Saudi writer Amina al-Hasan focuses on ‘reality of women’ amid social change

“We, in Saudi Arabia, are several communities making up one large society. We still have some time ahead of us, which I hope will be short," said Saudi writer Amina al-Hasan
Sunday 23/06/2019
A painting by artist Nour al-Masri. (Al Arab)
Voices of change. A painting by artist Nour al-Masri. (Al Arab)

RIYADH - After her first feature story “Sarir Yattasi’” (“An Accommodating Bed”), published in 2014 by Nova Plus, Saudi novelist and translator Amina al-Hasan translated to Arabic-American novelist Jim Shepard’s “The Book of Aron.”

In addition to these two publications, Hasan has written and published many articles and translated texts in blogs, websites and specialised webpages. She has participated in many cultural and literary events.

She is translating a collection of articles and letters by French philosopher Simone Weil and finished writing a short story she said she plans to publish this year.

Most of Hasan’s stories revolve around women’s concerns and women’s struggles in conservative societies. Even in those stories with a male hero, events take place in a world that affects or is influenced by women.

“I’m interested first in the reality of women, both in my private and public environments, and in the struggles of man in modern times,” Hasan said. “I sometimes like to search for imaginary and mythical worlds that make me write differently about life and people.”

“I’m still at the beginning of my translation career,” she said about how she selects works to translate. “I have chosen many literary articles and texts that I liked and translated and published them.

“On the whole, I like to translate literary essays that carry within their folds inspiring insights into literary works. I like also to translate cultural and intellectual books written in a literary style, such as articles and letters. I find it very enjoyable.”

When asked about moving forward with translation from being an individual’s occupation to becoming supported by governmental bodies or the private sector to cover costs of buying rights and of translation, she said institutions have a “great role” in helping coordination of translations, especially with rare or specialised works from various languages.

“However, from my point of view, these institutions may hamper translation work on the other hand, especially literary translation, if those institutions maintained strict controls and standards that creative work, in general, tends to bypass,” she said.

Hasan stressed that translation is a fertile field and an important area that deserves the support of institutions and governments. Translation, she said, is hard and exhausting and translators need moral and scientific support, not just material support.

She explained that the cultural act — story, novel, poetry, criticism and translation — was an influential part of political and social change in Saudi Arabia and because they cannot live in a society that is not part of them, Saudi women have gone through a lot of changes. This is why Saudi female writers try to express this reality in what they write.

“Creative and literary work is a vital part of the cultural formation of any country,” said Hasan. “Literature deconstructs people’s ideas and behaviour and the structure of societies. It injects a new consciousness in the minds of readers and must contribute to changing the course of their lives.

“When a person writes, he expresses everything he wants and what he does not want, what he has witnessed and what he imagines and wishes. He tries to paint a picture that can be translated concretely on the ground.

“When we return to Saudi novels written in the ‘70s and ‘80s of the previous century or shortly before that, we find that those novels were written either to record societal changes, their manifestations and their impact on people or to anticipate in writing the future of the society in the presence of factors of development. Therefore, I find that creative writing of all kinds flows into the river of pushing the wave of societies towards change and overcoming obstacles.”

Hasan added: “Although all these changes in Saudi Arabia facilitated many things in women’s lives, they cannot change the infrastructure of the society in the blink of an eye. We must go through the stage of conflict and the crisis of change and try to adapt to a whole new social phase. We, in Saudi Arabia, are several communities making up one large society. We still have some time ahead of us, which I hope will be short.”

Hasan said the effects of the revivalist period of the 20th century in Saudi Arabia are still present and manifest themselves in social media. She, however, insisted that she does not wish to exclude any intellectual or social tendency but instead accepts the different, regardless of his or her choices.

“In fact, I do not see that we need the extinction of this radical stream or the other because what our society really needs is acceptance of the ideas of ​​pluralism, difference and coexistence,” she said. “There is no need for eliminating one current so that the other current can prosper.  Each party has the right to live as it wishes without imposing one’s opinion on the other.

“I find that the official positions of our wise government have facilitated the beginning of raising people’s awareness within the community of the need to accept the different other,” Hasan said.