Reading Modern Arabic Literature on its Own Terms

Maya I. Kesrouany’s new book is a first of its kind study of literary translations in the early 20th century

Press Release

NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Literature and Middle Eastern Studies Maya I. Kesrouany’s new book Prophetic Translation: The Making of Modern Egyptian Literature explores the transformation of literary translation in Egypt in the early 20th century and its impact on modern Arabic narrative and thought.

Published by Edinburgh University Press, this book analyzes different approaches adopted in Egyptian literary translations from the 1910s to the 1940s, where the traditional Qur’anic approach to language and interpretation confronted a literary and more secular one.

I started researching and spent some time in archives in Cairo and Beirut ... I became very interested in what attracted the translators to these seemingly very alien texts and why they just could not stop translating and sharing them.”

NYUAD Assistant Professor of Literature and Middle Eastern Studies Maya I. Kesrouany

The book is the culmination of four years of research at Dar al-Kutub, the Egyptian National Library in Cairo. Kesrouany’s interest in the subject was sparked when she was a first-year graduate student at Emory University in Atlanta. “I came across an Arabic translation of Molière’s Tartuffe (1664) asal-Shaykh Matlūf (1873) and found out there were a lot more of these,” she notes.  “I was both intrigued and hooked. I started researching and spent some time in archives in Cairo and Beirut, gathering some translations and continued with the project. I became very interested in what attracted the translators to these seemingly very alien texts and why they just could not stop translating and sharing them.”

"While the colonial secular works to separate literature as a modern discipline from religion as the traditional sphere of private faith, treacherous translation unsettles this separation and stages the undoing of narrative categories that we have taken for granted in the study of the Arabic novel, such as subject, narrator, and realist representation."

Kesrouany hopes that through this book, students of Arabic literature will develop an appetite for exploring early 20th century texts further. “My hope is this book will contribute to a new way of reading modern Arabic literature on its own terms, using translation to model a more comprehensive experience of reading in between places, languages, cultures, and histories, a mode of reading necessary for our world today.”

Prophetic Translation: The Making of Modern Egyptian Literature is available online at Edinburgh University Press, and at the NYUAD bookstore.


About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and science campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly-selective liberal arts, engineering and science curriculum with a world center for advanced research and scholarship enabling its students to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from 120 nations and speak over 120 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.