4 December 2018
The Arabic Novel is receiving increasing attention as THE genre in which imagination, memory, thoughts, and past and present reality can join together and reach across countries, languages and cultures. This attention began 20 years ago with Egyptian critic Gaber Asfour and his then highly controversial article, ‘Zaman al-Riwayah’ (Time of the Novel), which sparked heated discussions and launched a debate that has continued until today. In this issue, Iraqi critic Abdullah Ibrahim goes further, maintaining that Arabic ‘narrative, in old times and new, has always had the upper hand’.
Our contributors include academics, literary translators, and author-critics writing from the UK, Switzerland, Iraq, Morocco and the US – with diverse points of view, making diverse observations.
In Insight, Paul Starkey sets the historical scene of Arabic literary fiction by tracing the main turning points – from Leg Over Leg by the Lebanese Faris al-Shidyaq (1855) through the post-WWII commitment to social realism, to disillusion after 1967, to more recent times of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (from 2008) and the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ (from late 2010).
Hartmut Fähndrich, translator of Arabic fiction into German, considers the relationship of the novel to the development of the nation state; and that forms of the novel are now infinitely variable as Arab authors react to the tremors that are shaking their societies.
Iraqi author and critic Hussain Alsagaaf investigates the massive change and explosion in novel writing in Iraq since the US occupation in 2003 and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Charis Olszok looks at the ‘frustrated potential’ of Libyan literary fiction under Gaddafi’s 42-year rule through the influential Libyan novel From Mecca to Here by al-Sadiq al-Nayhum.
Moroccan author and critic Yassin Adnan relates how Naguib Mahfouz spoke of ‘a move from poetry to the novel’ in 1945 and describes that move’s multifarious acceleration today; and while prizes for novels encourage readers, they also impose a ‘novelistic recipe’.
Muhsin al-Musawi writes of the ‘unprecedented volume of novel production’ and relates it to a cultural need to talk, and so write, during this time of destruction and trauma. He is critical of ‘surplus narration and needless digression’ of other narrative devices that build on ‘an already established link’ to capture readers.
Tarek El-Ariss writes on the Arabic novel in the Digital Age and describes in chilling detail how the digital pulse has led to some authors becoming unwitting parts of their own work. As social media weaves ever-new connections with other media, literary systems and online activism, new literary models emerge, with drastic implications for the formation of a future literary canon.
Jonathan Wright, who translates Arabic fiction into English, is confident that with the potential globalisation of cultural production there will be breakthrough Arabic literature in translation which would share the features of quality popular literature everywhere, with the Arabic originals having been scrupulously edited by a new generation of daring editors.