Book Review: Celebrating the words - and worlds - of women

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 16 Mar 2024

Moussem Ketabet Al-Banat – Waportraihat Okhra (A Season for Girls’ Writing – and Other Portraits) offers an insight into the early chapters of some of today’s prominent Egyptian and other Arab women writers.



Moussem Ketabet Al-Banat – Waportraihat Okhra (“A Season for Girls’ Writing – and Other Portraits”), by Arosyat Al-Naloti: Al-Ain. 2010. pp. 241.

“Women have always had a way of telling their stories; for long centuries they told their stories – often in poems… over time they started to write… First, they write about their emotions… and later write about all types of issues… writing gives women a way to liberate their souls and ideas.”

This was how Tunisian author Arosyat Al-Naloti summarised the association between women and writing in her book celebrating women’s words and worlds.

Moussem Ketabet Al-Banat compiles ten interviews with female authors, mostly Egyptian, that Al-Akhbar’s former culture editor, Breksam Ramadan, conducted and published in the daily paper during the second half of the 1990s.

In all ten interviews, Ramadan gets the writers to reflect on the essence of writing and its association with their womanhood.

Mostly, the authors express something about writing as a path – maybe even a process – of liberation of the soul or the mind. At times, they even express how writing can, in an abstract sense, liberate the body. They speak of how writing can allow them to see through their weaknesses, frailties, and pains.

The association of writing with the healing of pain is present in almost every testimony that Ramadan collected.

In an interview published in 1995, the famous novelist Miral Al-Tahawy tells Ramadan that her writing journey was her way to come face-to-face and reconcile to her weaknesses, inabilities, and fears.

Writing, Al-Tahawy says, was her way to heal and share the essence of her experience as a woman growing up with masked and unmasked taboos but also with grand – even if timid and hesitant – dreams.

In her 1995 interview with Ramadan, Iman Mersal, another famous Egyptian writer, speaks of a journey through writing that allowed her to express herself away from the constraints of all set frames and formats.

Writing was also Mersal’s way to find the strength to slowly and firmly create her own space, “despite the clear fragility,” in what she thought was a tough cultural milieu that did not seem to be welcoming of any new talent.

Novelist Manal El-Kady, whose interview with Ramadan was published in 1996, speaks of writing as a way of reconciling the pain from her profession as a physician. Pain and healing, El-Kady tells Ramadan, come together in a connecting thread of life, medicine, and writing.

The interviews with the female writers are only one part of the book. It also assembles many other interesting interviews that Ramadan conducted with leading literary figures in the 1990s.

Many of these interviews allow authors to share their reflections on the women in their lives. Many speak of their mothers and some speak of the women they loved.

Vernacular Poet Ahmed Fouad Nigm speaks of his mother who inspired his love for women and Abdel-Rahman Al-Abnoudi says that poetry to him was like his mother – neither can escape his mind for long.

This book is a documentation of the cultural scene in Egypt during the last decade of the 20th century and a celebration of the literary talents of Egypt and other Arab countries.

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