Inside Al Jadid - Book Reviews
Diaspora Arab Women Writers: The Legacy of Shahrazad and Female Infanticide
Rather than focus on Arab women’s repression from an observer’s viewpoint, Hanadi al-Samman’s “Anxiety of Erasure: Trauma, Authorship, and the Diaspora in Arab Women's Writings” (Syracuse University Press) instead highlights the accounts of female writers living in diaspora who have contributed productively and creatively through their writings. Taking close readings of six prominent authors — Ghada al-Samman, Hanan al-Shaykh, Hamida al-Na’na’, Hoda Barakat, Samar Yazbek, and Salwa al-Neimi — and exploring the therapeutic effects of resurrecting forgotten histories, the book relates the struggles of these writers in their tales to the struggles of Arab women today. To build this effect, Hanadi al-Samman connects ancient practices and stories, namely infanticide and Shahrazad, to the subconscious minds of Arab women today, showing that while ancient practices may no longer be employed, the sentiments behind them remain prominent in women’s lives and actually contribute to a systematic trauma. The author, however, suggests that writers facing this trauma can still productively involve themselves in the intellectual and political struggles of their homelands. The book, reviewed by professor Nada Ramadan Elnahla, is scheduled to appear in Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016.
Oppression’s Child: How Hatred Imbedded Itself in Syria’s Soul!
Exploring the complex nature of hatred, Khaled Khalifa’s novel, “In Praise of Hatred” (St. Martin’s Press) examines the difficulties of living in Syria under Hafez Al-Assad through the eyes of a young, unnamed girl acting as the narrator. In this coming-of-age story, set in the 1980s of Syria, a young Muslim girl struggles to find her own identity while living in her grandparents’ house, where she spends time with a literalist aunt who teaches her to reject any and all forms of desire, as well as two other more liberal aunts who offer her a break from the stifling patriarchal society the girl has grown up in. Torn between loving her body and demeaning it, the narrator finds herself consumed by self-hatred. At the same time, the novel examines the influences of Hafez Al-Assad’s war on the Muslim Brotherhood and the measures the regime took to strike down any rising liberal movements, illustrating the buildup of tensions between different Islamic sects — a hatred that leads to the deaths of 17 Alawite soldiers, executed because they didn’t belong to the “right” sect. The two sides of the novel narrative come together as the narrator transitions into adulthood and begins to understand that the hatred she sees in herself for her body and the hatred existing between the sects, sparked by the dictator’s bloody campaign, both prove praiseworthy because they represent natural occurrences that should be embraced. Determined, she rises to make a stand against the regime. Khalifa portrays, through the at-first innocent eyes of a child, the death of liberalism in the nation, and the battle to maintain expressions of it. His novel reveals that in times of oppression, hatred proves the human being’s first natural response. Al Jadid Magazine featured an interview of Khalifa, an award-winning Syrian novelist, in the last issue. A review of his novel by Aman Madan is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016.
New Book Examines Yemeni ‘Lascar’ Community in British Maritime Trade and Society
The Yemeni war today is perhaps next in importance after the Syrian and Libyan post-Arab Spring conflicts. The first thing that comes to the minds of some readers is the Saudi-Iranian link with Yemen. However, not many are familiar with the country's long history with Imperial Britain. In Mohammad Seddique Seddon’s recent book, “The Last of the Lascars: Yemeni Muslims in Britain 1836-2012” ( Kube Publishing Ltd.), the origin and settlement of the Yemeni ‘Lascars,’ a British term used to categorize sailors of ‘oriental’ — from Indian to Arab and so on — descent, is explored through extensive research. The book begins with the first Yemeni seamen laboring aboard British trade ships of the East India Company in the early 19th century to their eventual settlement in Britain, where they developed the first “Arab-only” boarding houses, mosques, and religious communities. They lasted generations, all while persevering through racism and prejudice. “The Last of the Lascars” is reviewed by D.W. Aossey in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016. To read the full review online, click on the link below.
The Ripple Effect of the 'Eclipse' of Iraqi Sunnis
As Iraqi politics descend increasingly into chaos, the repercussions of before and after the onslaught by ISIS on the Sunni provinces become clear, and the sectarian policies of the present and the former Iraqi government continue to create stark divisions, Deborah Amos’ “The Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East” (PublicAffairs) becomes a handy source for navigating Iraqi politics.
An award-winning NPR journalist, Amos follows Iraqis living in exile from Amman to Beirut and Damascus. Rather than reporting on the rigged elections and official corruption found in other standard histories, she instead narrows in on the personal stories of families torn apart and thrust into hardship. Amos analyzes the impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the people of the region as well as the effects of the explosion of sectarian hostilities that have been unleashed throughout Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and other Arab states. In particular, she interviews several of the middle class Iraqis, from doctors to scholars and government workers, the very people whom she asserts are vital to creating a democratic Iraq, though are unfortunately forced into exile. In one case, she observes the tragic upheaval of middle-class women forced into prostitution to survive. Poignant and grisly, “The Eclipse of the Sunnis” conveys the futility of constructing a multicultural and tolerant Iraq through Amos’ eyes. Deborah Amos has reported for television news such as ABC’s Nightline and PBS’ Frontline, winning multiple awards, and currently reports on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. A review of Amos's book by Lynne Rogers is scheduled to appear in Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016.
In Photo: Iraqis chant antigovernment slogans as they wave national flags during a protest in Fallujah. (Photo Credit: csmonitor.com.)
Books Reviewed in Al Jadid 71
‘The Rope’ by Kanan Makiya, reviewed by Lynne Rogers; ‘Life Without a Recipe’ by Diana Abu Jaber, reviewed by Lynne Rogers; ‘Love Made Visible, Scenes from a Mostly Happy Marriage’ by Jean Gibran, reviewed by Lynne Rogers; ‘Eclipse of the Sunnis, Power, Exile and Upheaval in the Middle East’ by Deborah Amos, reviewed by Lynne Rogers; ‘Teaching Arabs, Writing Self, Memoirs of an Arab-American Woman’ by Evelyn Shakir, reviewed by Lynne Rogers; ‘Thresholds: The Grandchildren of the Great Sidi Soliman (In Arabic)’ by Mahmoud Aboudoma, reviewed by Nada Ramadan Elnahla; ‘The Last of the Lascars: Yemeni Muslims in Britain 1836-2012’ by Mohammad Seddique Seddon, reviewed by D.W. Aossey; ‘Children of Afghanistan, the Path to Peace’ edited by Jennifer Heath and Ashraf Zahedi, reviewed by Lynne Rogers; ‘Dictionnaire de la peinture libanaise (Dictionary of Lebanese Painting)’ by Michel Fani, reviewed by Lynne Rogers; ‘A Curious Land: Stories from Home’ by Susan Muaddi Darraj, reviewed by Priscilla Wathington; ‘In Praise of Hatred’ by Khaled Khalifa, reviewed by Aman Madan; ‘Mirages’ by Issa Makhlouf, reviewed by Angele Ellis; ‘Anxiety of Erasure: Trauma, Authorship, and the Diaspora in Arab Women’s Writings’ by Hanadi al-Samman, reviewed by Nada Ramadan Elnahla; 'After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East' by Brian T. Edwards, reviewed by D.W. Aossey; 'Shahaama: Five Egyptian Men Tell Their Stories' by Nayra Atiya, reviewed by Caroline Seymour-Jorn.