I write in self-defence and in defence of countless others with whom I identify or who are like me. Born in Cairo, Radwa came from a literary and scholarly family: her father, Mustafa Ashour, was a lawyer but had strong literary interests, while her mother, Mai Azzam, was a poet and artist. Radwa evoked in her writing how she was raised to recite the poetic corpus of Arabic literature by her grandfather Abdelwahab Azzam, a diplomat and professor of oriental studies and literature at Cairo University, who first translated the classic Persian Book of Kings Shahnama into Arabic, as well as other Oriental classics. A student of comparative literature, she attended Cairo University during the ferment of the late s and early 70s, attaining her MA in She then went on to do a PhD at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; in accordance with her concern for human rights and independence, she worked on African-American literature, receiving her doctorate in
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Shelves: me-na-lit , translated This is my second Ashour and takes its place beside The Woman from Tantoura as one of my favourite books. Once again, the author deals with tantalising and difficult material with poetic and thematic subtlety and affectionate warmth for her characters. This man we know first by his vision and second through the brief flashback of his young assistant, a refugee taken in and apprenticed by the elderly book-maker.
Abu Jaafar goes out to hear the news on the streets of Albaicin, a Muslim neighbourhood of Granada, where he hears rumours and, days later, the town crier, all in this flowing sequence than unfurls like a banner, carrying us deep, deep, deep into the world of this history, as if we are diving, diving, diving through air, seeing the land and all its spirits spread around, rising towards us, details blooming one by one from the background, literary sorcery.
I would like to humbly suggest that Radwa Ashour creates in this novel a vision of Al-Andalus, Muslim-Arab Spain, as a radically open society. The Muslim-Arab population of Granada is living under Castillian occupation and increasingly draconian Catholic rule. Their rights to freedom of religion, association and property, initially upheld, are soon revoked and they are presented with the choice of conversion or exile.
Those who stay and pretend to convert are ruthlessly persecuted for displaying any sign of their identity as Arab or Muslim, books are confiscated and burned, the bathhouses are closed the Castilians, it seems, do not bathe. It is a genocide. So, what do I mean by open? I mean that among the Muslim people, nothing is felt to be prescribed or prohibited. The Muslims lead a double life, one language and religion outdoors, and another in the increasingly invaded and policed private spaces of the home and in the mind and heart.
Thus, freedom is the inner space and the local and wider faith community they have hopes of support from North Africa and Ottoman Turkey, and many flee across the sea to Fez, leaving the land of many generations of their families. The society of Albaicin is non-materialistic from my perspective. People delight in the beauty of objects, but this relationship is not a proprietary one: it is about memory, identity and sensation as pleasure.
This is evident in at least three cases, firstly with the books Abu Jaafar makes and his granddaughter buys, which are clearly aesthetic objects as well as revered carriers of knowledge and culture. When Hasan comes to agree with them that the freedom fighters are a hindrance to Arab prosperity and safety, I feel that Ashour has gently placed him on the other side to her own allegiance.
On two occasions the narrative suggests that there is no finer gift than a dance. She is extremely intelligent, disposed to academic study and strong willed. This both-and open-mindedness is mirrored by the acceptance of her involvement by the fields themselves, particularly the local community which values her work. Maryama to some extent takes on her role, or at least takes the weight off her, and it is through Maryama that Ashour points out that Islam contains a loving and affirmative narrative of christ as a prophet of god.
Naeem, one of the trio of men at the centre of the story, is so struck by the sight of a young girl in chains in the parade that he cannot think of any other woman. Amazingly, Ashour later has him travel across the Atlantic with his Castilian employer, and meet another native woman, with whom he exchanges love and gifts, she of language, he of a dance.
Indeed, nothing could be finer.
Radwa Ashour obituary
Preview — Granada by Radwa Ashour. Mary Anne marked it as to-read Jul 08, Ashour has co-edited a major 4-volume work on Arab women writers ; The English translation: Granadx son, Tamim, also a poetwas born in Through a series of novels, memoirs, and literary studies, Ashour, who has died aged 68 after suffering from cancer, recorded the unending turbulence of her times, as she and her contemporaries struggled for freedoms, from the end of British influence to the recent Ashor uprising and its aftermath. Radwa Ashour skillfully weaves a history of Granadan rule and an Arabic world into a novel that evokes cultural loss rsdwa the disappearance of a vanquished population. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. In Spectres, Ashour recalls scenes of exuberant family joy, as they quote strophes of al-Mutanabbi and other poets by heart in a friendly rivalrous counterpoint which resolves into a chorus of pleasure.
GRANADA RADWA ASHOUR PDF