Alawiyya Sobh was born in Beirut in the mid 1950s. She studied Arabic and English literature at the Lebanese University in Beirut. Since the early 1980s she has published articles on culture in numerous Lebanese papers. In 1986 she became chief editor of the most widely-read Arabic women’s magazine, »al-Hasna’«. In 1990 she founded the women’s and family magazine »Snob«, of which she is still chief editor.
Her début as a novelist came with »Naum al-ayyam« (tr: Slumbering Days), and she has since published three further novels. In »Marjam al-hakaya« (tr: Maryam of the Stories), her most famous novel to date, she has created a work of epic dimensions which deals with a topic previously untouched by literature: the lives of the rural population of South Lebanon. The novel tells, from a woman’s inner perspective, the stories of three generations of women in the context of social, political and economic conditions, from the French colonial era to the present day. Detailed descriptions of the milieus, as well as slang terms and casual dialogues, help draw a realistic portrait of everyday life during times of change. While the first generation was dominated by an unbroken patriarchal rule, today’s women are much closer to the dream of independence and freedom, but still lose out in the conflict with reality. When it was published the novel caused a great stir in the Arabic world, as it sheds light on highly-charged socio-political themes and pitilessly examines taboos such as inner family structures, sexuality, violence, religiosity, ignorance and superstition.
Certain issues recur in Sobh’s works. Even when the novels highlight the multi-confessional nature of Lebanese society, they are all predominantly set in the Shiite milieu, or the minor characters come from this background. Women and their daily realities are at the centre of all her works. The author’s unique voice is evident in the stylistic structures she deploys. Each of her novels unfurls like a patchwork of uncountable, intertwined destinies, held together by a framing plot. In »Maryam of the Stories« the framing plot is about a novelist who voyeuristically makes use of the lives of people around her as material for a planned novel. In »Dunja« (2006) there is a woman who cares for her seriously ill husband, and in »Ismuhu al-qharam« (tr: It Calls Itself Passion) there is a woman who, in her fifties, rediscovers her body and her sexuality. This specific narrative technique allows the author to unfold a multi-faceted and differentiated portrayal of Lebanese society.
In 2006 Alawiyya Sobh was awarded the Sultan Qabûs Prize for »Maryam of the Stories«. The novel has already been translated into many languages and will be published in German in Spring 2010.
The author lives in Beirut.
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