mastery of the narrative craft and firmly established his reputation as Egypt and the Arab world's preeminent novelist.

After the Trilogy, Mahfouz embarked on a long series of experimental as well as realistic novels that commented directly and indirectly (freedom of speech being at times limited or nonexistent) on political and social conditions in Egypt (see CENSORSHIP). Awlad Haritna (1959, translated twice as Children of Gebelawi and as Children of the Alley), became immediately controversial to religious authorities for allegorizing the Qur'anic stories of Adam, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, whose sanctity as prophets was seen to have been violated through fictional representation. Ironically, Mahfouz had intended the novel as a political allegory warning President Gamal ’Abd al-Nasir's (Nasser) regime against the corruption of its revolutionary ideals by authoritarian rule, a reading that was lost in the clamor over the novel's alleged sacrilege (see NARRATIVE). When the Nobel Committee mentioned the novel among Mahfouz's works that earned him the 1988 award, the controversy over Awlad Haritna erupted again and an Egyptian radical cleric issued a fatwa against Mahfouz that led a young militant to stab the 81-year-old writer in the neck outside his residence in Cairo in 1992. Mahfouz survived, but the injury left him unable to write for several years and only for short periods of time afterwards.

During the 1960s—1980s, Mahfouz's novels were on the whole shorter and more experimental than his realistic novels. Works like Al-lis wa al-kilab (1961, The Thief and the Dogs) and Miramar (1967) experimented with stream of consciousness (see PSYCHOLOGICAL) and multiple narrators, while Al-maraya (1972, Mirrors), Layali alf layla (1982, Arabian Nights and Days), and Rihlat ibn Fattouma (1983, The Journey of Ibn Fattouma) drew inspiration from medieval Arabic biographical dictionaries, the Thousand and One Nights, and The Travels of Ibn Battuta, respectively. Mahfouz also returned to ancient Egypt in Amam al-’arsh (1983, Before the Throne), in which he put on trial, before Osiris, Egypt's rulers from ancient times down to Nasir and Sadat, and Al-’a'ish fi al-haqiqa (1985, Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth). Mahfouz's last major works were Asda' al-sira al-dhatiyyah (1994, Echoes of an Autobiography) and Ahlam fatrat al-naqaha (2005, The Dreams of Departure).

Other Novelists

Since the 1950s, scores of other writers throughout the Arab world have written countless novels of great thematic and formal diversity. Beyond the common language, this diversity makes it impossible to speak of unique or distinctive features of the Arabic novel without running the risk of reductiveness and essentialism. Novelists from Lebanon (Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad, Layla Ba'albaki, Layla ’Usayran, Emily Nasrallah, Hannan al-Shaykh, Ilyas Khury), Syria (Hanna Mina, Haydar Haydar, Hani al-Rahib, Muti' Safadi, Collette al-Khuri, Ghadah al-Samman, Halim Barakat), Palestine (Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Ghassan Kanafani, Emile Habibi, Sahar Khalifa, Lyanah Badr), Iraq (Dhu al-Nun Ayyub, Gha'ib Tu'ma Farman, Layla ’Usayran), Kuwait (Isma'il Fahd Isma'il), Saudi Arabia (’Abd al-Rahman Munif, Raja' al-’Alim, Raja' al-Sani’), Egypt (’Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi, Latifa al-Zayyat, Yusuf Idris, Fathi Ghanim, Nawal al-Sadaawi, Sun'allah Ibrahim, Yusuf al-Qa'id, Gamal al-Ghitani, Salwa Bakr), Sudan (Tayeb Salih), Libya (Ibrahim al-Kuni), Tunisia (Mahmoud al-Messadi, Bashir al-Khurayyif, Arroussia al-Nalouh), Algeria (Ahmad Rida Huhu, al-Taher Wattar, ’Abd al-Hamid ibn Hadduqah, Wasini al-A'raj, Ahlam Mustaghnami), and Morocco (’Abd al-Karim Ghallab, ’Abdallah al-'Arawi [Laroui], ’Abd al-Majid Bin JallImagen, Muhammad Barradah, Muhammad Shukri, Muhammad Zafzaf) have written—sometimes with local and sometimes with pan-Arab emphasis—about Arab cultural identity, the struggle for independence, the Arab— Israeli conflict, the Lebanese Civil War, the status of women, and personal and political freedom, among other concerns.

Often excluded from discussions of the Arabic novel are Arab novelists who have written in other languages. Written in English, Lebanese Ameen Rihani's The Book of Khalid (1911) was the first Arab American novel, focusing on the fortunes of two Lebanese immigrants to the U.S. who earn their living from peddling Holy Land exotica, a common occupation at that time. The novel is remarkable for its attempt to fuse Arabic and European narrative styles and conventions, using the rhymed prose and wordplay of the Arabic maqama and inserting untranslated Arabic words into English, at the same time that it draws explicitly on Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's Don Quixote (1605, 1615) and Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (1836), all the while taking as its main theme a Nahda-inspired project of cultural translation and synthesis. The large number of Anglophone Arab novelists that followed includes the Palestinians Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, who also wrote in Arabic, and Yasmin Zahran; Lebanese Mikhai'l Nu'aymah (Naimy), Nabil Saleh, and Rabih Alameddine; Jordanian Fadia Faqir; Egyptians Waugih Ghali, Ahdaf Soueif, and Samia Serageldine; Sudanese Jamal Mahjoub and Leila Aboulela; Libyan Hisham Matar; Tunisian Sabiha al-Khemir, and Moroccans Anouar Majid and Laila Lalami. A growing number of Arab-American and Arab-Canadian novelists—including Diana Abu-Jaber, Kathryn Abdul-Baki, Saad Elkhadem, Rawi Hage, D. H. Melhem, Frances Noble, Laila Halaby, and Mohja Kahf—depict in multiple ways the experiences of Arab immigrants and those born to Arab parents or grandparents in North America. Their Hispanophone and Lusophone counterparts in South America include Gregory Mansour and Juan José Saer (Argentina); Milton Hatoum, Salim Miguel, Alberto Mussa, and Radaun Nassar (Brazil); and Luis Fayad (Colombia). Francophone fiction is scarce in the Mashreq, but its writers include André Chedid and Elizabeth Dahab (Egypt) and Etel Adnan, Amin Maalouf, and Evelyne Accad (Lebanon). Rafik Schami (Syria) writes in German, Salwa Salem and Hassan Itab (Palestine) in Italian, while Anton Shammas writes in Hebrew. A sizable group of Maghrebian novelists write in Dutch, English, French, and Italian.

Major Themes

One of the most persistent themes of Arabic literature since WWII has been the Arab—Israeli conflict following the dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948, then in 1967, by Israeli settler colonialism. The year 1948 is referred to in Arabic historiography as that of Nakbah, or Disaster, a term that hints not only at the scope of the plight of the Palestinians but also the magnitude of the historical dislocation felt throughout the Arab world, which was reflected in the literature produced by Palestinians and non-Palestinian Arab writers alike. Almost all the Palestinian fiction by Ghassan Kanafani, Tawfiq Fayyad, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Rashad Abu Shawir, Emile Habibi, and Sahar Khalifa, among others, depicts the conditions of Palestinians both in exile and inside Israel and the Occupied Territories. The devastating defeat of Arab armies in 1967—called Naksah, or Setback—signaled not only the loss of more Arab territories but also the demise of pan-Arab nationalism, the reigning IDEOLOGY at the time, which drew upon the sense of Arab identity revived in the nineteenth century in response to Ottoman rule and European colonialism. This crisis of identity, accompanied by disillusionment and frustration with Arab regimes, resonates in countless literary works throughout the Arab world, most important of which are the Syrian Halim Barakat's ’Awdat al-ta'ir ila al-bahr (1969, Days of Dust), the Iraqi Layla ’Usayran's ’Asafir al-fajr (1968, Birds of Dawn) and Khat al-af'a (1972, The Snake Line), the Kuwaiti Isma'il Fahd Isma'il's Malaf al-hadithah 67 (1974, Case File 67), the Moroccan Khanathah Banunah's Al-nar wa al-ikhtiyar (1968, Fire and Choice), and the Syrian Hani al-Rahib's Alf laylah wa laylatan (1978, One Thousand and Two Nights).

The Lebanese civil war (1975—90), the result of a constitutionally fragile balance of political and sectarian power upset by the influx of Palestinian refugees into the country, continues to be a major theme of the Arabic novel, as well as of Anglophone and Francophone Lebanese fiction. For example, Elias Khoury's Al-jabal al-saghir (1977, Little Mountain), Abwab al-madinah (1981, Gates of the City), and Rihlat Ghandi al-saghir (1989, The Journey of Little Ghandi) suggest that the conflict symbolizes the state of Arab societies in general; Hanan al-Shaykh's Hikayat Zahrah (1980, The Story of Zahrah) and Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose (1978) focus on patriarchal violence intensified in the chaos of the war; and Rabih Alameddine's Koolaids: The Art of War (1998) links the ravages of the war to those of AIDS among the gay community of San Francisco. Naturally, most of the novels dealing with the civil war portray the psychological damage it inflicted on those who lived in its midst.

Gender relations and the status of women have been perennial themes in the Arabic novel from its beginnings. Writing by and for women increased throughout the first half of the twentieth century as women's movements, which began late in the nineteenth century, gathered momentum. Numerous male novelists have critiqued patriarchy's hold on Arab societies, including Suhayl Idris, Tayeb Salih, Yusuf Idris, and others, while women like Layla Ba'albaki, Latifah al-Zayyat, Nawal al-Sadaawi, Ghadah al-Samman, and Hanan al-Shaykh have written groundbreaking novels from openly feminist perspectives. Joseph Zaydan organizes women novelists in the second half of the twentieth century into two categories. The first includes those who affirm “the quest for personal identity” in the face of socially prescribed gender roles, whose numbers include most notably Aminah al-Sa'id, Layla Ba'albaki, Colette al-Khuri, Layla ’Usayran, and Nawal al-Sadaawi. To this growing list one can add the work of Saudi novelists Raja' al-’Alim, Soheir Khashoggi, and Raja' al-Sani'. The second category includes those who challenge such roles in the context of “the quest for national identity,” such as al-Sadaawi (again) and Latifah al-Zayyat in Egypt; Hayam Ramzi al-Durdunji, Salwa al-Banna, Layla ’Usayran, Sahar Khalifah, and Liyanah Badr in Palestine; and Ghadah al-Samman, Hanan al-Shaykh, Emily Nasrallah, and Umayyah Hamdan in Lebanon. To Zaydan's two categories can be added novelists who write in English against Orientalist depictions of Arabs and Islam, such as Ahdaf Soueif, Leila Aboulela, and Mohja Kahf.

Finally, beyond Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Sudan, and the Maghreb countries, which have produced the majority of Arab novelists, ’Abd al-Rahman Munif of Saudi Arabia and Ibrahim al-Kuni from Libya have added unique dimensions to the Arabic novel. Al-Kuni's novels depict, for the first time, the life of Libya's nomadic tribes known as the Tuareg, whose culture is not bounded by nation or region, by virtue of their life in the great Sahara deserts. For his part, in a series of novels culminating in the quintet Mudun al-milh (1984—89, Cities of Salt), Munif commented in a semi-mythical frame on the political situation in the Arab world and Iran. His Sibaq al-masafat al-tawila (1979, The Marathon) is about the toppling of the Mosaddeq government by the CIA and the rise of the Shah to power. His critique of the drastic social changes that the discovery of oil engendered in Saudi Arabia, the main theme of his quintet, led to his exile to Iraq and stripping of his Saudi citizenship. Munif's quintet remains one of the most monumental works of modern Arabic fiction.

See also: Intertextuality, North Africa (Maghreb), Religion.


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