Al-dunya aǧmal min al-ǧanna by Ḫālid al-Birrī (2006): A memoir and a journey through national imaginary

  • Maria Elena Paniconi University of Macerata


Al-dunyā aǧmal min al-ǧanna (“This world is more beautiful than paradise”) by the Egyptian writer Ḫālid al-Birrī is a memoir—firstly serialized in 2001, and then republished as a volume in 2006—recounting the author’s militancy in the fundamentalist group al-ǧamā‘a al-islāmiyya, for around five years.

While scholars have referred to this book, generally, as a historical source and as a documentary about the activities and strategies adopted by al-ǧamā‘a al-islāmiyya, I will attempt here an analysis of the text as a memoir, in dialogue with both the Egyptian of Twentieth Century life-writing tradition, and the memoir global tradition. Under this perspective, I will discuss some tropes and discourses developed by the author. In particular, I will analyze how the author develops through this legitimizing genre themes as the quest for identity, the building of a new “self,” the relationship between the self and the Nation, represented through a tight network of cultural and literary references.


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Author Biography

Maria Elena Paniconi, University of Macerata

Maria Elena Paniconi is an Associate Professor of Arabic Literature at the University of Macerata. She co-authored with Lorenzo Casini and Lucia Sorbera Modernità Arabe. Nazione, narrazione e nuovi soggetti nel romanzo egiziano (Messina: Mesogea: 2013). She is interested in the rise of the Arab novel, in the dialectics among literary genres during the Arab Nahḍa, and in contemporary Arabic narratives. She has written articles and essays on nahḍawī authors, and the book Bildungsroman and the Arab Novel: Egyptian Intersections (Routledge 2023), and co-edited with Martina Censi The Migrant in Arab Literature. Displacement, Self-Discovery and Nostalgia (London: Routledge: 2022).

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