Sharjah (UAE) – African authors are writing more and more literature in Arabic, especially historic novels, travel books, social topics, and romantic stories.
Leading literary figures from Senegal and Nigeria at the 41st Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF 2022) on Friday (4 November 2022) shed light on work from their countries that cover a broad range of social and historical topics.
“The Reality of Afro-Arab Novels” was a panel discussion that touched upon the reality and ambitions of modern Afro-Arab novels and their ability to convey societal issues.
Senegalese novelist Omar Lee, who teaches the Arabic language to non-native speakers, said that Arabic literature in Senegal was well established, with the Senegalese people able to study Arabic well and excel in it.
“Arabic literature has flourished in the country, and we have written prose and poetry in it,” Lee said.
“Modern stories have also documented the struggles of Senegalese women who go to work in far off countries.”
Lee, however, said Arabic works in the West African country have had to compete with global languages such as French and English.
He said 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 made novels from the country distinct.
“Arabic novels have also had an edge in that they span a wide range of subjects and genres,” Lee said.
“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, etcetera.”
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 panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Abdulqader Idris, and hosted as part of the African Culture Programme at SIBF 2022.
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.
Abdullah said Arabic novels were coming into their own in Nigeria after a long time spent lagging behind western language works.
“Afro-Arabic novels in Nigeria mainly cover social and historical topics and also tend to treat issues of society as being of national importance,” he said.