As 2021 draws to a close, Al-Fanar Media presents its annual list of some of the most prominent books from or about the Arab world published during the past year. We do not say these are the “best” books of the year, as publishing houses keep issuing more and more worthy titles. Instead, the list reflects personal favorites and interesting titles on significant topics. We are happy to share our selections with you and welcome your comments and suggestions.
By Samia Mehrez (Dar Al-Shorouk)
In this book, the Egyptian critic and scholar Samia Mahrez traces the life of her maternal grandfather, the late poet Ibrahim Nagi (1898–1953).
Mehrez draws on family documents, including letters and handwritten drafts of some of his poems, to present a personal narrative of one of the Arab world’s most renowned modern poets.
The biography is based on a remarkable paradox: Nagi’s poem “The Return” is taught in schools, and Mehrez did not enjoy studying it. In fact, it caused her alienation from Arabic. Many years later, however, she specialised in Arabic literature. In 1985, she earned a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. Modern novels became her gateway to Arabic literature, returning her to Ibrahim Nagi after many years.
The book is Mehrez’s first work in Arabic. She is a professor of Arabic literature and former director of the Center for Translation Studies at the American University in Cairo. Her titles in English include “Egyptian Writers Between History and Fiction: Essays on Naguib Mahfouz, Sonallah Ibrahim and Gamal Al-Ghitani”, and “The Literary Atlas of Cairo: One Hundred Years on the Streets of the City“.
By Muhammed Naim (Al-Mahrousa Center for Publishing)
The book explores Egyptian society since the early nineteenth century through two concepts: self-teaching, or the continuous quest to improve one’s living conditions based on fundamental virtues, and the jarba’a, which embodies authoritarian social relations. The latter, Naim argues, has contributed to instilling mediocrity, decadence, nihilism and contempt for self-made values.
The book affirms the role historically played by self-education in achieving great leaps in Egyptian society. It also studies social fluidity and ends with a review of recent history since the last quarter of the 20th century. The author says “social and political re-establishment” are responsible for recent crises in the Arab world and calls for dominant ideology to be dismantled.