Graphic by Joaquin Kunkel

The Weekly Graze: Arabic Literature

Arabic literature that everyone should read.

Here at The Gazelle, we work hard to bring you interesting, informative content that you can enjoy and engage with. This week, The Gazelle staff and the NYU Abu Dhabi community share some of their favorite works in Arabic.
Lina Elmusa Staff Writer
A’kaber, Mikhail Na’aima
When most of the world thinks of Arab countries, they think of them as rife with conflicts — the Islamic State group, the Syrian revolution, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Saudi’s lack of human rights come to mind. If people are slightly more knowledgeable, they might think of Western Sahara or the Sudanese conflict. In his collection of short stories, Mikhail Na’aima dips into humanitarian issues of normal people within the region, mostly Lebanon, reminding the reader that the Arab world is not just a big convoluted region where people are only busy killing one another. Though many of the stories were written at different times, the book was published as a collection in 1963. Although not all the issues he addresses exist in the same context nowadays, many of the fundamental problems and themes throughout the books are still relevant. Na’aima’s writing is poetic, philosophical and absolutely beautiful. He’s one of the great thinkers of his time. I have read A’kaber four times, and I’ll probably still read it again.
Yasmin Al-Modhawi Senior
Memory for Forgetfulness, Mahmoud Darwish
“I measure the period between two shells. One second. One second: shorter than the time between breathing in and breathing out, between two heartbeats. One second is not long enough for me to stand before the stove by the glass facade that overlooks the sea. One second is not long enough to open the water bottle or pour the water into the coffee pot. One second is not long enough to light a match. But one second is long enough for me to burn.”
Memory for Forgetfulness is an extended prose poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in which the speaker reflects upon the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, particularly the shelling of Beirut. The poem is a personal account of war. Through vivid descriptions and symbolism, it illustrates how war engulfs the entirety of life. In the first chapter, the narrator finds himself in the midst of airstrikes, but all he cares for is a “five minutes truce for the sake of coffee.” Even the making of coffee — a cherished, yet also rather mundane and ordinary activity for most people — takes on layers of meaning. It becomes an extension of the soul, a manifestation of life in all its forms. I was particularly impressed by Darwish's ability to elegantly intertwine humor and outrage while subtly extending his reflection during a terrifying moment of war into bigger questions regarding existence, exile and the writing of memory. I highly recommend Darwish's piece for an untraditional and painfully beautiful insight on war, the loss of the homeland and remembrance.
Mohammed Al Mubarak Junior
Fi’ran umi hissa, Saud Al San’usi
A novel that recounts the story of a little girl as she navigates the sectarian and political spaces that manifest themselves in Kuwait, Fi’ran umi Hissa has the ability to thrust the absurdity of sectarian tension and conflict into full view through the eyes of a young girl who just wants to bike around without her mother’s warnings of what lurks beyond her backyard. On a personal level, the vivid descriptions of the tight-knit neighborhood allow me to relive a glimpse of what my generation was robbed of: an organic hay that existed before street signs and speed bumps tore our spaces in half.
Grega Ulen Senior
The novel bends and blends genres, voices and languages to tell stories of Algeria before, during and after French colonial occupation, and to rewrite histories of women who are often forgotten. Between autobiography and cultural memory, travel writing and war chronicles, letters and oral narratives, Djebar uses French — her stepmother tongue — to inscribe the memories of her Arab and Berber ancestors and to rescue them from oblivion. Fantasia traces histories of indigenous resistance through life narratives of ordinary women, but it also preserves the heritage of female voices in order to pluralize truth and the rich story of Algeria’s past.
Connor Pearce is Editor-in-Chief. Email him at
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