Cultural Identity in Arabic Novels of Immigration: A Poetics of Return offers a new perspective of migration studies that views the concept of migration in Arabic as inherently embracing the notion of return. Starting the study with the significance of the Islamic hijra as the quintessential migrant narrative in Arabic culture, Elmeligi offers readings of Arabic narratives as early as Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan and as recent as Miral Al-Tahawy’s 2010 Brooklyn Heights, and as varied as Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz’s short story adaptation of the ancient Egyptian Tale of Sinuhe and Yemeni novelist Mohammed Abdl Wali’s They Die Strangers, including novels that have not been translated in English before, such as Sonallah Ibrahim’s Amrikanli and Suhayl Idris’ The Latin Quarter. To contextualize these narratives, Elmeligi employs studies of cultural identity and their features that are most impacted by migration. In this study, Elmeligi analyzes the different manifestations of return, whether physical or psychological, commenting not only on the decisions that the characters take in the novels, but also the narrative choices that the writers make, thus viewing narrativity as a form of performativity of cultural identity as well. The book addresses fresh angles of migration studies, identity theory, and Arabic literary analysis that are of interest to scholars and students.
Wessam Elmeligi is assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Deaborn.
Part I. Cultural Identity and Migration
Chapter 1: Defining Cultural Identity
Chapter 2: Introducing the Motif of Return in Arabic Migration Narrative
Part II. Types of Return
Chapter 3: Triumph in Return: Renarrating Identity in Naguib Mahfouz’s “Return of Sinuhe” (1941)
Chapter 4: Loss in Staying: The Failure to Return in Taha Hussein’s A Man of Letters (1935)
Chapter 5: The In-Between: The Return of the Mind in Miral Al-Tahawy’s Brooklyn Heights (2010)
Part III. A Poetics of Return
Chapter 6: Ethnicity: Contrasting Identities in Tawfiq Al-Hakim’s A Bird of the East (1938)
Chapter 7: Religion: Reconciling Identities in Yahya Haqqi’s The Saint’s Lamp (1940)
Chapter 8: Place: Locating Identity in Suhayl Idris’s Al-Hayy Al-Latini (1953)
Chapter 9: Sex: Eroticizing Migration in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North (1966)
Chapter 10: Class: Laboring Migration in Mohammad Abdul Wali’s They Die Strangers (1971)
Chapter 11: Nationality: Historicizing Identity in Sonallah Ibrahim’s Amrikanli (2003)
Part IV. Concluding with a Question
Chapter 12: What the Ancestors Want: Questions of Heritage and Identity in Reem Bassiouney’s Love, the Arabic Way (2009)
Wessam Elmeligi’s profound and affecting study of Arabic narratives of migration imbued with all the longing and beauty of the poetics of return brilliantly illuminates the cultural and psychological dynamics impelling Islamic stories of migration. His command of this diasporic literature is astonishing, introducing us to works of exceptional power and pathos. This enthralling, transformative book will be a touchstone for a more culturally sensitive and aesthetically subtle understanding of migration, indeed of world literature.
Wessam Elmeligi has written a book that can be truly called intradisciplinary. The analysis made here will be of great use for not just the humanities, but to anyone interested in the question of nationalism, identity, and migration studies. Elmeligi's analysis of Naguib Mahfouz is especially stunning and makes me want to return to those books with new eyes.
Wessam Elmeligi has written a must-read study of the motif of return in the Arabic novels of immigration published over the span of several decades starting from the 1930s. The novels discussed include an impressively wide spectrum of Arab writers from Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, and Yemen, who come from different ideological and socio-economic backgrounds. For anyone interested in Arabic fiction and culture, this book will prove to be as informative as it is delightful.