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Recommendations: Books Set in the Middle East

Hello! This blogpost is a special one because as someone who is part-Arab I think it is important to share and talk more about books set in the Middle East. Middle Eastern books are hardly read in the book community from what I have seen so far, which I hope changes soon. Here are some recommendations of books written by Middle Eastern authors. I have not read all of the books in this list yet, but I do look forward to reading them all as soon as possible. I also want to point out that Afghanistan is not geographically located in the ‘Middle East’, but is sometimes politically included in the region. For this list, I have decided to include Afghanistan as well.

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa | Palestine 🇵🇸

Summary:

Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family.

The very precariousness of existence in the camps quickens life itself. Amal, the patriarch’s bright granddaughter, feels this with certainty when she discovers the joys of young friendship and first love and especially when she loses her adored father, who read to her daily as a young girl in the quiet of the early dawn. Through Amal we get the stories of her twin brothers, one who is kidnapped by an Israeli soldier and raised Jewish; the other who sacrifices everything for the Palestinian cause. Amal’s own dramatic story threads between the major Palestinian-Israeli clashes of three decades; it is one of love and loss, of childhood, marriage, and parenthood, and finally of the need to share her history with her daughter, to preserve the greatest love she has.

The deep and moving humanity of Mornings in Jenin forces us to take a fresh look at one of the defining political conflicts of our lifetimes.

trigger warnings: graphic violence, death, rape, sexual assault.


Out of It by Selma Dabbagh | Palestine 🇵🇸

Summary:

Gaza is being bombed. Rashid – a young, clever Palestinian – has been smoking grass on the roof watching it happen when he gets the e-mail he has been desperate for: he’s won a scholarship to London. Rashid’s sister, Iman, frustrated by the atrocities and inaction around her, is beginning to take an interest in an Islamic resistance group. Sabri, their intellectual older brother, is working on a history of Palestine from his wheelchair while their mother pickles vegetables and feuds with the neighbours.

Out of It follows the lives of Rashid and Iman as they try to forge places for themselves in the midst of occupation, the growing divide between Palestinian factions, and the rise of fundamentalism. Written with extraordinary humanity and humour, and moving between Gaza, London and the Gulf, this book helps to re-define Palestine and its people.

trigger warnings: violence, death.


Jasmine Falling by Shereen Malherbe | Palestine 🇵🇸

Summary:

When Jasmine’s mother dies inside their English mansion, hope comes in the form of her multi-million pound inheritance. But with her inheritance threatened, Jasmine is left to contemplate a future she does not know how to live.

Jasmine has only ten days to uncover the circumstances of her father’s decade long disappearance before her fortune is lost forever. Forced to return to his homeland in Palestine, she follows his footsteps through stories long ingrained in the local’s minds. She is helped on her journey by a mysterious stranger who guides her through the trails of the Holy Land to the scattered broken villages, each harbouring its own secrets.

Under the watchful eyes of the ever-encroaching Occupation, Jasmine must piece together her history in the broken land, before it destroys her future.


The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar | Syria 🇸🇾

Summary:

The story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.


Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi | Iraq 🇮🇶

Summary:

From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi — a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café — collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive–first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path.


A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini | Afghanistan 🇦🇫

Summary:

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years — from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding — that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives — the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness — are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love — a stunning accomplishment.

trigger warnings: death, sexual assault, violence.


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini | Afghanistan 🇦🇫

Summary:

“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons — their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.

trigger warnings: death, violence, rape.


And that’s the post! Have you read any of these books? What are you most excited to read? Let me know x

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Chai @ Like Chai Tea
    August 19, 2019 at 1:07 am

    I’ve read A Thousand Splendid Suns and I s remember crying in public because I was at a restaurant that time. I’ve read like 50% of the book there. The confused stares of the people were worth it though. The book was too good.

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