- Gender, Nation, and the Arabic Novel: Egypt, 1892–2008 by Hoda Elsadda
The principal purpose of Hoda Elsadda’s Gender, Nation, and the Arabic Novel: Egypt, 1892–2008 is to mark itself within the canon of Arabic literature using gender as its principal framework of analysis. The book successfully looks at the various representations of femininity and masculinity in modern Arabic fiction to reach an understanding of nation building within contemporary Arabic societies. One of the most interesting arguments posits that by looking at gender roles, their conflicts and ideologies, one is able to better understand the conflicting political ideologies and allegiances in the modern history of the Arab world within the overall concept of globalization. Another interesting aspect of this thesis purports that looking through a gendered lens allows one to question the inclusion and exclusion in the canon of literature and to understand better why some voices have been marginalized because they did not fit the ideology of the dominant culture.
Elsadda, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cairo University, has excellent writing style and material organization, which allow her to present her thesis effectively; Elsadda examines selected texts and themes that are characteristic of the literary production in Egypt, starting from the late nineteenth century to the first decade of the twenty-first century. The driven thought and leading thread of the book divided into nine chapters is to evaluate the implications of integrating gender as a category of analysis for Arab literary history. The choice of writers and texts is guided by the themes handled in the study already [End Page 126] described above. To that effect, the book is divided into three parts: Part One with Chapter 1 tracing the beginnings of discourses on gender and nation, discourses on Ideal Manhood and Ideal Womanhood, Chapter 2 exploring the evolution of the New-Man through Conflicting Masculinities in the Fiction of Haikal, al-Mazini, and al-Rafi’i, and Chapter 3 examining three novels by Tawfiq al-Hakim representative of the Civilizational Novel; Part Two with Chapter 4 dealing with Naguib Mahfouz’s Trilogy and its national allegory, Chapter 5 exploring the literary oeuvre of Latifa al-Zayyat and her position in the Arabic canon, Gender and Nationalist Politics, and Chapter 6 analyzing the antithesis of national masculinity through the novels of Sonallah Ibrahim; and Part Three with Chapter 7 arguing for The Personal is Political in Debating the New Writing published in the 1990s and after. It includes a discussion of two debates, one centered on accusation against young writers, the other against young women writers too easily dismissed, the exploration of narratives on estrangement and exile untitled The Postcolonial Nomadic Novel, and finally the analysis of three novels published in the first decade of the twenty-first century showing men and women living in liminal spaces, undefined and unlimited by national, ideological, or physical boundaries: Hamdi Abu Golayyel, Ahmed Alaidy, and Muhammad ‘Ala’ al-Din.
Elsadda’s scholarship is sound, accurate, and well researched, showing knowledge and understanding of the field. She argues well for example about aspects unaccounted for in her research such as religious diversity, canonization, and marginalization. She is widely read on the subject and uses most sources and authors that have written on the topic of gender and literature. One of the most interesting arguments of her thesis is that nationalistic characters of the canon have resulted in the marginalization of cultural production that did not subscribe directly to the national edicts and that this has also inhibited the voices of both men and women. Women’s bodies became the arena for the battle over identity and cultural supremacy between colonial and nationalist forces, an idea reinforced by the thesis of Edward Said that discursive feminization of the Orient served as a function of colonial domination.
Elsadda relies on appropriate sources to present her arguments, thesis, and analysis. Her contribution to our present knowledge of the subject is remarkable especially in her analysis of the new generation and marginalized [End Page...