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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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Chapter 2 Ahdaf Soueif: England, Egypt, sexual politics


The Anglo-Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif can be considered a path- finder in the wave of Arab writers in English of the last two decades of the twentieth century. Soueif was born in Cairo in 1950 to aca- demic parents. She lived in London between the ages of four to eight, later resuming her education in Egypt where she graduated from the University of Cairo with a BA in English literature in 1971. Soueif continued her studies in English and American literature at the American University of Cairo, obtaining her MA in 1973. She then took up doctoral work in Literary Stylistics at the University of Lan- caster, the cold north of England campus-university that forms the setting for Asya’s Anglo-Arab encounters in, In the Eye of the Sun. The next six years were spent lecturing at Cairo University. Between 1987–89, Soueif continued her academic career at King Saud Univer- sity, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – the country that provides the background for, ‘I think of You,’ a short story published in her collection, Sand- piper. In addition to writing novels and short stories, Soueif is a translator of Arabic writing into English, has engaged in the pro- motion and mediation of Arab culture in association with a number of cultural organisations. She also is a regular contributor to literary magazines and newspapers as well as appearing on radio and televi- sion in England, The United States and the Arab world. Her collection of articles on political themes, Mezzaterra, Fragments from...

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