8 Short Stories by Arab Women for International Women’s Day

Your gift for International Women’s Day is eight great short stories by Arab women, in translation, available free online:

By artist Helen Zughaib, in an exhibition “Arab Spring/Unfinished Journeys: Humanizing Politics Through Art.” A detail image of her piece Generations Lost, 2014. Photographer: Stephanie Mitchell.

Many short stories I’ve recently enjoyed — Hanan al-Shaykh’s “The Angel” in Arab Women Voice New Realities; Najwa Binshatwan’s “Return Ticket,” tr. Sawad Hussain, in Banthology — have been written by women. Yet relatively few are available online. A translation of Samira Azzam’s “Man and His Alarm Clock” has been paywalled for $42.50.

Here is a handful of pearls, stitched to a branch:

1. “Pearls on a Branch,” from the collection of folktales Pearls on a Branch, ed. Najlaa Khoury, tr. Inea Bushnaq.

This gorgeous, subversive, beautifully translated collection — subtitled “Tales from the Arab World Told by Women” — is a must-have for all ages. This story, published on Tin Houseopens:

There was or there was not
In olden days that time has lost…
O you who like stories and talk
No story can be pleasing and beautiful,
Without invoking the Almighty, the Merciful.

THERE WAS A KING – there is no sovereign but God – and this king had a daughter. She was his only child and he liked to please her. So when the month for the pilgrimage to Mecca drew near, the king asked his daughter:

Tell me what do you want me to bring you from the Hajj?

2. Rachida el-Charni, “The Way to Poppy Street,” tr Piers Amodia.

This story — by Tunisian writer Rachida el-Charni — was also selected for the Granta Book of the African Short Story, ed. Helon Habila.

She saw him coming towards her, whistling and humming. He stopped in front of her to ask politely if she knew the way to Poppy Street. Not for a moment did she imagine that he would use the second she took to think to snatch her gold necklace and take to his heels.

3. Lena Merhej, “I Think We Will Be Calmer in the Next War,” tr. Merhej.

This story, by talented Lebanese artist, cartoonist, and graphic novelist Lena Merhej, opens:

You can read both the Arabic and the English of these graphic short stories — or comix — at grandpapier.org.

4. Malika Moustadraf’s “Just Different,” tr. Alice Guthrie. 

This story, by the maverick Moroccan short-story writer Malika Moustadraf (1962-2006), opens:

Avenue Mohammed V is silent and desolate this late at night, empty apart from a few stray cats meowing like newborn babies; it’s a creepy sound.

5. Basma al-Nsour’s “Disappointments (and a Few Clarifications),”tr. Andrew Leber

This story, by acclaimed Jordanian short-story writer and attorney Basma al-Nsour, opens:

My life would have been a lot easier if only my grandmother had not been a liar. Or, to put it more nicely, if she hadn’t been so imaginative on that winter night when she convinced me that she would never leave me.

You can also read al-Nsour’s “That Pathetic Woman,” tr. Thoraya El-Rayyes, on ArabLit.

6. Adania Shibli’s “Out of Time,” translator not named.

This story, by Palestinian writer Adania Shibli, is built on the work of classic Palestinian short-story writer Samira Azzam, best-known for her collection, The Clock and the Man. Unfortunately a translation of Azzam’s “Man and His Alarm Clock” is no longer online.

My little watch is the first to sense the change going in to and out of Palestine.

7. Rasha Abbas, “The Gist of It,” tr. Alice Guthrie

There are also a number of other Rasha Abbas stories online, such as “Statement of Absolute Hatred,” “Falling Down Politely, or How to Use Up All Six Bullets Instead of Playing Russian Roulette,” and “Statement of Absolute Hatred,” all tr. Guthrie.

8. “The Sea Cloak,” by Nayrouz Qarmout, tr. Charis Bredon

A collection for Qarmout’s stories, titled The Sea Cloak and tr. Perween Richards, is forthcoming from Comma Press this May. The story isn’t printed online, but you can listen to it performed by Grazyna Monvid:

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