Zaynab (novel)

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Zaynab (زينب)
AuthorMuhammad Husayn Haykal
LanguageEgyptian Arabic
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback)

Muhammad Husayn Haykal's novel Zaynab (commonly pronounced [ˈzeːnæb]) is considered the first modern Egyptian novel, published in 1913. The full title in Arabic is زينب: مناظر واخلاق ريفية ("Zaynab: Manazir wa'akhlaq rifiyyah," or "Zaynab: Country Scenes and Morals"). The book depicts life in the Egyptian countryside and delves into the traditional romantic and marital relationships between men and women and the interactions between the laboring cotton worker and plantation owner classes.

The novel is a seminal event in Egyptian literature, since it was the first to feature a fully described, contemporary Egyptian setting and the first to feature dialogue in the Egyptian vernacular rather than formal standard written Arabic.[1] Haykal, son of rural land owners himself, had spent considerable time in France, where he was studying to be a lawyer, and it was actually at this point that he wrote Zaynab in 1911. Notably in the first publication, the author chose the pseudonym Masri Fallah ("An Egyptian Rustic"), which perhaps underlines the lack of prestige attached to the genre at the time of his writing.

Plot introduction[edit]

Originally intended to be a short story, Haykal found that his work had more mileage than he had first appreciated, becoming a full novel in three parts. The story deals with a beautiful young peasant girl named Zaynab and the three men who strive for her affections: Hamid, the plantation owner's oldest son; Ibrahim, the young peasant foreman with whom she falls in love; and Hassan, a slightly more well-to-do peasant who enters into an unhappy arranged marriage with her. An early liberal critique of arranged marriage, the veil and enforced seclusion of women, the novel ends tragically with the heroine's psychological deterioration and death by "consumption."

Literary significance & criticism[edit]

Despite the structural flaws of the novel (its unrestricted romanticism, its poor division of the focus on Zaynab and Hamid, and a letter by Hamid which is unashamedly Haykal's own recapitulation of all the events that have transpired thus far), the novel is hugely important as the beginning point of the era of the modern Egyptian novel, infused with vernacular language, local characters, and a liberal politico-social dimension.

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations[edit]

The novel became the basis for Egypt's first (silent) film, Zaynab, which was produced in 1925.


  1. ^ David Semah (1974). Four Egyptian Literary Critics. BRILL. p. 94. ISBN 90-04-03841-8.