Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Miral Al-Tahawy's "Brooklyn Heights"

This semester I read Miral Al-Tahawy's Brooklyn Heights (2010, Arabic) as part of my (4th year) media Arabic class. I struggled at first to decrypt the plethora of unknown Arabic words that I encountered in each chapter, but by the end of the novel, as I became accustomed to al-Tahawy's writing style and the plot of the novel, the reading process became smoother and I was able to deduce words from their contexts more easily. The main point here was that it was a great exercise for improving my Arabic reading comprehension, to force myself to start reading more naturally rather than trying in vain to look up every unknown word in the dictionary.

Above: front cover of the Arabic edition of Brooklyn Heights. 
The novel sketches a portrait of some diverse immigrant communities in Brooklyn. The main character in the novel, Hind, based on al-Tahawy's experiences during a stay in the U.S., has recently arrived in Brooklyn from Egypt with her young son; the novel alternates between Hind's experiences in Brooklyn with flash backs to her childhood memories in Egypt.

Hind struggles with feelings of loneliness, self-loathing, despair, depression, anxiety and often struggles to make meaningful connections with others. Hind is stubborn and talented; her personality was shaped in part by a difficult relationship she had with some members of her family during her childhood.

Brooklyn Heights won the 2010 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, which has been awarded every year since 1996 by the American University of Cairo Press to honor the most outstanding "contemporary novel published in Arabic (but not yet in English)." In her acceptance speech for receiving the award, al-Tahawy cited Mahfouz as an influence to her writing.

Al-Tahawy grew up in a Bedouin village in the Nile Delta. She has also published the novels The Tent (1998), Blue Aubergine (2006) and Gazelle Tracks (2008), as well as a collection of short stories.

In sum, I highly recommend this novel. For NYU students, click here for the Arabic version; the novel was also translated into English in 2011. Check out Arabic editions of her other works here

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