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The Anglo-Arab Encounter

Fiction and Autobiography by Arab Writers in English

Geoffrey Nash

According to the late Edward Said, ‘Why English and not Arabic is the question an Egyptian, Palestinian, Iraqi or Jordanian writer has to ask him or herself right now.’ This concise study argues there is a qualitative difference between Arabic literature, Arabic literature translated into English, and a literature conceived and executed in English by writers of Arab background. It examines for the first time the corpus of a group of contemporary Arab writers who have taken the decision to incorporate Arab subjects and themes into the English language. Though variegated and distinct, the work of each writer contributes to a nexus of ideas, the central link of which is the notion of Anglo-Arab encounter. The fiction of Ahdaf Soueif, Jamal Mahjoub, Tony Hanania, Fadia Faqir and Leila Aboulela engages with the West – primarily England – and in the process blurs and hybridises discrete identities of both Arabs and English. Memoirs by accomplished academics, Leila Ahmed, Ghada Karmi and Jean Said Makdisi, are shown to expand definitions of postcolonial autobiography.


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This study grew out of an idea initially given to me by Peter Clark – a continual source of inspiration – and it was first aired in a paper I delivered at a conference on comparative literature at Kuwait Univer- sity in March 2001. I wish to thank colleagues in the Culture Area of the School of Arts, Design, Media and Culture at the University of Sunderland for allowing me study leave in 2005 during which period this book was substantially written. Thanks are also due to Fadia Faqir for her many kindnesses and for allowing me perusal of her novel while still in manuscript; to Jamal Mahjoub for responding to my questions when this project was still at an early stage; and to Leila Aboulela for her openness in offering information. I would also like to acknowledge the use of the following librar- ies and the help given me by their staff: the University of Durham Library, and the London School of African and Oriental Studies Library.

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