Margaret Obank reviews Studying Modern Arabic Literature: Mustafa Badawi, Scholar and Critic Edited by Roger Allen & Robin Ostle Edinburgh University Press, UK, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-7486-9662-8, hbk, 230pp, £70.00
A fresh and exciting invitation I
t seems an unlikely story that the teaching of modern Arabic literature only really started just over 50 years ago. But when Mustafa Badawi was taken on as a lecturer at the University of Oxford he made a decision that was to change forever the teaching in university Arabic departments, that is, to bring 20th-century Arab authors onto the curriculum for the first time.
This volume of biographical and academic essays, edited by Robin Ostle and Roger Allen, two of Badawi’s first students, now both retired, celebrates the invaluable work of Mustafa Badawi in singlehandedly establishing the teaching of modern Arabic literature in the UK and the USA – indeed he is regarded as the “father of the study of modern Arabic literature”. Robin Ostle sets the scene of Alexandria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the cosmopolitan city where Badawi was born in 1925 into a family of six sisters. As a university student there, he was able to thrive on the “bookshops, bars, theatres, cinemas, exhibitions and concerts” that made Alexandria the hub it was. An interview with Badawi by his former student Prof Abdul-Nabi Isstaif reveals that, at an early age, Badawi started writing a short story and poems and developed a passion for reading – popular novels, books on Arabic heritage, and poetry. The works of Taha Hussein, in particular, were a major influence on him, liberating him from “traditional hidebound thought”. Fellow Egyptian and Professor Emeritus at SOAS, London, Sabri Hafez recounts how his first visit to the UK to attend the first conference on modern Arabic literature, was arranged with Badawi’s help.
Badawi studied English Literature in Alexandria and the UK, com-
192 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015