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Professor’s novel nominated for International Prize for Arabic Fiction

miralwindow_t.jpgBOONE—A repair man gave Miral al-Tahawy some advice when she lived in New York: You can achieve your dreams in America – if you work hard. Like the characters in her latest book, al-Tahawy has worked hard and her dream of being a scholar and writer in America has become a reality.

The assistant professor of Arabic in Appalachian State University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is one of 16 Arabic authors and one of seven women nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, also known as the Arabic Booker Prize, which will be awarded in March 2011. The winner receives $50,000. The six short-listed authors will each receive $10,000. They will be announced in early December.

The award recognizes excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and encourages readership of high quality Arabic literature through the translation and publication of the winning and shortlisted novels.

Al-Tahawy was nominated for the award for her novel “Brooklyn Heights,” which tells the story of five female Arab immigrants living in Brooklyn as each tries to reconcile the history, religion and culture of their native countries and struggling to survive as a female immigrant in America.

The novel is full of meticulously collected female characters presented by al-Tahawy with their unusual life experiences in New York’s famous neighborhood.

Al-Tahway says she created the complicated characters to illustrate how an Arab woman feels and lives against the odds of Western society. Her narrative traces the characters’ battles with family, society, religion and abuse when they decide to live in the United States. Through the novel, al-Tahawy follows her characters from childhood to their decisions to leave their husbands and the patriarchal values that dominate Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Her novel also deals with the internal conflict the various Muslim groups face as they try to become part of the American culture. “The theme of change and hope was a dream for all of us, not for Americans only,” al-Tahawy said. “But I have observed how this dream collapsed in two years in the Middle East and in America. So the book is also about the drama of change and hope.”

Originally written in classical Arabic, “Brooklyn Heights” will soon be published in English by the American University in Cairo Press.

Al-Tahawy left her native Egypt for the United States in 2007. A member of the Al-Hanadi tribe, she grew up in a conservative Bedouin village. She could not leave her home without the accompaniment of a male relative, and she dressed in the traditional head-to-foot covering worn by Bedouin women.

She attended Zagazig University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arab literature. Only by commuting some three hours a day each way was she allowed to continue her education at Cairo University. Later, her family allowed her to spend one night a week in a private home to ease the commute. She earned a master’s degree in Arabic language and literature from Cairo University where she later worked as an assistant professor. She also earned a Ph.D. from Cairo University.