For September 2010 we read The Last Chapter (Al-Fasl Al-Akhir) by Leila Abouzeid. The first Moroccan woman writer of literature to be translated into English, Abouzeid is a pioneer among her Moroccan contemporaries in that she writes in Arabic rather than in French. This thought-provoking, semi-autobiographical book tells the story of Aisha, a young Moroccan woman, and her struggle to find an identity in the Morocco of the second half of the twentieth century.
About the Author:
Leila Abouzeid (ليلة أبو زيد) was born in 1950. After studying at the Mohamed V University in Rabat and The University of Texas, Austin, Leila Abouzeid began her career as a radio and TV journalist, and also worked as press assistant in government ministries and in the prime minister’s office. Former Fellow of the World Press Institute at St. Paul , Minnesota , Leila Abouzeid left the press in 1992 to dedicate herself to writing fiction.
In her first novel, Year of the Elephant, many of the events of Abouzeid’s narrative (divorce, the struggle against poverty, interfamilial conflict, etc.) are common themes in contemporary Moroccan literature, but are presented here in a new perspective – that of a woman. Abouzeid explores a number of themes throughout the story of the conflict between traditional culture and modernism, Moroccan society’s valuation of women, and the meaning of independence at both the national and the individual levels. In Return to Childhood, Abouzeid charts her deeply personal journey through family conflicts ignited by the country’s civil unrest during Morocco ‘s struggle for independence from French colonial rule.
About The Last Chapter (al-fasl al-akhir):
This stimulating and revealing book adds a new perspective to Maghrebi women’s writing, and is an important addition to the growing body of Arab women’s writing in translation. Charting Aisha’s path through adolescence and young adulthood up to the present, her story is told through a series of flashbacks, anecdotes, and glimpses of the past, all bound up with a strong, often strident, always compelling worldview that takes in Morocco, its politics, people, and traditions, Islam, and marriage. Male-female relationships feature strongly in the narrative, and by exposing us to Aisha’s troubled romantic encounters, Abouzeid uncovers the shifting male/female roles within the Morocco of her lifetime.
Many aspects of Moroccan society are also explored through the other clashes of the modern and the traditional in Aisha’s life. The workplace and corruption, the struggle for women’s rights, the clash between Islamic and Western values as well as with the older practices of sorcery and witchcraft, and the conflict between colonial and native language use are all intertwined in a narrative that is both forceful and often poetic. Through a series of tales of emotional disasters, the reader becomes aware not only of Aisha’s frustrations but also of her deep commitment to her country and her struggle to defeat suffering, uphold justice, and retain a fierce independence as a woman and a clarity of conviction in her life.
“With an author as talented as Abouzeid and the heroine an intellectual with the tongue of a Moroccan Dorothy Parker, there is a lot of substance to the novel” – commented the Cairo Times.
- English translation published by American University in Cairo Press – http://www.aucpress.com
- Arabic published in 2000 by al-Markaz al-thaqafi al-arabi – ISBN: 9953680884
Other books by Leila Abouzeid Include:
- Year of the Elephant: A Moroccan Woman’s Journey Toward Independence, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, 1990
- Return to Childhood, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, 1999, ISBN 978-0-292-70490-9
- The Director and Other Stories from Morocco, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, 2006, ISBN 978-0-292-71265-2
For further background, we recommend the essay: Islam, Gender, and Identity in Leila Abouzeid’s The Last Chapter: A Postcolonial Critique by Touria Khannous, College Literature, Winter 2010 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3709/is_201001/ai_n52373277/