Book Reading/Signing: A WORLD I LOVED: The Story of An Arab Woman

Wed, June 10, 2009 6:30 pm at Alwan for the Arts

(View all book reading/signings »)

By Wadad Makdisi Cortas (Nation Books, 2009)

With a Foreword by Nadine Gordimer

A book reading and signing co-presented by ArteEast with Mariam Said and Najla Said

Free and open to the public

A direct challenge to the stereotypes of passive Arab woman, Wadad Makdisi Cortas’s memoir “A World I Loved,” offers a window into the twentieth century Middle East through a fearless, feminist lens of pride and empowerment. Principal of the Ahliah National School for Girls in Lebanon for a quarter century, and mother of four children, including Mariam Said (wife of Edward Said), Cortas dedicated her life to the education of young women. While giving them an education that could take them anywhere they desired, Cortas instilled her students with pride in their own Arab identity and the impressed importance of the Arabic language in the face of pressures to assimilate to French culture. Beginning in 1917, Cortas traces the tumultuous history of the region as she experienced it, providing personal insights into the effects of political and historic events on the daily lives of individuals. This evening, Cortas’s daughter and granddaughter, Mariam and Najla Said, will read from “A World I Loved,” reviving a voice and a feminist outlook on the Middle East that is often ignored.

"This is my story. The story of an Arab woman. It is the story of a lost world..." So opens this haunting memoir by Wadad Makdisi Cortas, who eloquently describes her personal experience of the events that have fractured the Middle East over the past century.

Through Cortas' eyes, we experience life in Beirut under the oppressive French mandate, and her desire to forge an Arab identity based on religious tolerance. We learn of her dedication to the education of women, and the difficulties that she overcomes to become the principal of a school in Lebanon. And in final, heartbreaking detail, we watch as her world becomes rent by the "Palestine question," Western interference and civil war.

The World I Loved is both an elegy to Lebanon and her people, and the unforgettable story of one woman’s journey from hope to sorrow as she bears painful witness to the undoing of her beloved country by sectarian and religious division.

What readers are saying:

"Wadad Makdisi Cortas' rich memoir offers us privileged access to a world long gone, as an accomplished and intelligent woman ably narrates the fascinating details of daily life in Beirut, of intellectual developments all over the Arab world, and of the complex society she lived in as it struggled with French colonialism, the trauma of Palestine, and its own internal problems."

— Rashid Khalidi, author of The Iron Cage

"This is far more than a memoir of a determined and independent thinking Arab woman. It is a window into the many tragedies that affected the peoples of the Middle East in the course of the twentieth century. Yet, at the same time, reading the book transported me to happier times of carefree childhoods and lasting relationships that come from living in a world where everyone knows everyone else for a lifetime. Despite decades of political turmoil and social change, the spirit of people like Wadad Cortas is a testimony to the endurance of the human spirit."

— Dr. Leila Fawaz, Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies, Tufts University

"A moving record of a life well—and roundly-lived—in the middle of political upheaval. It pulses with the love of homeland—the larger Arab homeland, and shows how closely the personal and the political are intertwined in our part of the world."

—Ahdaf Soueif, author of The Map of Love and Mezzaterra

"Wadad Makdisi Cortas has written a remarkable memoir.. the story of an inspiring, independent woman who devoted her life unswervingly to the education of her people. There can be few commentaries that convey so vividly such a relentless, tragically unfolding history, while also offering such a fierce celebration of the diversity of Lebanese life. The Arab world loved by Makdisi Cortas, a world of Muslim, Christians and Jews where there were 'no strangers,' can still today provide a model and hope for the future."

—Jacqueline Rose, author of The Last Resistance and The Question of Zion


Wadad Makdisi Cortas was the principal of the Ahliah National School for Girls in Lebanon for 26 years and the mother of four children, including Mariam Said, wife of Edward Said. She died in 1979.

Last updated: 2009-06-01 03:08:02

This Event is Co-Present by ArteEast
This Event is Co-Present by ArteEast

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