Novels in Arabic reach Nigeria and Senegal
At the 41st Sharjah International Book Fair, leading literary figures from Senegal and Nigeria highlighted work from their countries that covered a range of social and historical topics.
During a panel discussion hosted by Dr. Abdulqader Idris as part of the African Culture Programme at SIBF 2022, ‘The Reality of Afro-Arab Novels’ explored the reality and ambitions of modern Afro-Arab novels and their ability to convey societal issues.
According to Senegalese novelist Omar Lee, who teaches Arabic to non-native speakers, Arabic literature in Senegal is well established, and Senegalese people can study Arabic well and excel at it.
“Arabic literature has flourished in the country, and we have written prose and poetry in it,” said Lee, adding “Modern stories have also documented the struggles of Senegalese women who go to work in far off countries.”
However, Arabic works in the West African country have had to compete with global languages such as French and English, he said. “But Arabic novels have also had an edge in that they span a wide range of subjects and genres. There are books written as prose but read like poetry, about travel, historic novels, on personal thoughts and ideas, morals, social topics and romantic stories, etc,” he added.
Lee says modern novels have an added dimension now: offering new points of view about Africa and its people to the world, as opposed to the cliches they are used to. The overlap between French, Arabic and Senegalese languages also makes novels from the country distinct, he adaded.
While Arabic language works do portray social issues, Lee said that they have to take it a step further and highlight values, create a change in society and draw up a unified Senegalese identity and tradition, in order to bridge the gap with Arabic readers.
The second panelist, the Nigerian writer and linguist Dr. Ahmad Abu Baker Abdullah, also highlighted the success of the Arabic language novels and writing in his country, with many translated works also reaching readers and helping spread the wider and deeper meanings of Islam to the populace.
After a long time spent lagging behind western language works, Arabic novels were coming into their own in Nigeria, he pointed out.
“Afro-Arabic novels in Nigeria mainly cover social and historical topics and also tend to treat issues of society as being of national importance,” said Dr. Abdullah.