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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 4 Fadia Faqir: Women’s resistance, Women’s choices


Turn a critical face both ways, towards the country of origin and its traditions and the country of reception. The challenge, the alienation, the ‘offence’ are two-sided. Fred Halliday (1989) Born in Jordan where she gained a BA in English, Fadia Faqir holds two postgraduate degrees in creative writing from the universities of Lancaster and East Anglia respectively. She has taught creative writing at the University of Exeter and was Lecturer in Arabic at the University of Durham, England (where she now holds a research fellowship). Actively involved in Middle East Women’s Studies, a declared Arab feminist and promoter of Arab women’s writing, Faqir is now a full time writer. Compared with other writers of the Anglo- Arab encounter, her writing is distinctive, both in its conscious con- nection to Arabic narrative forms, which she co-opts in an innovative manner into her English fiction, and for her contextualisation of that encounter alongside a gendering of the Arab nation. In her contribu- tion to a collection of autobiographical writings by thirteen Arab women writers, Faqir adopts the persona of Shahrazad, a much be- loved figure in Middle East women’s feminist discourse, and sets her within an allegory of late twentieth century global politics in which she has sought exile in the West from the sultan’s court in Baghdad (Faqir: 1998). Faqir’s conceptualisation of the Anglo-Arab encounter may be characterised as a process that begins and ends in self- enunciation and dissent. The journey commences with estrangement from the Arab society constructed...

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