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Middle Eastern Arab Lit Library Loan

Thanks to Westminster Library which includes Marylebone, Paddington, Mayfair, St. John Wood’s libraries etc there is a good stock of Middle Eastern and translated Arabic Lit. While I could easily find more books to plaster them all over the North Africa and Middle Eastern Map, these are what I have got at home from the library for now, besides Palestinian and Turkish authors in this list, which I own.

What is it about Arabic lit that I love?

The Arab writers writes in a poetic prose.  (What I am about to say exclude Morocco) Perceived as a region fraught with conflicts and religious fanaticism, it taught me to unpeel the veil of stereotypes and read about everyday life of people who lives in these countries. They are all passionate about living, a fervent yearning for peace, maintaining a sense of humour and unbridled love for their country yet seething hatred for their politicians; which is why I found all of them very intriguing read. Recent news headlines of regional revolution provide me with the impetus to read more Arab lit.

From East to West, an excerpt from the blurbs:

My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad – Iran

The most beloved Iranian novel of the twentieth century.

“God forbid, I’ve fallen in love with Layli!” So begins the farce of our narrator’s life, one spent in a large extended Iranian family lorded over by the blustering, paranoid patriarch, Dear Uncle Napoleon. When Uncle Napoleon’s least-favorite nephew falls for his daughter, Layli, family fortunes are reversed, feuds fired up and resolved, and assignations attempted and thwarted.

First published in Iran in the 1970s and adapted into a hugely successful television series, this beloved novel is now “Suggested Reading” in Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. My Uncle Napoleon is a timeless and universal satire of first love and family intrigue.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk – Turkey

Dread, yearning, identity, intrigue, the lethal chemistry between secular doubt and Islamic fanaticism–these are the elements that Orhan Pamuk anneals in this masterful, disquieting novel. An exiled poet named Ka returns to Turkey and travels to the forlorn city of Kars. His ostensible purpose is to report on a wave of suicides among religious girls forbidden to wear their head-scarves. But Ka is also drawn by his memories of the radiant Ipek, now recently divorced.

Amid blanketing snowfall and universal suspicion, Ka finds himself pursued by figures ranging from Ipek’s ex-husband to a charismatic terrorist. A lost gift returns with ecstatic suddenness. A theatrical evening climaxes in a massacre. And finding god may be the prelude to losing everything else. Touching, slyly comic, and humming with cerebral suspense, Snow is of immense relevance to our present moment.

The Dark Side of Love Syria

A dead man hangs from the portal of St Paul’s Chapel in Damascus. He was a Muslim officer – and he was murdered. But when Detective Barudi sets out to interrogate the man’s mysterious widow, the Secret Service takes the case away from him. Barudi continues to investigate clandestinely and discovers the murderer’s motive: it is a blood feud between the Mushtak and Shahin clans, reaching back to the beginnings of the 20th century. And, linked to it, a love story that can have no happy ending, for reconciliation has no place within the old tribal structures.

Sharon and my Mother-in-law by Amiry Suad – Palestine

Surprisingly funny, and refreshingly different from any other writings on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law”, describes Suad Amiry’s experience of living on the West Bank from the early eighties to the present. Amiry tells us about the life and gossip of her neighbourhood in Ramallah, her moving family history, and the struggle to live a normal life in an insane situation; from the impossibility of acquiring gas masks during the first Gulf War to her dog acquiring a Jerusalem Passport when thousands of Palestinians couldn’t.

Butterfly Mosque by G.Willow Wilson – Egypt

After taking an Islamic Studies course in Boston, G. Willow Wilson quietly found herself adopting the tenets of the religion as her own. This intellectual and emotional exercise created a unique challenge; how could she reconcile a devout and conservative lifestyle with the highly secular society in which she was raised? Taking a leap of faith, Wilson accepted a position to teach English in Cairo, where her guide to the bustling city was a student of astrophysics named Omar. Led by his passions, she discovered a young and moderate nationalist movement that promoted both tolerance and the celebration of identity. Omar’s ideas and experiences reflected her own search for meaning and in the tangled thicket of their differences and their similarities, an unlikely romance blossomed.

Although Wilson immersed herself in Islamic culture – learning Arabic, worshipping as a Muslim and adopting a veil – she never rejected her Western identity. Drawing together the values of both cultures, she began to move in the world as a liberal and outspoken Muslim woman, a curious mixture of East and West. The Butterfly Mosque is a riveting personal account, an investigation into what it means to have faith in our broken society. It is a rare and important insight into the evolving relationship between the boundaries of contemporary religion and culture.

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar  Libya

On a white-hot day in Tripoli, Libya, in the summer of 1979, nine-year-old Suleiman is shopping in the market square with his mother. His father is away on business – but Suleiman is sure he has just seen him, standing across the street…

From a breathtaking new talent comes an utterly gripping, emotional novel told from the point of view of a young boy growing up in a terrifying and bewildering world where his best friend’s father disappears and is next seen on state television at a public execution; where a mysterious man sits outside the house all day and asks strange questions; and where it seems his father has finally disappeared for good.

Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – Morocco

Some journeys are best left unmade. Kit and Port Moresby are Americans abroad. Struggling to save their marriage, they resolve to trade civilization for the wilderness of the Sahara. At first, the pair are seduced by the desert’s beauty. But beneath the exquisite landscape lurk the dark undercurrents of an alien culture, and the relentless dangers of a hostile natural world. And as they travel deeper, they might not only lose their way. They could lose their lives!

For Bread Alone by Mohammed Choukri (translated by Paul Bowles) –  Morocco

For Bread Alone describes a bleak childhood and youth in Morocco. Fleeing drought and starvation in the Rif, his family moves to Tangier and then Tetuan. Most of his siblings die, of neglect or starvation or abuse, but he survives the beatings of his father, the pangs of hunger, and the dangers of the street. He lives by begging, petty theft, prostitution, smuggling and occasional work, and he learns to enjoy sex, drugs and alcohol. For Bread Aloneends with Mohamed’s decision to learn how to read and write, inspired by a chance meeting in prison — and he went on to become a writer and a lecturer in Arabic literature.

These are some Arab Lit books that I will read in a very near future.

More lined up on my shelf and Arab-lit that I own:

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany
  • Croc Attack! by Assaf Gavron
  • Freedom by Malika Oufkir
  • My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Have you read any of these?

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


23 thoughts on “Middle Eastern Arab Lit Library Loan

  1. This is fantastic! I am running a Middle East Reading Challenge (July 2010 through July 2011). May I do a post and link to your post? I’d love you to participate in the challenge if you are interested (one book minimum)

    Posted by Helen | April 8, 2011, 11:31 pm
  2. Love the map, JoV, and some of those writers are on my list to get to someday as well. Have you read anything by the Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih? His short novel Season of Migration to the North is amazing, and it may interest you as well for representing a viewpoint that’s both (black) African and Arabic in its interface with postcolonialism.

    Posted by Richard | April 9, 2011, 1:49 am
    • Richard, I was looking at Season of Migration to the North from the library catalogue, unless I could find time to take a walk between Paddington to Mayfair Library during work hours, I’ll have to buy a copy. Reserving a copy from another library costs money in London. 😦 Yes! I wanted to read Tayeb Salih’s book you mentioned since last year! There may be a day when I go down south a little and read more of Sudanese and African lit.

      Posted by JoV | April 9, 2011, 1:02 pm
  3. Very cool assortment ! I enjoyed Butterfly Mosque and The Sheltering Sky. In the Country of Men has been on my to read list for a about a year or so. The rest looks good, too !

    Posted by maphead | April 9, 2011, 4:26 am
    • Maphead, I have got The anatomy of disappearance by Hisham Matar today and perhaps I’ll read them back to back to share some comparative perspective! I want to get on with Butterfly Mosque and The Sheltering Sky soon!

      Posted by JoV | April 9, 2011, 1:04 pm
  4. You are so amazing with your charts! :–) Can’t wait to read your coming reviews.

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | April 9, 2011, 5:40 am
  5. I love Arab lit! The only ones that I’ve read are: The Dark Side of Love -which I loved and Snow which I enjoyed, but which was very hard going in places. I’ll be interested to see what you make of them all – enjoy 🙂

    Posted by Jackie (Farm Lane Books) | April 10, 2011, 8:24 am
    • Jackie, thanks for dropping by and happy that your PC is up! Spur by your +ve review made me want to read The Dark Side of Love a lot more. It won’t take long I hope to read them all, after all they are library loan. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | April 10, 2011, 6:55 pm
  6. for bread alone ,sheltering sky ,read other Pamuks ,none of the other but some on your spare list ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | April 10, 2011, 2:14 pm
  7. Wonderful list, Jo! ‘The Dark Side of Love’ and ‘Butterfly Mosque’ look very interesting! I am surprised you haven’t mentioned any book by Egyptian Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz 🙂 I have heard that his Cairo trilogy and ‘The Harafish’ are quite good.

    It is interesting that you have classified Orhan Pamuk as Middle Eastern / North African. The Turkish today probably want to be classified as European, while the EU wants them to be classified as Middle Eastern and so they seem to be in no-man’s land 🙂 I don’t know what Pamuk thinks about this. I remember reading in an essay by Pamuk about how when he was a kid, he read the ‘Arabian Nights’ in translation and liked it very much, because he thought they were fantastic stories from an exotic land, and later when he grew up and discovered that the stories of the ‘Arabian Nights’ were supposed to be from his own land, he was quite puzzled by it and didn’t know how to react to it.

    Posted by Vishy | April 10, 2011, 2:25 pm
    • Vishy, I have plenty more titles in my head, what is featured on the map are just library loan (or my own books) which are sitting on my shelves. I am daunted by the size of Cairo Trilogy, but I suppose I have to clear the year’s agenda to read it one day.

      Classifying something Middle Eastern is controversial. Easier if it’s called Arab-lit, but does it mean it has to be written by Arab? Whatever people want to see themselves to be these days, they can never ignore their roots, I’d say.

      Posted by JoV | April 10, 2011, 6:59 pm
  8. Great post Jo – love your map! I have The Dark Side of Love here waiting to be read – just need to psych myself up as it seems quite large. 0:)

    Posted by Tracey | April 10, 2011, 6:15 pm
  9. Love the sound of “My Uncle Napoleon”, it goes on my TBR!

    Posted by Willa | April 10, 2011, 6:47 pm
  10. Croc Attack is great, hope you’ll enjoy it! I have one or two Pamuk books on my shelf but still haven’t read them, so can’t recommend anything. I’m feeling torn about the Nafisi. It’s an interesting insight into women’s lives n Iran, but I can’t stand that she really perpetuates the notion of the modern, liberated West. And just look at what books she chooses to discuss with her pupils, basically the white male brit. canon of literature, grrr! I’ll take Satrapi over Nafisi anytime 🙂

    Posted by Bina | April 13, 2011, 10:16 pm
    • Bina.. ahh… Bina, on first impression, I do have the same feeling about Nafisi, I ask the same, Why Lolita?? Why not Pride and Prejudice? Why not Jane Eyre? Why Lolita?!! I’ll read Nafisi anyway and see what I make of it, then check out Satrapi, first time I heard about her, but I’ll check her out. Thanks! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | April 16, 2011, 7:36 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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