Brooklyn Heights - July 21, 2015

The discussion of Brooklyn Heights by Miral Al-Tahawy was held on Tuesday, July 21th, 2015 at 7 pm with Professor Benjamin Smith, Visiting Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College.

Sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Center for African Studies

Recording of Session

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Winner of the 2010 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature and shortlisted for the 2011 Arabic Booke Prize, this novel has recently been translated for an English-speaking audience. 

Synopsis: Hind, newly arrived in New York with her eight-year-old son, several suitcases of unfinished manuscripts, and hardly any English, finds a room in a Brooklyn teeming with people like her who dream of becoming writers. As she discovers the various corners of her new home, they conjure up parallel memories from her childhood and her small Bedouin village in the Nile Delta: Emilia who sells used shoes at the flea market smells like Zeinab, the old woman who worked for Hind's grandfather; the reflection of her own body as she dances tango awakens the awkwardness of her relationship to that body across the years; the story of Lilette, the Egyptian bourgeoisie who has lost her memory, prompts Hind to safeguard her own.

Participant Discussion Blog

If you would like to receive Professional Development Points for participation in the book group, please post to the blog at least once for each session you attend.    

The themes for this years' selections are contemporary fiction that focus on crossing borders in time and place as well as using memory and travel to explore individual and social change. The book group blog is a place to respond to prompts based on these questions, as well as to post your own questions and observations that you hope to explore during the webinar.  

Access the Discussion blog here with questions regarding the book. 

Learn more about Professor Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith earned his PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University with a focus on Modern Arabic Literature.  He received a MA from the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University and his BA from the University of Virginia. 

Smith is currently working on developing his dissertation project, entitled Writing Amrika: Literary Encounters with America in Arabic Literature, into a book.  This project surveys the literary history of the American encounter in Arabic fiction over the course of the 20th century, with special focus on contemporary Arabic novels that are set in America, as a means of understanding the nuances of this fraught relationship and the identity politics foregrounded therein.  Smith is also working on a project that analyzes the intersections of literature and transnational labor migrations in the Middle East, especially in Gulf Literature.  In addition to teaching Arabic language courses at Swarthmore, he teaches seminars on Arabic literature in translation, including Literature of Resistance, which seeks to understand the role of literature as resistance, critique and dissent in various national contexts leading up to, and following, the recent Arab Uprisings.

Smith is interested in Arabic language pedagogy, translation studies, and Arabic dialectology.  He has spent time studying and working in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Lebanon.

Non-Fiction Texts

In order to deepen knowledge of the regional contexts in which book group selections take place, and to support educators in teaching with Common Core State Standards, we are providing short non-fiction texts to accompany each novel.  To support your reading of Brooklyn Heights, we welcome you to explore the two attached readings about immigration and identity.  These reading are optional.  For more information about the learning goals and alignment with Common Core Standards, please visit the book group's informational page.   


Non fiction text #1:  Migration Policy Institute feature, Changing Configurations of Migration in Africa


Non fiction text #2:  NY Times article, Leaving Home Coming Home

Please email Carol Ann at with questions.