Women in Translation Month: Celebrating 5 Arab women authors

Women in Translation Month: Celebrating 5 Arab women authors
Book Club: Women in Translation Month is an international, intersectional initiative based around women having their voices heard. To celebrate this month, The New Arab has compiled a list of our favourite translations from Arabic to English.
6 min read
23 August, 2023
Women In Translation tries to rectify the imbalance in world literature, promoting women writers from across all walks of life, all languages, and all experiences

In 2014, Meytal Radzinski, a U.S based book blogger, established a crucial initiative to celebrate texts written and translated by women.

Since then, August has been a time to honour women authors across the globe.

The passage of time can attest to women’s emphatic resilience toward having their voices heard in the literary canon.

At the same time, contemporary literature has witnessed a lambent saturation of phenomenal female writers. Still, according to Women in Translation, only 36 percent of the books translated into English are from non-European countries, and women write less than 31 percent of translations into English.

Thus, Women in Translation Month aims to encompass writers from a dynamic array of faiths and backgrounds with a broader mission to underscore our nuanced human experiences.

"According to Radzinski’s salient revelations, the impact of women writers in translation on how they are covered in the media, recognised by award committees, and promoted in bookstores, is profoundly devastating"

In particular, those works translated from Arabic into English are historically tinged with misconceptions and underrepresentation.

This year 34 books are to be translated from Arabic to English, and only 13 are from women authors.

According to Radzinski’s salient revelations, the impact of women writers in translation on how they are covered in the media, recognised by award committees, and promoted in bookstores, is profoundly devastating.

The New Arab has compiled a dynamic list of titles from Arab woman authors for you to read this month. From Morocco, Cairo, Lebanon, Sudan, and Oman, these narratives demand to be read and lauded.

History of Ash by Khadija Marouazi: Translated by Alexander E. Elinson

History of Ash is Khadija Marouazi’s debut novel. A human rights activist and a professor of literature at Ibn Tofail University in Kenitra, Morocco, she tells us the story of Mouline and Leila.

The novel oscillates between past and present to illustrate a comprehensive narrative of the Moroccan judicial system. They are both incarcerated during Morocco’s “Years of Lead", telling the tale of their survival and resistance under torture, years in prison life, and re-assimilation into public life upon their release.

Intense and intimate, Marouazi writes with explicit detail, compassion, and urgency. While this is a fictional account, the realities of this era of heavy state repression in Morocco and the anguish of those unjustly imprisoned are felt acutely in her brilliant prose.

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Traces of Enayat - And Other Stories by Iman Mersal: Translated by Robin Moger

Traces of Enayat is a heart-rending portrait of the Egyptian writer Enayat al-Zayyat and was first published in Arabic in 2019, winning the prestigious 2021 Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

Iman Mersal is a celebrated Egyptian poet and academic who discovered this revered Egyptian author and her book, Love and Silence, in the nineties.

Enamoured by her only novel, Mersal sets out to explore Zayyat’s life and finds only tragedy and brilliance. In 1963 Cairo, she committed suicide, lamentably never seeing the publication of her work.

After national acclaim, she cryptically fades into obscurity, that is, until Mersal sets out to document this enigmatic and talented woman. Through interviews with family members, friends, an investigation into her media appearances, and archives of Enayat’s life, Mersal discovers a pandemonium of devastating truths that uncover a tale of depression, domestic abuse, a broken marriage, poverty, and artistic sagacity.

"Women in Translation Month aims to encompass writers from a dynamic array of faiths and backgrounds with a broader mission to underscore our nuanced human experiences"

This Thing Called Love by Alawiya Sobh: Translated by Max Weiss

Alawiya Sobh’s novel, This Thing Called Love, is an acute meditation on companionship and womanhood and the idiosyncratic ways in which people respond to the trauma of war.

Alawiya is a journalist born in Beirut and is the founder and editor-in-chief of Snob Al-Hasnaa, the best-selling women’s cultural magazine in the Arab world today. Her devotion to recounting the voices of women is felt throughout this novel.

The 2006 war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah comprises the backdrop for the stories of Nahla, Suad, Azizeh, Hoda, Nadine, and the narrator Alawiya, a group of friends whose lives are overturned by the reverberations of the political turmoil in Lebanon when Nahla goes missing.

The cause of her disappearance is dubious, and the five women find in each other solace, silent understanding, and zeal for finding Nahla. In a world inundated with violence, Sobh has eloquently crafted a novel that depicts the subtle gradations of human love, experience, and survival. 

Something Evergreen Called Life by Rania Mamoun: Translated by Yasmine Seale 

Immediately following Rania Mamoun’s departure from her homeland of Sudan to seek asylum in the United States with her young daughters, the first Covid-19 lockdown commenced.

Forced to leave because of her work against the regime of Omar al-Bashir, as a writer, journalist, and activist, she coped with her exile and isolation by writing poetry daily.

Thus, Something Evergreen Called Life is a collection of Mamoun's solemn and intimate poems. The lyrical cadence of her prose reveals the allure of everyday life despite the anguish wrought by war and censorship.

She writes with expert insight and fluidity in which despair and gratitude coexist. Moreover, Seale’s translation retains the authenticity of Mamoun’s voice and captures the mellifluous flow and fervour of the Arabic language. Reading Mamoun’s anthology is akin to experiencing the tranquillity of catharsis.

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I Saw Her in My Dreams by Huda Hamed: Translated by Nadine Sinno and William Taggart

I Saw Her in My Dreams is a poignant commentary on the deplorable anti-blackness that has permeated the Arab world for decades. Written with candour and humility, the novel focuses on an Omani artist, Zahiyya, and Faheesh, her Ethiopian domestic worker.

They are left alone when Zahiyya’s husband, Amer, embarks on a journey to find his biological Zanzibari mother. In their loneliness, Zahiyya is left with little choice but to contend with the systemic violence of Omani class systems and racial disparities and her own complicity in it.

Hamed has intertwined varying perspectives and narratives with adroit clarity to create a novel that prompts introspection and social change.

Noshin Bokth has over six years of experience as a freelance writer. She has covered a wide range of topics and issues including covering the implications of the Trump administration on Muslims, the Black Lives Matters Movement, travel reviews, book reviews, and op-eds. She is the former Editor in Chief of Ramadan Legacy and the former North American Regional Editor of the Muslim Vibe.

Follow her on Twitter: @BokthNoshin