ARAB-399-01 The Arab Novel
Spring for 2017-2018
Since the late nineteenth century, Arab writers have experimented with novel writing in a number of languages. Yet, the very emergence of the novel in the modern Arab context begs many questions. To begin with, there is the old question about whether the Arabic novel was imported wholesale from the West, or whether it emerged organically in conversation with indigenous forms. We might pose this old question more bluntly: Was the Arabic novel an instance of colonial-era borrowing or, worse, a cultural artifact imposed by Western cultural hegemony? Certainly, many early experiments with the novel borrowed directly from European models, just as others drew self-consciously upon older Arabic narrative fiction forms, whether from the realm of the popular (like the Thousand and One Nights), or from that of the elite (like the maqama). At the same time, it is unclear whether the modern novel can rightly be considered part of the long-standing Arabic tradition of adab (literature), with its emphasis on ethical comportment and religious orthodoxy. If anything, in the modern Arab world, the novel is associated closely with secularism and anti-clericism.

Such issues will inform this survey of novels by Arab authors, most of which are written in Arabic, but some in French, English, Italian and Hebrew. Other questions we will explore are: the effective ability of the novel to critique political oppression; the role novels play in the articulation of human rights norms; the significance of novels in illiterate (and post-literate) societies; the novel as a supplement to official history; the novel in conversation with other mass media, especially film. Throughout, we will also ask what it means to be a writer in the modern Arab world.

The readings for this class will be available in Arabic and English translation. Classroom discussion will be in English. Students taking this course to satisfy Arabic requirements will read Arabic texts in the original, and attend a special discussion section.

Required Texts

1. Ibrahim Al-Koni, Gold Dust (Libya).
2. Alaa Al Aswany, The Yacoubian Building. (Egypt)
3. Shimon Ballas, Outcast. (Israel/Iraq)
4. Tahar Ben Jelloun, This Blinding Absence of Light. (Morocco/France)
5. Mohamed Choukri, For Bread Alone. (Morocco)
6. Yasmina Khadra, Morituri. (Algeria/France)
7. Elias Khoury, Yalo. (Lebanon)
8. Amara Lakhous, Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio (Algeria/Italy).
9. Naguib Mahfouz, Midaq Alley. (Egypt)
10. Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men. (Libya/UK)
11. Abdelrahman Munif, Variations on Night and Day. (Saudi Arabia/Syria)
12. Tayyib Saleh. Season of Migration to the North. (Sudan)
13. Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love. (Egypt/UK)


• Short Essay (7 pages) 20%
• Midterm 20%
• Final Exams (15 pages) 40%
• Attendance and Participation 20%
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
More information
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