1. al-Aswany, Alaa. The Yacoubian Building. Trans. Humphrey Davies. Cairo: The American University of Cairo P, 2005.
This Egyptian novel is a slice of life set in modern Cairo; it traces events in the lives of several people associate with a building. There characters include aging womanizer, a corrupt businessman turned politician, a young man who longs to become a policeman, a young woman working to support her family, and a gay newspaper editor. There is frank depiction of sex in the novel.
2. Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. Trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. Westport, CT, 2008.
This Sudanese novel explores the life of a brilliant Sudanese student who moves to London and then returns to the Sudan after being convicted of murder. There is a frank depiction of sex in the novel
3. Gibran, Khalil. The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973.
This is a Lebanese work of 26 inspirational essays about topics like love, marriage, crime and punishment, children, beauty, friendship. This book has gone through at least 163 printings, and has sold over 100 million copies since was first printed in 1923.
4. Kemal, Yashir. To Crush the Serpent. Trans. Thilda Lemal. London: Harvill (Harper Collins), 1991.
This Turkish novel is about a young boy who is raised by his grandmother to avenge the death of his father – by killing his mother.
5. Pamuk, Orhan. Snow. Trans. Maureen Freely. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
Here is a summary of this Turkish novel by Publisher’s Weekly: A Turkish poet who spent 12 years as a political exile in Germany witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals ….[The poet’s] reasons for visiting the small Turkish town of Kars are twofold: curiosity about the rash of suicides by young girls in the town and a hope to reconnect with “the beautiful Ipek,” whom he knew as a youth…. [The poet] encounters government officials, idealistic students, leftist theater groups and the charismatic and perhaps terroristic Blue while trying to convince Ipek to return to Germany with him; each conversation pits warring ideologies against each other and against Ka’s own weary melancholy.
5. Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul. New York: Viking, 2007.
Here is a summary of this Turkish novel from Publisher’s Weekly: In a novel … of zany characters, women are front and center: Asya Kazanci, an angst-ridden 19-year-old Istanbulite is the bastard of the title; her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha (who intended to have an abortion), has raised Asya among three generations of complicated and colorful female relations (including religious clairvoyant Auntie Banu and bar-brawl widow, Auntie Cevriye). The Kazanci men either die young or take a permanent hike like Mustafa, Zeliha’s beloved brother who immigrated to America years ago. Mustafa’s Armenian-American stepdaughter, Armanoush, who grew up on her family’s stories of the 1915 genocide, shows up in Istanbul looking for her roots and for vindication from her new Turkish family. The Kazanci women lament Armanoush’s family’s suffering, but have no sense of Turkish responsibility for it; Asya’s [bohemian] cohorts insist there was no genocide at all. As the debate escalates, Mustafa arrives in Istanbul, and a long-hidden secret connecting the histories of the two families is revealed.
6. Blumenfeld, Laura. Revenge. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
In this true account, the author, an American becomes obsessed with avenging an attack on her father by a radical Palestinian. While pursuing her obsesses ion with revenge, she travels extensively and records different approaches to vengeance in different cultures. Ultimate she becomes a friend of the family of the man she wants to get revenge on, meets the man himself and must confront her own needs.
7. Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley. Trans. Trevor Le Gassick. New York, Anchor Books, 1992.
This Egyptian novel is a realistic look at Cario in the 1940s. Mahfouz is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
8. Mahfouz, Naguib. Arabian Nights and Days: A Novel. Trans. Denys Johnson-Davies. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.
Here is a summary of this Egyptian novel from Library Journal: Anyone with suspicions about the fairy tale tag “They lived happily ever after” will have them confirmed here. [This novel]) is a clever, witty concoction that begins on the day following the Thousand and One Nights, when the vizier Dandan learns that his daughter, Shahrzad, has succeeded in saving her life by enthralling the sultan with wondrous tales. But Shahrzad is miserable and distrusts her husband, who, she suspects, is still capable of bloody doings. All is not well outside the palace either, where a medieval Islamic city teems with anxious souls. Many of them, like the devout Skeikh Abdullah al-Balkhi, strive to attain a high spiritual station, but few succeed, especially when genies and angels intervene, as they do often in this series of linked intrigues and adventures.
9. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Trans. Mattias Ripa. Pantheon, 2005.
This is a graphic novel about a girl growing up in revolutionary Iran.
10. Akers, Deborah S., and Abubaker A. Bagader, eds. and trans. Oranges in the Sun: Short Stories from the Arabian Gulf. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner, 2008. Print.
This is a collection of short stories from smaller counties around the Arabian. The stories deal with topics such as social justice, women’s identity, fantasy, romance, slice of life, arbitrary authority….
11. Shaʻrāwī, Hudá, and Margot Badran. Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1879-1924). New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1987. Print.
This is the autobiography of Huda Shaarawi, leader of the Egyptian Feminist movement, best known for her highly controversial public unveiling at the Cairo railway station in 1923. Daughter of a Sheik, Shaarawi was born and raised in seclusion in a harem by an extended network of women, and this book traces her life growing up in the harem, her arranged marriage at age 13, her escape to seek higher education, and her growth into one of Egypt’s most well known activists, all against the backdrop of Egypt’s struggle for independence from Britain after World War I.
12. Kūnī, Ibrāhīm, May Jayyusi, and Christopher Tingley. The Bleeding of the Stone. Emerging voices. New York: Interlink Books, 2002.
This novel follows the story of a Bedouin goat herder living in isolation in the mountains of Libya who must keep the secret of the whereabouts of a herd of rare sheep, the wadden, long thought extinct. When two hunters, who have already been instrumental in the destruction of another group of animals, the desert gazelle, demand of him the goats’ location, the herder must make a choice between the wadden, with whom he develops a mystical connection, and humanity. This novel creates a political allegory set in a desert created by magical realism and myth.
13. Ibrāhīm, Ṣunʻ Allāh, and Anthony Calderbank. Zaat. Modern Arabic writing. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2001.
The novel follows the life an Egyptian woman during the reign of three Egyptian presidents: Abdel Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Her story is interwoven with newspaper clippings of the current events of the day that are contemporary with her own life. This story traces Egypt’s political and economic shifts over the course of one average woman’s lifetime.
14. Mernissi, Fatima. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co, 1994.
Fatima Mernissi, renowned sociologist and feminist, tells the story of her girlhood growing up in a harem in Fez, Morocco, which is actually more like a network of extended families. Mernissi relates her experience of trespassing the strict gendered/physical borders of the compound, at the urging of her rebellious, but cloistered, mother. Lifestyles and cultural norms which would seem shocking to Western women (like the visit to Mernissi’s grandmother, who is one of eight wives) are rendered with the humor and curiosity of a child’s point of view.
15. Mandanīʹpūr, Shahriyār, and Sara Khalili. Censoring an Iranian Love Story: A Novel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
This novel is really two stories: the first being the struggle of Shaharia, the fictional, alter ego of the writer to create the world’s most powerful love story amid the stringent censorship of Iran’s ministry of Culture and Islamic guidance and the story of the two characters he creates, who struggle similarly to engage in a blossoming romance while under the thumb of Iran’s Campaign Against Social Corruption, which forbids them to ever be alone together. And so they must connect in secret, yet public, spaces, like the streets and cafes. In writing this story, Shaharia is breaking free from the bitter cynicism that the Ministry has imposed on his writing for so many years, but also putting himself in great danger merely by creating these lovers who are freeing him: this is shown in the sentences and words he (literally) crosses out as he’s writing, sentiments and ideas he feels he must write but knows can never be published.
16. Rifʻaat, Alīfa. Distant View of a Minaret: And Other Stories.Harlow: Heinemann, 2008.
This is a collection of short stories written by an Egyptian female author who spent her entire life in the Arab world, raised according to strict Muslim tradition: what results is a writer who is almost wholly uninfluenced by the Western world. These stories are of women and their suffering at the hands of the men they are bound to by faith and law and the struggles of living in a male dominated environment in purdah (enforced social isolation). Rifaat is critical of such behavior, but entirely from within the framework that creates and encourages it, not by taking a Feminist approach, but rather a faith-based approach which criticizes the men for their neglect of their own Islamic responsibilities to their wives. Therefore, this makes this collection a fitting, yet unintentional, exploration of Islamic Feminism.
17. Mustafa, Shakir. Contemporary Iraqi Fiction: An Anthology. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2008.
The first anthology of its kind in the West, these sixteen short stories creates a compilation of diverse modern Iraqi experience: women, Iraqi Jews who fled to Israel, and Christians and Muslims living both in Iraq and abroad. While all of the stories are influenced by the grim reality of present war and its aftermath, they also deal with other universal, human themes: Family, romantic relationships, childhood, interfaith relations, political oppression, and the West as a formative force. A helpful introduction provides background on the emerging and unique Iraqi literary scene.
18. Barghūthī, Murīd, and Ahdaf Soueif. I Saw Ramallah. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.
A winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, this novel tells the story of a poet’s thirty year exile from Palestine after the Six Day War in 1967, spent moving from major city to major city around the world, his family also scattered and separated for years at a time. Such an insecure and fractured life leads him back to the city of his youth, Ramallah, which is on the West Bank, for the first time since Israeli occupation. His return finds him in a city that is only “the idea of Palestine”, and he must both reconcile his memories to this and lament his loss of “the habitual place and status of a person.”
19. Munīf, ʻAbd al-Raḥmān, and Peter Theroux. Cities of Salt. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
This novel is the first of a trilogy which follows the arrival of the United States in an unnamed gulf country (most likely Saudi Arabia or Jordan) after the discovery of oil in the 1930’s and the subsequent impact of this on the physical and human landscape. Told from the perspective of various Bedouin tribe members, the novel traces the cultural encounters of colonization and the upheaval this creates. It is therefore no surprise that this novel has been banned in several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.
20. Alameeddine, Rabih. The Hakawati. New York: Knopf, 2008.
This novel is set in Lebanon where a software engineer living in California returns to spend time with his family and dying father. The tale of the family is intertwined with two Arabian-night type tales, one of Fatima, a slave girl with whom a genie falls in love, and the other of Baybars, the slave prince and his clever servant, Othman. It is “over-the-top tales of love, sex, murder, heroism, magic, loss, triumph, skulduggery, noblesse, repentance, lies, redemption, loyalty, curses, and just about everything else” (Magus Alameddine).
21. Ṣāniʻ, Rajāʼ ʻAbd Allāh, and Marilyn Booth. Girls of Riyadh. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.
Originally published in Arabic and immediately banned in Saudi Arabia for its portrayal of secular life, this novel written by a twenty-five year old Saudi woman caused a sensation throughout the Arab world as a bold expose which “lifts the veil” from the hidden life of young upper class women in Saudi Arabia. Called “The Sex in Arabian City” by the Associated Press, each chapter begins with a posting to a Yahoo group by an unnamed female narrator and traces the lives of her female friends and the conflicts that arise when their modern, Western educations and desires are in opposition to their deep-seated obligations to family and religious-cultural tradition.
22. Dānishvar, Sīmīn. Savushun: A Novel About Modern Iran. Washington, D.C.: Mage Publishers, 1990.
Deriving its title from the pre-Islamic folk tradition of Savushun, this novel traces the life of a Persian family during the WWII Allied occupation of Persia-just-turned-Iran. The modern backdrop of war and foreign influence is set against the town of Shiraz, which contains constant reminders and images of Pre-Islamic and Golden Age Persia which are kept alive not only through physical settings but folkways and family life. It is told from the perspective of a young wife and mother who seeks to both fulfill her desires for traditional family life and discover her own identity. This novel provides a glimpse into the inner workings of Iranian family life and traditions, as well as the historically unique internal conflicts of pre-revolutionary Iran.