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?