The purpose of this study is to analyse the development of a modern form of Arabic prose literature, the autobiography of childhood, and explore its generic characteristics. The basis of this investigation is a representative corpus of Arabic autobiographies rich in childhood material published between 1929 and 1988 by twenty writers from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Morocco.
The study adopts a formal approach to autobiography. The literary genre is understood as a "pact" between writer and reader concluded by way of specific "generic markers" in the text, which the study sets out to describe. Starting from a wider sample of autobiographical texts it contrasts autobiography with its contemporary adjacent genres and historical cognates in Arabic literature. Special interest is accorded to the divergence of autobiography from the novel.
The study goes on to discuss in what sense the autobiography of childhood is independent of the type which narrates the author's adulthood as well. To this end it investigates the variation of time-span in a number of life-stories, the existence of a characteristic "plot" in them and typical beginnings and endings. Further, it analyses the literary spectrum in terms of narrative technique and style.
The last chapters of the thesis present interpretative readings of the works of the corpus against a historical background. Here, the literary trends and tendencies of the texts are outlined in greater detail.
The study reaches the conclusion that childhood autobiography is a distinct genre in modern Arabic literature with a tradition of its own, but that there also exist many mixed forms of autobiography that relativize this independence. It also identifies three typical themes of the genre developed by the Arab authors to express their personal identity: the eternal imprint of their birthplace, escape from poverty and rebellion against the family.
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International , 1997. , 304 p.