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date: 01 July 2022

The Arabic Novel: New Roots, New Routeslocked

The Arabic Novel: New Roots, New Routeslocked

  • Elizabeth HoltElizabeth HoltDepartment of Middle Eastern Studies, Bard College

Summary

In the mid-19th century, the Arabic novel emerged as a genre in Ottoman Syria and khedival Egypt. While this emergence has often been narrated as a story of the rise of nation-states and the diffusion of the European novel, the genre’s history and ongoing topography cannot be recovered without indexing the importance of Arabic storytelling and Islamic empire, ethics, and aesthetics to its roots. As the Arabic periodicals of Beirut and the Nile Valley, and soon Tunis and Baghdad, serialized and debated the rise of the novel form from the 19th century onward, historical, romantic, and translated novels found an avid readership throughout the Arab world and its diaspora. Metaphors of the garden confronted the maritime span of European empire in the 19th-century rise of the novel form in Arabic, and the novel’s path would continue to oscillate between the local and the global. British, French, Spanish, and Italian empire and direct colonial rule left a lasting imprint on the landscape of the region, and so too the investment of Cold War powers in its pipelines, oil wells, and cultural battlefields. Whether embracing socialist realism or avant-garde experimentation, the Arabic novel serves as an ongoing register of the stories that can be told in cities, villages, and nations throughout the region—from the committed novels interrogating the years of anticolonial national struggles and Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, through the ongoing history of war, surveillance, exile, occupation, and resource extraction that dictates the subsequent terrain of narration. The Arabic novel bears, too, an indelible mark left by translators of Arabic tales—from 1001 Nights to Girls of Riyadh—on the stories the region’s novelists tell.

Subjects

  • African Literatures
  • West Asian Literatures, including Middle East
  • 19th Century (1800-1900)
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
  • Print Culture and Digital Humanities

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