Review: Alawiya Sobh’s Feminist Frisson in ‘Maryam, Keeper of Stories’

Arabic Literature (in English)

A slightly truncated version of this review ran in The National, as I turned it in at the wrong length:

maryam“The war silenced me,” Lebanese novelist Alawiya Sobh said in 2010, of her country’s fifteen-year civil war. It took the novel Maryam al-Hakaya (Maryam: Keeper of Stories) to help Sobh recover her voice. Or rather, “I invented Maryam to tell the story for me.”

Sobh, born in 1955, had long been established as a journalist, poet, editor, and short-story writer. But she didn’t release her debut novel, Maryam: Keeper of Stories, until 2002, twelve years after the war’s end. It’s now been translated into English by Nirvana Tanoukhi.

Maryam’s conceit is compelling, if at times over-explained. The novelist “Alawiyya” is turned into a background character while Maryam pushes her way to the foreground. Maryam complains that, after so many interviews with real and imagined people, Alawiyya never…

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