Ahlam Mosteghanemi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ahlem Mosteghanemi
Mosteghanemi at Beirut Book Fair 2012
Mosteghanemi at Beirut Book Fair 2012
Born (1953-04-13) April 13, 1953 (age 67)
Tunis, Tunisia
Notable works
  • Memory in the Flesh (1993), published as The Bridges of Constantine by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2013
  • Chaos of the Senses (1997)
  • Bed Hopper (2003)
  • The Art of Forgetting (2010)
  • Black Suits You so Well (2012)

Ahlem Mosteghanemi (Arabic: أحلام مستغانمي‎), alternatively written Ahlam Mosteghanemi (born 1953) is an Algerian writer who has been called "the world's best-known arabophone woman novelist".[1]


Birth in exile and return to Algeria[edit]

Ahlem was born in Tunis. She is the daughter of a militant political activist who was forced into exile during the Algerian liberation war. In the wake of independence, her family moved back to Algeria, where her father, an intellectual and a humanitarian, occupied high positions in the first Algerian government. He launched a literacy campaign all over the territory and supervised the distribution of agricultural land to the poorest.[2]

Early poetry[edit]

In the 70s, following the assassination attempt during the Boumediene coup d’état, and the consequent hospitalization of her father, who was also targeted, Ahlem, as the eldest sibling, took up the responsibility of providing for her family as a radio host. At the age of 17, she became a household name in Algeria with the poetic daily show Hammassat (Whispers) on national radio. While publishing in 1973, Ala Marfa al Ayam (To the Days’ Haven), Ahlem also became the first woman to publish a compilation of poetry in Arabic, which put her on a thorny and untraveled path. It was followed in 1976 by the release of Al Kitaba fi Lahdat Ouray (The Writing in a Moment of Nudity). At the time, she was part of the first generation to acquire the right to study in Arabic after more than a century of prohibition by the French colonization.[2]

The minefield of the Arabic language[edit]

The Arabic language, encouraged by her French-speaking father as if in revenge, provided her with a sense of liberation since her family had not mastered the newly reacquired Arabic language. But, at the time, the Algerian society was rebuilding its identity and recovering from a colonial past that resulted in the death of over a million and a half. It was not prepared to see a girl express herself freely on subjects such as love and women's rights. It was even less prepared to see her do it in the sacred Arabic language. This is where Ahlem's battle begins against sexism.[2] Although women had fought alongside men during the revolution, in the postwar period they were generally relegated to their traditional roles;[3] they were denied the freedom to express themselves and to aspire to success. After she received her B.A in Literature, the board of directors of the University of Algiers refused her enrolment for a Masters under the pretence that her freedom of expression had a negative impact on students. She was also expelled from the Union of Algerian Writers for not conforming to the political line of her time.[2]

Marriage and life in Paris[edit]

In Algiers, Mosteghanemi met Georges El Rassi, a Lebanese journalist and historian with a deep knowledge of Algeria, who was preparing a thesis about “Arabization and cultural conflicts in independent Algeria”. They were married in 1976 in Paris and settled there. Ahlam pursued her university studies at the Sorbonne, where in 1982 she obtained a doctorate in Sociology. Her thesis explored the misunderstanding and malaise between both sexes in the Algerian society. The doctorate was under the guidance of Jacques Berques, an eminent orientalist, who also wrote the preface of her thesis (published in 1985 by L’Harmattan as Algérie, femmes et écriture). During the fifteen years she spent in Paris, Ahlam contributed to various magazines, and during time stolen from her new role as a mother of three young boys, wrote fragments of what turned out after four years to be a novel. Ahlam justified her transition from poetry to prose by saying: «When we lose a love, one writes a poem, when we lose our homeland, one writes a novel». Algeria is never far from her mind: «There are countries that we live in and countries that live in us».[2]

Settling in Lebanon and revelation[edit]

Mosteghanemi in 2000

Once she settles down in 1993 in Lebanon, she presents her novel “Zakirat el Jassad” (Memory of the Flesh), to the editor of the renowned publishing house Dar Al Adab. Excited, the editor will declare: « this is a bomb». It will be the revelation. This novel, written in a style highly poetic and with political bravado, will have a phenomenal success throughout the Arab world. The love story is set between an armless painter and the daughter of his former commander encountered in Paris 25 years after the war. The novel evokes the disappointment of the post-war generation, which echoes the disappointment of a generation of Arabs. In a famous letter to the author, Nizar Kabbani, the great contemporary Arab poet, declared: « This novel gave me vertigo; had I been asked, I would have signed it».[4] The director Youssef Chahine, winner of the Palme d'Or, purchases the rights to the film shortly before his death. Meanwhile, the famous Hollywood director Mustafa Akkad said that one of his dreams was to adapt “Zakirat el Jassad” into a movie. Moved by his reading, President Ben Bella will say from his exile: «Ahlem is an Algerian sun that illuminates the Arab world». To date, more than one million copies have been sold across the Arabic-speaking world (excluding pirated editions which vastly outnumber the legal editions in the Arab world). This novel also has the merit to reconcile the Arab reader with the Arabic language and reading.[2]

The trilogy[edit]

Ahlem continues her literary success by giving two sequels to her novel: “Fawda el Hawas” (The Chaos of Senses) in 1997 and “Aber Sareer” (Bed Hopper) in 2003. Each part of the trilogy, now a classic, is a bestseller in its own right throughout the Arab world.[5] In 1998, Ahlem receives the Naguib Mahfouz literary prize for “Memory of the Flesh". This prize was founded by the American University of Cairo, which will translate the novel in English and publish it in 2000. The jury will say about the author: «Ahlem is a light which shines in thick darkness. She was able to get out of the linguistic exile in which French colonialism had relegated the Algerian intellectuals».[6] In 2010, "Nessyan.com" (The Art of Forgetting) is published. It is a break up manual for women, which will bring Ahlem closer to a female audience (Nessyan.com's humorous reference on the cover is that it is banned from sale to men). In 2012, Ahlem's latest novel, El Aswad Yalikou Biki (Black Suits You so Well) is published. The novel confirms Ahlem's status as a major Arab novelist. The story evokes the struggle of a young Algerian teacher whose father, a singer, is killed in the nineties by the terrorists who stand against any form of art and joy in society. Singing at her father's funeral, the girl, previously forbidden to speak to, carries away the crowd with her dreamy voice. Defying terrorism, she embarks in a singing career. She then has to flee her country and during her exile she meets a wealthy and mysterious man who tries to seduce her. The novel addresses the challenge of standing up not only to terrorism but also to the crushing power of money and the media. The launch of the novel will turn out to be a huge literary and media frenzy event (the writer will join on this occasion the group Hachette, which acquires the rights to publish her entire work in Arabic).[2]

Fights and influence[edit]

For over 35 years, Ahlem's contribution enriched the Arabic literary scene with her highly acclaimed sentimental and poetic work. Furthermore, through her writings she led the fight against corruption, injustice, totalitarian regimes, fundamentalism, new forms of colonization and the denigration of women's right. With deep admiration for an Algerian poet, Ahlam Mosteghanemi established the Malek Haddad Literary Prize in 2001 for the best Algerian writer.[7] While interviewed in June 2001 she voiced her worries about the lack of Arabic literature in Algeria and was in hopes that the Malek Haddad Literary Prize would encourage more to write in Arabic.[7] Just like Ahlam, Malek Haddad was also from Constantine, Algeria.[8] Although he gave up writing, his reasoning was due to him not being allowed to write in Arabic.[9] Ahlam Mosteghanemi quoted Hadda throughout "Memory in Flesh" and loved what he stood for.[10] Her quotes, on love as well as politics, are widely used by the Arab public. As of January 2016, the author is followed by more than 9 million fans on Facebook and 700,000 on Twitter.[11]



  1. Zakirat el Jassad (Memory of the Flesh/The Bridges of Constantine) - Published by Dar al adab, Beirut, 1993, 34 printed editions. Considered by critics as a turning point in Arabic literature.
  2. Fawda el Hawas (Chaos of the Senses) - Published by Dar al adab in Beirut 1997, 30 printed editions.
  3. Aber Sareer (Bed Hopper) - Published by Dar al adab in Beirut 2003, 22 printed editions.
  4. El Aswad Yalikou Biki (Black Suits You so Well) - Published by Hachette-Antoine in Beirut 2012


  1. Ala Marfa al Ayam (In the Harbour of Days) - Published by SNED in Algers 1973
  2. Al Kitaba fi Lahdat Ouray (Writing in a Moment of Nudity) - Published by Dar Al-Adab in Beirut 1976
  3. Algérie, femmes et écriture (Algeria, Women and Writings) - Published by l'Harmattan in Paris 1985
  4. Akadib Samaka (Lies of a Fish) - Published by l'ENAG in Algiers 1993
  5. Nessyane.com (The Art of Forgetting)- Published by Dar Al-Adab in Beirut 2009

Academic research[edit]

  1. Academic research for her doctoral thesis, Paris 1982, supervised by Jacques Berque.[12]

UNESCO has printed all her work in Braille for blind readers.

Her Literary Work in the Curriculum[edit]

Ahlam Mosteghanemi's novels have been adopted in the curricula of several universities and high schools worldwide, and dozens of university theses and research papers have been based upon her work. The French Ministry of Education has used parts of Memory in the Flesh for the French baccalaureate tests in 2003 in 15 countries where students chose Arabic as a second language. Her work has been translated into several foreign languages by prestigious publishing houses, including pocket books in French and English.[13]

She lectured and worked as a visiting professor in many universities around the world including: The American University of Beirut, 1995; University of Maryland, 1999; University of Sorbonne, 2002; Montpellier University, 2002; University of Lyon, 2003; Yale University, 2005; MIT Boston, 2005; University of Michigan, 2005.


Most of Ahlem's work has been published in English by Bloomsbury Publishing which includes:

  • "Zakirat el Jassad" (Memory in the Flesh), published under the title "The Bridges of Constantine" in 2013.
  • "Fawda el Hawas" (The Chaos of the Senses), published in 2015.
  • "Aber Sareer" (Bed Hopper), published under the title "The Dust of Promises" in 2016.
  • "Nessyan.com" (The Art of Forgetting), published in 2011.

The publishing house Albin Michel translated some of her work in French : "Zakirat El Jassad" (Mémoires de la chair) in 2002 and "Fawda el Hawas" (Le Chaos des sens) in 2006.

A study of translations of Zakirat al-Jassad from Arabic into French and into English has been done by Abbad Kouider, following the translation concpets of Lawrence Venuti. [14]

Awards and honors[edit]

Ahlem Mosteghanemi's UNESCO Artist for Peace title
  • Identified by Forbes Magazine in 2006 as the most successful Arabic writer, having exceeded sales of 2,300,000 and one of the ten most influential women in the Arab world and the leading woman in literature.
  • Awarded The Shield of Beirut by the Governor of Beirut in a special ceremony held at Unesco Palace attended by 1500 people at the time her book “nessyane.com” was published in 2009.
  • Received the Shield of Al Jimar Foundation for Arabic Creativity in Tripoli – Libya, 2007.
  • Named the Algerian Cultural Personality of the year 2007 by Algerian News Magazine and the Algerian Press Club.
  • Selected for three years in a row (2006, 2007 and 2008) as one of the 100 most powerful public figures in the Arab World by Arabian Business Magazine, ranking at number 58 in 2008.
  • Named The Most Distinguished Arab Woman of 2006 (selected from 680 nominated women) by the Arab Women Studies Center Paris / Dubai
  • Awarded a medal of honor from Abdelaziz Bouteflika the President of Algeria in 2006.
  • Received the Medal of Appreciation and Gratitude from Sheikh Abdelhamid Ben Badis Foundation, Constantine, 2006.
  • Received the Pioneers of Lebanon Committee Medal for her overall work 2004.
  • Received the George Tarabeh Prize for Culture and Creativity, Lebanon, 1999.
  • Received the Amman Loyalty Medal for Creativity, Amman, Jordan 1999.
  • Received the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for Memory of the Flesh in 1998.[15]
  • Received the Nour Foundation Prize for Women's Creativity, Cairo, 19*6.
  • Received the 2014 Best Arabic Writer award during the Beirut International Award Festival (BIAF).
  • Received in London the Arab Woman of the Year Award 2015 in an event supported by the mayor of London and Regent's University London.
  • Named UNESCO Artist for Peace by Irina Bokova, director of the organization, on the 16th of December 2016 in Paris.[16]


  1. ^ Zahia Smail Salhi, 'Mustaghanmi, Ahlam (1953–)', Biographical Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa.  – via HighBeam (subscription required).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Ahlam Mosteghanemi - احلام مستغانمى - أحلام مستغانمي - Website". Ahlam Mosteghanemi - احلام مستغانمى - أحلام مستغانمي - Website. Retrieved 2017-11-21.
  3. ^ Salhi, Zahia Smail (2011). "Algerian Women as Agents of Change." In: Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennaji (Eds.), Women in the Middle East and North Africa: Agents of Change (pp. 149-172). New York: Routledge. p. 155.
  4. ^ "Ahlam Mosteghanemi". Arabworldbooks.com. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  5. ^ "(UK) Magazine of Modern Arab Literature - Book Reviews - The Art of Forgetting by Ahlem Mosteghanemi". Banipal. Archived from the original on 2014-04-23. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  6. ^ "Author Profile: Ahlam Mosteghanemi". Magharebia. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  7. ^ a b "Mustaghanmi, Ahlam (1953–) | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  8. ^ "Malek Haddad | Algerian poet". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  9. ^ "Can Arabic's 'Most Successful Woman Writer' Find an Audience in English?". & Arablit. 2013-12-28. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  10. ^ Mosteghanemi, Ahlam (2003). Memories in the Flesh. American University in Cairo Press. p. 214. ISBN 9774247345.
  11. ^ "احلام مستغانمى | Facebook". Facebook.com. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  12. ^ [1] Archived February 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Index on Censorship - English PEN". Penatlas.org. Archived from the original on 2012-06-09. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
  14. ^ Kouider, Abbad (2016) Cultural Manifestations in Literary Translation from Arabic into English and French: The Case of the English and French Translations of Ahlem Mostaghanemi’s novel Thakirat al-Jassad. Masters thesis, Concordia University.Web access
  15. ^ "Author Profile: Ahlam Mosteghanemi". Magharebia.com. Retrieved 2013-03-11.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Algerian novelist Ahlem Mosteghanemi designated UNESCO artist for peace". www.unesco.org. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • world's most Influential Arabs 2007 - Ahlam Mosteghanemi # 96
  • world's most Influential Arabs 2008 - Ahlam MosteghanemiI # 58

External links[edit]