Reading, writing, roaming : the student abroad in Arab women's literature
“Reading, Writing, Roaming: The student abroad in Arab women’s literature” details new developments in a sub-genre of Arabic travel literature, the study abroad narrative. An increasing number of female writers, and particularly female writers born after the colonial period, study in Europe and write about their experiences in memoirs or fictionalized accounts. Their intervention in the genre offers alternative modes of cultural interaction to the binaries of power detailed in earlier narratives. They suggest a move away from earlier texts such as Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, where the binary between colonizer and colonized is inverted rather than demolished. The protagonists of Fadia Faqir’s My Name is Salma and Somaya Ramadan’s Leaves of Narcisuss deconstruct this binary by creating specific spaces of multiplicity and heterogeneity. These spaces can be physical, as is the cottage in which Salma rents a room, or they can be literary, like the traditions of British and Arabic literature that Ramadan’s novel brings together. The women in these narratives embark on not just travel but education, developing tools of reading and writing to help them re-construct a literary and political history. The traditions and places produced by feminine narratives alter the framework of canons and spaces defined by national terms, creating what Jahan Ramazani calls transnational “alliances of style and sensibility.” Using Kristeva’s work on women’s and monumental time, I argue that women participate in specific modes of time and space, modes defined by dynamic, cyclical changes, that allow them to create these kinds of projects. Through shared living spaces and hybridized literary traditions, Faqir and Ramadan re-write the study abroad narrative to include for a greater possibility of experiences and interactions. They appropriate a structure originally available only to privileged young men and apply it to women, even to an impoverished refugee in Salma’s case. These novels encourage readers to move beyond the colonial and even the postcolonial discourse by developing new vocabularies for discussing traditions, cultures and the value of education.