One Step Further: Arabic Book Club Launched

Although Arabic is the official language of the UAE, many Arabic students at NYU Abu Dhabi find that they still have a difficult time gaining ...

Nov 2, 2013

Although Arabic is the official language of the UAE, many Arabic students at NYU Abu Dhabi find that they still have a difficult time gaining sufficient exposure to the language outside of the classroom.
Students in advanced and colloquial Arabic classes this semester have initiated an Arabic book club to increase their exposure. In the last two weeks, a handful of students have been reading Naguib Mahfouz’s “Al Liss Wa Al Kilab,” or “The Thief and the Dogs,” in preparation for the book club’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 1.
Senior Caroline Manela, who has completed the highest level of Modern Standard Arabic instruction currently offered at NYUAD, was one of the few students who started the book club. She explained what prompted the idea.
“Since we can’t take Fusha [Modern Standard Arabic] classes anymore, it’s a good way to continue practicing and gain more exposure,” said Manela. “It’s actually pretty hard here to get exposed to Arabic.”
The book club will read texts from various Arab writers, meeting once or twice a month in different cafés to discuss the readings. In addition to discussions completely in Arabic, Manela said that she looks forward to reading the original, untranslated versions of novels written by Arab authors. She took a language course over the summer that included reading literature in Arabic, and this experience sparked her interest in the subject.
“There’s something to be said for, obviously, learning to speak Arabic fluently but cultural fluency is also important,” said Manela. “I think literature is [a] really important part of that.”
NYUAD Arabic language instructor Khulood Kittaneh, who is one of the facilitators of the book club’s discussions, described how novels can be a frame through which to study the broader social context of the Arab world.
"When we meet, we will discuss a little bit about the writers and the story itself and maybe about the ... era of the literature — social issues related to certain times or places," said Kittaneh.
Kittaneh said that the book they are currently reading paints a vivid picture of Egyptian society in the 1960s.
Although staff from the Arabic department are personally involved in the book club, it is an extracurricular affair not sponsored by the department. Kittaneh also said that the book club is open to the NYUAD community, whether members be student, staff or administration, but that the focus will be to keep the readings and discussions in Arabic.
“It’s going to be a struggle, but it’s going to be fun,” said Manela. “That’s the point. I don’t want it to be something stressful … but we’re going to challenge ourselves.”
Clare Hennig is features editor. Email her at 
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