Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Hanan al-Shaykh

War in white sheets: The public invasion of the private female space in women’s literature

Reine Azzi posted her thesis in Journal of Arts and Humanities


The dichotomy between the “angel in the house’ and the “devil in the flesh” used to symbolize the restrictions facing women in 19th century literature.

With the advance of the different stages of feminism, this (dichotomy) began to slowly dissipate as more female heroines began to be depicted as a major part of both the private and public spheres.

Does a more prolific female presence eliminate this opposition?

This research paper will focus on whether such a distinction continues to preside over the works of female novelists, and the works under study are Hanan Al-Shaykh’s The Story of Zahra and Women of Sand and Myrrh in addition to Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

Full Text:



ACCAD, EVELYNE, Sexuality and War: Literary Masks of the Middle East, New York: New York UP, 1990.

AL-SHAYKH, HANAN, The Story of Zahra: A Novel, 1986, Trans. Peter Ford, New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Women of Sand and Myrrh, 1989, trans. Catherine Cobham, London: Quartet Books, 1993.

COOKE, MIRIAM, War’s Other Voices: Women Writers on the Lebanese Civil War, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

DARRAJ, SUSAN, “We All Want the Same Things Basically’: Feminism in Arab Women’s Literature”, Women and Language 26.1, (Spring 2003), pp. 79 – 82.

GELBLUM, AMIRA, “Ideological Crossroads: Feminism, Pacifism, and Socialism”, Borderlines: Genders and Identities in War and Peace 1870 – 1930, Ed. Billie Melman, New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 307 – 327.

GRIFFITHS, MORWENNA, Feminisms and the Self: The Web of Identity, London: Routledge, 1995.

LESSING, DORIS, The Golden Notebook, 2nd ed. London: Flamingo, 1972.

MOKHTAR, KHAOULA, “Becoming Liberated in Beirut”, Women of the Mediterranean, ed. Monique Gadant, trans. A. M. Berret, New Jersey: Zed Books, 1986, pp 5 – 11.

SALIBA, THERESE, “Arab Feminism at the Millennium”, Signs, Vol. 25, No. 4, Feminisms at a Millennium, (Summer, 2000), pp. 1087-1092.

SEGAL, LYNNE, Is the Future Female? Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism, London: Virago, 1987

On friendship and feminism?

Hanan al-Shaykh is one of the leading female author of her generation in Lebanon.  Nidal Al Achkar is one of the leading actress and theater director of hers. The pair came together on stage last week at Madina Theater, as part of Hay Festival Beirut, to read stories from Shaykh’s new adaptation of 1001 Nights. The stories remind us of the complexity of humanity that touch on “all aspects of life: justice, injustice, gender issues, strife, the cunning of women, city-dwellers and people from the countryside, hate, love… it also contains very bloody stories, of unbelievable darkness and wickedness, alongside highly charged erotic ones.”

Iante Roach of NOW posted on May 14, 2013

Shaykh and Achkar go back a long way.

Hanan al-Shaykh first became aware of Nidal’s work in the 1960s: her acting talent was attracting the attention of many critics.  Shaykh, the journalist then, interviewed Nidal and followed her career avidly: “she is the person who began real, alive theater in Lebanon, a theater that dealt with Lebanese society and its problems from within, very different from the previous tradition. She was interested in Arabic playwrights and made us realize that theater does not only come from Europe, that there is much more to theater than Shakespeare, comedy, the theater of the absurd… She is an extremely courageous woman, and her play Edrab al-Haramiyeh (The Strike of Robbers in English), was stopped by the government.”

1001 Nights

NOW met with the women to talk about their longstanding friendship, feminism, freedom of expression, and the challenges they have experienced as women in the arts from the 1960s onwards.

In turn, Achkar reveals that she has been a fan of Shaykh’s “for a very long time, both as a woman whose personality fuses femininity and strength to the utmost degree, and as an author, with her modern and sophisticated style – an excellent example of al-sahl al-mumtana (inimitable simplicity in English) – and her stance. When she first wrote, her bold books appalled people.”

Shaykh, whose Shiite family comes from Nabatiyyeh, grew up in the Ras el-Naba’a neighborhood in Beirut. She left Lebanon soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, eloping with her future husband (a Christian) to Saudi Arabia and later to England, where she has lived ever since. Her family found out about the marriage in the press!

The author dispels common myths about her strict Shiite upbringing and her position as a feminist Arab author. “My father was devout, but not a fanatic – just imagine that he let me go alone to Egypt to pursue my studies at the age of 17! Though he wanted me to wear the hijab, I rebelled and convinced him that it wasn’t for me. I used to think he was strict, but now I realize how much freedom he gave me. He was very loving and a little naïve, he would believe me in everything.

For instance, my father saw me holding hands with a boy, and I convinced him that the boy was simply helping me to cross the road unharmed. Initially, he was upset about my marriage, but he came to love my husband (whereas the rest of my family was happy and relieved, as they feared no one would marry me, with my strong character!). My husband’s family had no qualms whatsoever about our interfaith marriage.”

Asked whether she would define herself a feminist, Shaykh replies forcefully: “they pigeon-hole you! Maybe I am, I don’t know. My novels talk about women, strife, society issues – yet so many male Arab authors do the same and are not called feminists!”

Strong female characters appear in many of Shaykh’s novels – such as Ruhiyya and Asmahan from Beirut Blues. “My female characters come from here, from there, from everywhere. Some are women I met, others are members of my family, some I thought I knew, but I don’t know if they really exist. Ruhiyya from Beirut Blues, for instance, a character I adore, was inspired by Billie Holiday, the nickname of my mother’s dress-maker, who smoked cigarettes and was very outspoken and extremely alive.”

Shaykh reveals that she wished to return to Lebanon in 1982-83, “when the situation was really not very good. However, I thought of my children, who were very young at the time. I wanted them to continue living in a peaceful world, and feared they wouldn’t learn anything but fear from living in a state of war. I believe in secular society, and after a long experience of the UK’s real democracy I don’t think I can live anywhere without similar political conditions.”

Nonetheless, the boundaries of freedom of expression in the Arab world have never stopped her from “writing what I feel like writing: I am daring, I do not censor myself, and luckily I have a Lebanese publisher, who was very interested in my adaptation of the 1001 Nights and did not censor it even though I warned him that it was very daring.”

Achkar is an actress, a theater director, an author and founder of Madina Theater (in 1994). She has been seminal for modern and contemporary Lebanese theater. She announces to NOW that she is currently working on two big projects. She will act in a new play which will be directed by Madina Theater director Nagy Souraty. It will premiere in October 2013.

“All I can tell you about my role is that she’s a timeless woman,” she says with mischievous eyes. She will also be directing a big show in 2014, which she has adapted from ancient Sumerian texts, brought to her attention by her father some 40 years ago. “The play will deal with the Sumerian universe, from its beginning with the creation of the first cities and the search for eternal life to its end. According to Sumerian traditions, the universe was created by a woman.”

On her experience as a woman in the arts in Lebanon from the 1960s onwards, Achkar says “it has been a continuous struggle, yet easy because of my very open family, all my friends, and all the writers have been with me from the start. I had a golden beginning and was able to continue thanks to my confidence and the love my family gave me, even though it is a tough world. I enjoy the struggle and I enjoy succeeding and being the first woman to found an open, civil society theater, which fosters freedom of expression.”

The combined efforts of the seemingly delicate Shaykh and the dramatic and clearly forceful Achkar, who have both contributed immensely to the development of theater, literature, and the condition of women (whether artists or not) in Lebanon, created one of this year’s best and most enchanting theater and storytelling performances in Beirut.

One hopes that they will continue collaborating and achieving such ‘inimitable simplicity,’ the result of constantly striving, and that they will continue to take Beirut audiences along on the journey with them.

Beirut Hay Festival starts today…May 8, 2013

Coup d’envoi ce soir du Hay Festival

Andrew Bossones is one of the organizers of this cultural event. Intellectuals, artists and thinkers will debate for 3 days on varied subjects, such as literature, illustrated works, economic development, human rights…

 Zico House hosts conferences in English such as “The struggle of women in a post-patriarchal context in the Arab World”, “Freedom of expression and censorship”… Joe Sacco, the American reporter will open the Festival. (I have reviewed one of his illustrated stories about the horror journey of African immigrants fleeing the atrocities of their States and having to cross the desert of Libya to reach the island of Malta…)

Al-Madina theater will host Hanan al-Shaykh (I reviewed a few of her books), Nidal Achkar and Hanif Kuireshi.

The Baroness Helena Kennedy will debate on « La liberté d’expression : un droit universel ? » before meeting with the journalist Hani Chucrallah.
Patrick Deville, Femina Prize 2012, Cherif Majdalani and Farès Sassine will speak at the French Institute of Beirut.
Venetia  Rainey, from the Daily Star, published this piece on Joe Sacco, first speaker in the Hay Festival:

Joe Sacco  is in no mood to mess around. “I can’t  pretend I am ‘objective’ about certain topics,” he says.

“In some situations there is such a thing as the oppressor and the oppressed,  and my goal is to give the oppressed a voice.”

The vaunted Maltese-American graphic novelist is well known for his  unwillingness to kowtow to conventional notions of journalistic objectivity:  presenting two, equally apportioned sides to every story.

“The problem with journalism  is that it is often a mere recording  of events from day to day,’” he explains. “A newspaper story might be factually accurate without giving the reader a sense of the ‘why.’”

It is Sacco’s pursuit of this sense of “why” – his scrutiny of the big and  small facets of history to find another way to understand and explain the  world’s daily tragedies – that drives his work and gives it its potency.

He is making his maiden voyage to Beirut  this week, among the cluster of writers and literary personalities to participate in Hay Festival Beirut. One of the  international franchises of the U.K.’s renowned literary festival in Hay-on-Wye,  the event was launched here in 2012, and provided a rare platform for the  mingling Lebanese and international writers.

Sacco was born in 1960 in Malta. His parents – an engineer and a teacher –  emigrated when he was very young to escape the influence of Roman Catholicism, a  theme he has explored in numerous works since.

He spent his childhood in Australia, where, surrounded by European immigrants  who regularly talked about war, he grew up thinking of conflict as a part of  life.

At the age of 12 his family moved the United States, where he studied  journalism at the University of Oregon. There he worked a series of jobs that  included co-founding the satirical comic magazine “Centrifugal  Bumble-Puppy.”

He was intrigued by the media’s portrayal of the Middle East and eventually  his travels found him in occupied Jerusalem.

“The only time I heard the word ‘Palestinian,’” he recalls, “was in relation  to incidents like terrorist attacks and hijackings. As a result, I grew up  thinking Palestinians were terrorists – pure and simple. I had to educate myself  about the Palestinian issue.”

At first, Sacco was nervous about venturing into the West Bank and  embarrassed to tell people he was writing a comic book (of all things) about the  Occupied Territories during the First Intifada.

Yet, after two months his notebooks were bulging, and “Palestine” was  published in nine issues between 1993 and 1995. Perhaps surprisingly for those  who have come to know his work more recently, his first solo venture was not a  commercial success.

His breakthrough came in 2000 with the release of “Safe Area  Gorade: The War in Eastern Bosnia  1992-1995,” which won an Eisner Award  for best original graphic novel –  though recognized as a graphic novelist, Sacco himself prefers the less inflated  term “comic book.”

“Palestine” was later republished more successfully in a single volume of 288  pages. He’s since released several other books and collections of earlier  pieces, which focused largely on Bosnia and the Palestinian territories.

Footnotes in Gaza” (2009), one of his best-known works, delves into two mass  killings in 1956, which had been consigned to the bin of history – one in Khan  Younis, and one in Rafah. “Footnotes” is now being adapted into a feature-length  animated film, to be directed by Denis Villneuve  – who helmed the 2010 screen  version of Wajdi Mouawad’s stage play “Incendies.”

“I’m somewhat ambivalent about turning ‘Footnotes in Gaza’ into a movie,” he  says.

“I don’t think that film is any more or less valid a medium than comic books.  But the story is about the massacre of Palestinians in 1956, and that’s a story  that should be heard by a wider audience than I’ve reached with the book.”

Sacco wants nothing to do with the new project.

“I decided to be hands off,” he continues. “For one thing, I don’t want to  interfere with someone else artistic vision, and for another, I spent seven  years on the book and it was really time for me to move on to other  subjects.”

It will be interesting to see how successfully Sacco’s engaging mix of  memoir, reportage and history, conveyed through close-ups, talking heads and  double-page panoramas can be transferred to celluloid.

Adult comic books can lend themselves to exaggeration,  and Sacco’s  figures are solidly drawn and plain-speaking. “I do think a journalist should be  honest,” he explains, “recording exactly what he or she is seeing and  hearing.”

Each detailed frame, which readers can pore over at their own pace, gives  each person’s stories a rich context that is impossible to relay in an article  or a minute-long TV report.

For Sacco, there is a difference between how journalists and artists operate,  a distinction he upholds in his work. “You have to be a little cold-hearted to  get the story accurately,” he explains. “Whatever you might be hearing, you have  to keep people on track. It’s a bit clinical. You can’t let yourself get  emotionally caught up.

“For me, the emotion comes later when I’m drawing. When you’re drawing  someone, you internalize that person somehow. You have to channel their feelings  into the drawing.

“Journalism is about switching something off; art is about switching  something on.”

Although he never studied art – and still doesn’t think drawing is his strong  point – he continues to hand-draw everything, working from photos and sketches  he makes while in the field.

It’s a painstaking process, so he is picky about which projects he takes  on.

“I have to ask myself whether I will still be 100 percent engaged in the  project three or four or five years down the road when I’m still drawing it,” he  says. “I cannot work on a story I am not emotionally committed to.

“So I only tackle projects that kick me in the gut.”

As gut-kicking material is a core criteria for starting a project, Sacco  concedes Lebanon’s stories may tempt him to pick up his pencil again.

Lebanon  is a complicated place and I can think of  any number of stories that might sustain my interest,” he says.

“This is my first visit. Sometimes you don’t know what story would interest  you until you’re there.”

Joe Sacco will be speaking at the Beirut Hay Festival on May 8-9. For more  information visit His latest book, “Journalism,” is  available from select bookshops.

A moment from “Footnotes in Gaza.”

A  version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May  08, 2013, on page 16.
Read more: (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::
Note 1: Pour plus d’informations, le programme entier est disponible en anglais et en français sur le site

Note 2: Coup d’envoi ce soir du Hay Festival

Published in the Lebanese French daily, L’Orient/Le Jour this May 8, 2013: Coup d’envoi ce soir du Hay Festival

Initiative Intellectuels, artistes et penseurs débattront pendant trois jours sur des sujets variés aux quatre coins de Beyrouth dans le cadre du Hay Festival.

Partout dans le monde, et cela depuis plus de 25 ans, le Hay Festival met à l’honneur la diversité culturelle et l’échange intellectuel en invitant écrivains, penseurs, historiens et artistes à se réunir, partager et débattre sur le monde tel qu’il est et tel qu’il pourrait être.
À partir de ce soir et jusqu’au 10 mai, la capitale libanaise accueille le festival pour la deuxième année consécutive. Cette fois, les invités discuteront principalement de la littérature et des ouvrages illustrés, du développement économique ainsi que des problèmes auxquels font face les droits de l’homme. Prévu sur trois jours seulement, le programme est chargé.

Quelques temps forts Zico House accueillera des conférences en anglais sur des sujets tels que « Les combats des femmes dans un contexte arabe postautoritaire », « La liberté d’expression et la censure », ou « Les contes graphiques ». Sur ce dernier thème, Joe Sacco, le reporter américain célèbre pour ses reportages en croquis et bandes dessinées sur des terrains difficiles tels que la Palestine et plus récemment Gaza, sera présent au Beyrouth Art Center ce soir, à 18h, et demain, à 15h, à l’auditorium du Hostle Student Center de l’AUB.

Au théâtre al-Madina ce soir, à 20h 30, Hanan al-Shaykh, une des auteures les plus lues et traduites du Moyen-Orient, rencontrera l’actrice et réalisatrice Nidal Achkar autour des poétiques et séduisants récits de Shéhérazade. Les mystérieux contes des Mille et Une Nuits seront lus en arabe et sous-titrés en anglais. Demain 9 mai, à partir de 19h30, le 392RMEIL393 recevra Hanif Kuireshi.

Classé parmi les cinquante meilleurs écrivains britanniques en 2008, ce dernier a vu nombre de ses ouvrages adaptés au cinéma. Il conversera avec l’écrivain journaliste Rosie Boycott.

How girls affect weak brained males. And Arab women authors
Israeli soldiers take a Palestinian girl, cuff her, blind-fold her, point their guns at her and take photos
Israeli soldiers take a Palestinian girl, cuff her, blind-fold her, point their guns at her and take photos. This is absolutely heart-breaking and makes me really mad. People like them deserve to be punished severely! :@
Do you feel outraged? Is this an absolutely brutal picture watching juvenile Israeli smirking and flaunting their weak power?  Do the commanders of these soldiers deserve to be punished severely!
ذنبهآ الوحيد أنهآ ، ، ، خلقت فلسطينية !!!<br /><br /><br /><br />
ساعدنا لتصل الصورة لكل العالم خلال 24 ساعه ؛<br /><br /><br /><br />
ماعليك غير الضغط علي زر المشاركة فقط .<br /><br /><br /><br />
وقــل حسبى الله ونعم الوكيل . ♥ :
Her only crime was to be born a Palestinian girl
هل يمكن ان ترى هكذا مشهد في الدول التي يسمونها دول الكفر؟؟؟؟
A few Gulf Arab juveniles appreciating sexy female mannequin..


Egyptian novelist Salwa Bakr: “Bakr suggested that the lack of political support explains the surge of women seeking to express these contradictions through literature, especially in recent decades.”

Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh“During all those years in which I played the role of a frustrated housewife, I used to read that letter, look around and wonder, ‘Is this what I expected from life? To cook and wash dishes and wait for a husband who believes that I am here to make up for his mistakes?’”

Hanan al-Shaykh

Hanan al-Shaykh

Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh“ I remember a professor at one of the American universities and she told me, ‘Oh, Ms. al-Shaykh, I love your work. But I don’t dare to teach it because I don’t want people to think that this is how the Arabs are.’”

Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat“I’m never interested about heroes, about men who make history and the characters who believe in something. I don’t have an answer to anything, so when we were on our tour I let the other writers answer the big questions.”

Iraqi novelist Hadiya Hussein”Indeed, I feel closer to my country when I’m away. It is like a work of art: It gets clearer the more we step away from it.”

Algerian writer/filmmaker Assia Djebar: “… yes, sometimes fear grips me that these fragile moments of life will fade away. It seems that I write against erasure.”


Painting by Etel Adnan

Painting by Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan, (1925 – ). Adnan, a Lebanese author who continues to be a vibrant force in the literary scene, has written a number of pioneering works. You can certainly see her impact in the recently released Homage to Etel Adnan.

Nawal al-Saadawi, (1931 –  ). Al-Saadawi, an Egyptian activist, doctor, and novelist, is a bit improbable as a Nobel Prize for Lit winner, although she is certainly an indomitable political force. Her memoirs are perhaps most interesting (more interesting than her fiction); Memoirs from a Women’s Prison in particular.

Assia Djebar, (1936 – ). Djebar, an Algerian author and filmmaker who writes in French, has been a regular on the Nobel list since her Neustadt award. Works in translation include her Women of Algiers in Their Apartment and Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade. 

Hanan al-Shaykh, (1945 – ). Lebanese-British al-Shaykh is author of the brilliant Story of Zahra, Women of Sand and Myrrh, among others; most of her works are available in English, several translated by Catherine Cobham.

Radwa Ashour, (1946 – ). A wide-ranging Egyptian novelist In translation you can find her meta-fictional Specters, as well as Granada and Sirajand I understand that her celebrated Farag is forthcoming from BQFP.

Huda Barakat, (1952 – ) Also Lebanese, her Tiller of Waters and Stones of Laughter are beautifully layered and textured, like the fabrics in Tiller, with a wonderful exploration of the relationship between humans and the objects of daily life.


Iman Mersal’s “Oranges,” trans. Khaled Mattawa

Maram al-Massri’s “Women Like Me,” trans. Khaled Mattawa

Nujoom al-GhanemShe Who Resembles Herself,” trans. Khaled al-Masri

Hanan al-Shaykh’s “Beirut 1934,” trans. Roger Allen

Nazik al-Mala’ikaLove Song for Words,” trans. Rebecca Carol Johnson

Adania Shibli’s “Out of Time,” trans. the author




June 2023

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