Readings of the Egyptian writer Miral al-Tahawy’s first novel, al-Khibaʾ (1996), typically view it as autobiographical, casting its first-person narrator Fatima as the author’s oppressed double. Equally dismissive, nonautobiographical readings cast her as passive “madwoman.” This article argues that an autobiographical reading attentive to Fatima’s style, language, and technique reveals her to be al-Tahawy’s dramatized interpretation of her writing self and its aspirational potential. The novel demands such a reading because of its overt modeling of autobiographical agential creation by Fatima, who creates her own authorial double, Zahwa. Neither submissive madwoman nor her creator’s wretched double, Fatima adopts strategies that offer us a guide to the necessary (if risky) creative methods of the woman “desert writer.” These methods rely on deep-diving into text and subtext (symbolized by Zahwa’s underground world), where imagination and code can resist oppression, escape censoring, interrogate the sacred, excavate sources of power, subvert the normative, and evade Western co-optation.

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