Fiction and Autobiography by Arab Writers in English
Chapter 6 Arab Women’s Autobiography and Memoir in English
Migration has provided hundreds of […] Arabs with the opportunity to reinvent themselves, to exercise their minds and to practise their creativity away from the familial, social and confessional constraints of the homeland (Clark: 1998). Emphasising the popularity of Arabic autobiography in her introduc- tion to In the House of Silence, a collection of autobiographical essays by thirteen prominent Middle Eastern and North African women writers, Fadia Faqir foregrounds the difficulties presented to women practitioners of the genre in Arabic. Often lacking ‘self-confidence and a sense of empowerment’, Arab women are nevertheless increas- ingly stimulated to try to ‘define their position in history’ by locating themselves ‘vis-à-vis the male master narrative’ as well as formulating their own ‘separate individual identity’ (Faqir: 1998, p.8). In her ar- ticulation of the conditions pertaining to her own personal site of pro- duction, Faqir adopts the persona of Shahrazad in order to allegorise the predicament facing contemporary Arab women writers. In ‘Bagh- dad’ (i.e. the Middle East) she had ‘no social, religious or political freedom – she was in bondage. Returning to the house of obedience before sunset prayers, she was forced to wear the veil and could not criticize the regime’ (p.52). However, the decision to go into exile and adopt English as the language of composition places the issue of Arab women’s autobiography on a wholly new footing. From having to write from a position delimited and circumscribed by their gender, Arab women writers are in certain respect privileged in their attempts to...
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