Friday, July 15, 2011

Middle Eastern Fiction

I'm going to ease back into blogging and provide a list of books (don't you just love lists?). I'll admit right up front that this is not original work on my part; I'm pulling from my recent issue of Bookmarks magazine (July/August 2011 No. 53) and using a combination of my own words and those of others. Nonetheless, I found it interesting and thought I'd share!

The article in Bookmarks features "notable fiction of various countries within the Greater Middle East, focusing on the mid-20th century to the present. The selections are written by Middle Eastern authors as well as those of Middle Eastern descent and those with experience in the region."


Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (2010) edited by Reza Aslan
An anthology of more than 600 stories and poems of Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Pakistani literature over the past 100 years. Organized geographically and chronologically.


A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) by Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini is a native of Kabul who came to the U.S. in 1980. This book chronicles three decades of turmoil leading up to and after the Taliban. Depicts the life of women in Afghanistan.

The Swallows of Kabul (2004) by Yasmina Khadra
Algerian army officer Mohamed Moulessehoul took the pen name Yasmina Khadra to avoid military censorship. Explores the effects of repression through the eyes of two men.


The German Mujahid (2008) by Boualem Sansal
Compares Nazism and Islamic fundamentalism. The narrator is the drifter son of a German father and an Algerian mother and lives in an Arab housing complex outside Paris.


The Yacoubian Building (2004) by Alaa Al Aswany
The author lives in Cairo and criticizes religious extremism, political corruption, and sexual repression in Egypt under Mubarak. This novel provides a snapshot of Cairo's various religious and socioeconomic groups. Takes place in the Yacoubian building, a once grand but now decaying Art Deco structure which houses inhabitants from all walks of life.

The Map of Love (1999) by Ahdaf Soueif
Booker Prize Finalist
The author is a female Anglo-Egyptian novelist , political and cultural commentator, was born in Cairo and educated in Egypt and England. The story is a journey through time which begins with the discovery of old English and Arabic documents found in the apartment of the main character's dying mother. A love story that includes issues including colonialism and the clash of cultures.

Palace Walk (1956; trans in 1990) by Naguib Mahfouz
Part of the Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street)
Author is a Nobel Prize winner. The story follows Egyptian history between 1919 and Nasser in the 1950s. Provides a glimpse into Cairo society from the breakdown of tradition to the country's modernization. One of the first novels to offer social commentary on Egyptian life to Western eyes.

Woman at Point Zero (1983) by Nawal El Saadawi
Author is an Egyptian feminist writer, activist, physician, and former Director of Public Health. The novel is set in 1970s Egypt and features a psychiatrist asked to examine a female inmate, Firdaus, on death row for killing her former pimp. Firdaus' story sheds light on gender inequality in Egypt.


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2003) by Marjane Satrapi
Volume 1 of two (Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return)
Autobiographical, black and white graphic novel. Depicts the author's childhood and adolescence in Tehran during and after the Islamic revolution. Paints a portrait of daily life under the new Iranian regime -- from wearing a veil to a very real sense of fear and endangerment.

Censoring an Iranian Love Story (2009) by Shahriar Mandanipour
The author has himself been censored from publishing fiction in his native country of Iran. A post-modern novel about a novelist having a difficult time writing a simple love story because of the government censor. Imagine trying to write a novel and being held up by constant scene rewrites and deletion of "offensive" dialogue.

The Septembers of Shiraz (2007) by Dalia Sofer
The author and her family fled post-revolutionary Iran when she was 10 after her father was unjustly imprisoned. Semi autobiographical and set in 1981.


To the End of the Land (2010) by David Grossman
A powerful antiwar novel. Has tragic parallels to the writer's own life: Grossman's youngest son was killed in the last days of the 2006 Lebanon war, which the author had opposed.

A Woman in Jerusalem (2006) by A.B. Yehoshua
Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Short novel about the attempted return of the body of a Slavic immigrant to Israel to her isolated Soviet village. Raises questions about identity, religion, nationality, guilt, penance, and morality.

A Pigeon and a Boy (2006) by Meir Shalev
Two intertwined stories that explore the meaning of love and home. The first tale is set in the period before Israeli statehood. The second tale takes place in the present.

My Michael (1968) by Amos Oz
Describes a young woman's marriage in 1950s Jerusalem. Described as existentialist in parts, ruminative, slow and worthwhile. Provides glimpses into Jerusalem's neighborhoods and landscapes from a bygone era.

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories (2004) by Etgar Keret
Brief and powerful stories mostly set in contemporary Israel with ordinary characters confronting life's realities and absurdities. Described as fierce, vulgar and amusing.

Beaufort (2007) by Ron Leshem
Sapir Prize for Literature
A debut novel and basis for the film, Beaufort. An Israel Defense Force unit is stationed at Beaufort Castle in southern Lebanon. The story is narrated by the unit's 21-year-old squadron commander. Focuses on contradictions within the military, the essence of Israeli identity, and the general absurdity of war. Described as evocative and haunting.


Staircase of a Thousand Steps (2001) by Masha Hamilton
The author is an American journalist and author who spent five years in the Middle East reporting for the Associated Press. A coming of age story about an eleven year old Jordanian girl with a unique gift to experience others' memories, past and present. Described as being defined by mysticism and history and challenging the traditional role of Muslim women and the clash between tradition and modernity.


A Map of Home (2008) by Randa Jarrar
The author is an American novelist and short story writer who grew up in Kuwait and Egypt. This is her debut novel. Described as audacious, intimate, and funny. The coming of age story of a Muslim girl in Kuwait, Egypt, and Texas. Portrays the universality of adolescence.


The Hakawati (2008) by Rabih Alameddine
Roma Prize
The author is a Lebanese-American painter and writer born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese Druze parents. Grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon and left as a teenager to live in England and then California. Hakawati is Arabic for "storyteller." This novel involves stories within stories and is described as imaginative, sprawling, bittersweet, and humorous as it encourages the reader to see beyond stereotypes.


In the Country of Men (2006) by Hisham Matar
Book Prize Finalist
The author was born in Libya in 1970 and lives in London. He last saw Libya in 1979. His father, a dissident former diplomat, was kidnapped there in 1990 and imprisoned in Tripoli. The Qaddafi regime executed several of Matar's relatives. This is a debut novel that takes place in the summer of 1979 in Tripoli. Described as a sophisticated portrait of fear, mistrust, and betrayal; emotionally wrenching and poetic.


Moth Smoke (2000) by Mohsin Hamid
New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Author is a dual citizen of Pakistan and the UK who writes about the intersection of personal and political themes. Apparently a subversive novel that was a cult hit in both Pakistan and the US. Uses multiple perspectives, trial scenes, and essays to explore one man's moral descent, played out against Pakistan's nuclear testing.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) by Mohsin Hamid
Booker Finalist
Anxieties and fears in modern day Pakistan. Explores the aftermath of 9/11 and its international climate. Written as a single monologue.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (2009) by Daniyal Mueenuddin
National Book Award Finalist, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, New York Times 100 Best Books of the Year
The author is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker. A debut collection of eight linked stories based in part on the author's experiences managing his father's farm in Pakistan. Described as painting a detailed picture of feudal Pakistani culture that is rapidly fading into history.


Gate of the Sun (2006) by Elias Khoury
The author is a Lebanese novelist, playwright, critic and public intellectual. The novel's main character recites the Naqba (catastrophe) stories about Palestinian lives from the War of 1948 to the present day Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These stories are described as reflecting the displacement, terror, and hope of the Palestinian people; haunting, comical, and heartrending; bloody and sad; and recreate a Palestinian homeland through imagination.

Mornings in Jenin (2010) by Susan Abulhawa
The author is the daughter of Palestinian refugees of the 1967 war, grew up in Kuwait, Jordan, East Jerusalem, and the United States. The novel begins in the middle of the last century and follows twin brothers and their sister, born in a refugee camp. Chronicles three decades of conflict and provides a portrait of refugee life, both the suffering and joys.

Martyrs' Crossing (2001) by Amy Wilentz
The author is an American writer, professor, and former Jerusalem correspondent for the New Yorker. Novel explores the gray areas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saudi Arabia

Girls of Riyadh (2007) by Rajaa Alsanea
The author grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and currently lives in Chicago. Described as a Saudi chick-lit writer (!). The novel features four 20-something upper-class Saudi women dipping their toes into Western culture and looking for love.

Triple Time (2009) by Anne Sanow
Drue Heinz Literature Prize
The author is an American writer who lived in Saudi Arabia for two years in her early teens. This is a collection of loosely connected stories, many set in the 1980s, that reflect the author's experience. Describes the uneasy alliance between tradition and modernity. The full description of this book sounds delightful.


Snow (2004) by Orhan Pamuk
New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
Orhan Pamuk is the first Turkish Nobel Prize laureate and one of Turkey's most prominent novelists. He now teaches at Columbia University. This novel brings to the fore the conflict between Islam and Westernization that grips modern Turkey. Features themes of inner personal turmoil as well as complex political strife.

The Bastard of Istanbul (2007) by Elif Shafak
Examines the effects of censorship on individuals, families, and nations. Described as being filled with oddball characters and magical realism; a complex study of how the past can overshadow the future.

I've provided title links to, but if you prefer to see which libraries hold these books go to WorldCat.

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