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Emily Nasrallah

Emily Nasrallah
Emily Nasrallah | © Maik Schuck

Emily Nasrallah is one of the most well known writers in the Arab world. Born in 1931, she grew up in a Christian family in a village in southern Lebanon. After studying education in Beirut, she worked as a teacher, then as a journalist and freelance writer.

In 1962, her debut novel, Touyour Ayloul (Birds of September), was published and went on to receive three Arabic literary awards. In addition to novels, essays and short stories for adults, Nasrallah has also published seven children’s books. Her writings focus on village life in Lebanon, women’s emancipation efforts, identity issues in the Lebanese civil war and migration. As the civil war raged in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, her novels and short stories became pleas for help from a disintegrating society. In her best-known children’s book Yawmiyyat Hirr (What Happened to Zeeko, 1997, English edition 2001), she describes everyday life during wartime in embattled Beirut from the detached perspective of a tomcat. Although her possessions were destroyed a number of times in bomb attacks, Nasrallah refused to go into exile. Her novel Birds of September is considered a classic of Arabic literature and is read regularly in Lebanon’s schools.

The journalist Emily Dische-Becker pointed out the actuality of Emily Nasrallah´s writing, “The uprooting, through voluntary or involuntary departure, is a consistent theme throughout Nasrallah’s work. The anguish of those left behind, the alienation of the departed in their new surroundings and the ultimate impossibility of return. Displacement is an essential part of the Lebanese collective experience and it is relevant as ever, in light of the mass displacement from neighboring Syria today.” Dische-Becker continued, “It takes courage to write about home, as Emily Nasrallah does, with both affection and honesty, to weave the intimate particularities of customs, the disappointments and sacrifices of its women into stories that may fail to pass state censors but resonate with generations of readers.”