- Arabic Literature for the Classroom: Teaching Methods, Theories, Themes and Texts ed. by Muhsin J. al- Musawi
Muhsin J. al- Musawi, ed.
London, New York: Routledge, 2017. xx + 323 pp., index. ISBN: 9781138211971. Paperback, $54.95.
Arabic Literature for the Classroom: Teaching Methods, Theories, Themes and Texts, edited by Muhsin J. al- Musawi, is based on the premise that Arabic literature, and how it is taught today, is confined to Middle Eastern studies departments and is isolated at a classroom level from consideration by other disciplines such as anthropology, gender studies, and history. The purpose of the nineteen essays in this collection is to foster and encourage these interdisciplinary connections and to motivate those who may not have fluency in Arabic to approach Arabic literature from more than a merely linguistic perspective and freely dive into this rich literary tradition.
The essays, which encourage readers to teach the specific topics presented by each contributor, are grouped into three categories: Theory and Method, Themes, and Texts. Each essay explores an area of Arabic literature through the lens of theoretical frameworks like those of Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes, to name a few, and then shifts to situating the topic at hand within the Arab cultural and historical landscape. Most of the essays then outline how the topic being broached can be linked to other disciplinary approaches. The most helpful and practical elements presented by just over half of the contributors are sample course descriptions, syllabus outlines, and lists for further reading. The lengthy bibliographies listed [End Page 163] after each chapter will also prove essential for teachers who are considering teaching a particular topic and who may want to better familiarize themselves with it first.
The drawback of this book is that not every essay is as practical or successful in guiding the reader as most of the essays are. There are a handful that, rather than providing a framework to the reader on how to teach a chosen topic, read more as extended views on the subject, with references to personal publications but without any substantial guidance. However, the extremely generous nature of the remaining essays makes up for this shortfall.
The strongest aspect of this collection is the sheer diversity of topics chosen by contributors when it comes to form (letters, poetry, novels, film) and time (from medieval times to modern day). There is also a pleasing inclusion of topics focusing on the trajectory of women’s writing through the ages. Although there is a focus on the francophone Maghreb, the collection lacks geographical focus on any topic engaging with Arabic literature from other African countries, such as Libya and Sudan. Arabic literature from the Gulf region is also underrepresented. However, the transferable toolkit presented to novice and seasoned experts alike provides more than enough for one to use when teaching literatures of areas not mentioned in this collection.
For those wanting to teach a course based on female- authored works, the most useful chapter is the innovative course on the lengthy Arab female epistolary tradition, “Teaching Arab Women’s Letters”; for a survey course of more up- to- date writers, “Arab Women Writers 1980–2010” or “Teaching Francophone Algerian Women’s Literature in a Bilingual French- English Context: Creative Voices, Dissident Texts” prove most beneficial. Teachers seeking ways to approach traditionally more complex classical Arabic literature and poetry will find “Teaching the Maqamat in Translation,” “Approaches to Teaching Classical Arabic Literature in English Translation,” and “Teaching the Modernist Arabic Poem in Translation” useful. Film as a sort of dynamic text is also not left out, with the following chapters proving worthwhile when mulling over how to teach it: “Teaching Humor in Arabic Literature and Film” and “The Politics of Perception in Post- Revolutionary Egyptian Cinema.” For the more conventional comparative-literature approach of using the Thousand and One Nights, there is “The Arabic Frametale and Two European Offspring” and “Teaching the Arabian Nights.”
Over a decade ago, the breadth and depth of the suggested courses in this collection for students who do not have fluency in Arabic...