- Hoda Barakat's Sayyidi wa-Habibi: The Authorized Abridged Edition for Students of Arabic ed. by Laila Familiar
Teaching Arabic to students in their third year or beyond opens up a greater body of material from which to draw for instructional purposes. We expect students at this level to be able to explore elements of Arab culture in a more sustained and in-depth manner. We also expect them to be able to grapple in Arabic with big societal questions and to develop critical, nuanced ways of thinking about such questions through their engagement with Arabic language content. Having in previous years offered these students short stories and poems, we can lead them further into the world of Arabic literature. But are our third-year students—all of them, not just our highest achieving learners—ready for a novel without painfully having to wrestle their way through it?
Laila Familiar's edition of Hoda Barakat's novel Sayyidi wa-Habibi can be a bridge here, one by which students move beyond short stories and toward reading and appreciating full Arabic novels. Familiar worked together with Barakat to produce a shortened, sixty-three-page version of Sayyidi wa-Habibi involving simplified language that is largely recognizable to students who have completed about four semesters of intensive Modern Standard Arabic. The novel can easily be integrated into a semester-length course and divided into once-weekly assignments followed by in-class work. While it could fit in any advanced-level Arabic class, the novel would [End Page 151] nicely complement course units on the history of Lebanon or Arabic literature. The included pedagogical materials are designed for use in a class facilitated by an instructor. However, this edition can also be used by independent learners even if these learners cannot check their own responses to the comprehension questions.
The edition's merits are many. It provides students access to a good novel. The plot can serve as a starting point for discussions around such pertinent topics as the difficulty of growing up or losing a parent; the precariousness of children's social position among their peers; parent-teenager and spousal relationships; drug use and drug trafficking; and posttraumatic stress disorder. And finally, it allows for a great deal of cultural learning. For example, the novel features the Lebanese dish ablamā and the music of Umm Kulthum and 'Abd al-Halim Hafez. Students learn about the various uses of the word "mu'allim" in Levantine Arabic. They also become acquainted with one of the recurring elements in Barakat's fiction: the downward spiral of a male protagonist struggling in the context of the Lebanese Civil War.
What do the book's editorial interventions involve? In each chapter, Familiar has replaced words and more complex grammatical structures with alternatives. She has shortened sentences and chapters. While the chapters in Barakat's original novel vary from one to ten pages, Familiar's chapters are never longer than four and a half pages. Since she has also numbered the chapters, they are easy to refer to for in-class work and assignments.
Familiar has clearly thought about maintaining the delicate balance between making the novel accessible and retaining the beauty of Barakat's style. On every page, two or three words are footnoted and explained by means of a concise English definition or an Arabic synonym. Structurally, despite the significant cut in length, the abridged edition flows well. Where Barakat intended ambiguity, that ambiguity has been retained: as in the original novel, it takes a while before the reader can situate the opening chapter in its context. The open ending of the original here becomes an opportunity for students to write their own endings to the book.
The edition is preceded by separate prefaces for instructors and students and a one-page biography of Hoda Barakat in Arabic. The pedagogical materials Familiar has added include pre- and post-reading activities, comprehension and discussion questions, prompts for role...