middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksReading is one of life’s true pleasures, and the Middle East is one of the most fascinating regions in the world. This fabled land has produced some outstanding authors with a gift for language and a wealth of stories from which to draw inspiration. While there are so many great books to enjoy, here we’ve compiled a list of 15, which will reward anyone who loves a good book. Better still, if you find yourself with more time at home right now, delve into a great story and lose yourself in a fascinating adventure. The following list comprises authors from many different countries from across the Middle East, who have constructed tales from a variety of genres.
The Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksOrhan Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most famous writers, and is well known for novels such as ‘Snow’ and ‘My Name is Red.’ The Museum of Innocence is another worthy title from the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Once you’ve finished reading this book, you can visit the museum of innocence. Yes, that’s right, Pamuk has created a museum containing many of the items described in the novel – truly bringing words to life. The story itself follows Kemal, a young man who falls in love with a shop-girl. What may sound like a beautiful story of love is filled with despair and sadness, because Kemal meets the girl while he’s engaged to be married. The ‘museum’ refers to Kemal’s obsession with collecting any item that reminds him of the time he spent with the shop girl.
Secret Son – Laila Lalami
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksYoussef Al Makki lives in a one-room house with his mother and yearns for a life in the film to escape the struggles of his daily life. He experiences an upheaval; however, when the father he thought was dead, he suddenly reappears. Not only is Youssef’s father alive, but he is a rich and powerful businessman. Now Youssef has every comfort he could have wished for and should be happy. In reality, though, he struggles with the choice between a life of luxury and a simple life of freedom and relative independence. This story takes us on Youssef’s quest for identity in a changing and unpredictable world.
The Moor’s Account – Laila Lalami
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksThe Moroccan-American novelist offers another worthy text with The Moor’s Account, a reimagining of the discovery and exploration of the continent of America. In this historical fiction, we are presented with the imaginary memoir of Mustafa al-Zamori, a Moroccan slave who becomes the first black explorer of America. Asking ‘what if?’ Lalami allows us to ponder the possibility of another voice and another figure in the ‘discovery’ of new land, and the Pulitzer Prize finalist does so with flair, imagination and skill, creating a novel which not only provokes questions about the past but entertains as well.
The Bastard of Istanbul – Elif Shafak
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksThe Bastard of Istanbul is a story of strong female characters, a journey into history and a trove of family secrets. It centers around a clairvoyant and a mysterious family curse and draws upon the cultural milieu of Istanbul. Nineteen-year-old Asya is the protagonist who is trying to create her place in the world while surrounded by a house of suffocating women. The story ignites when another young woman, Armanoush, arrives at her family home. Together, rebellious Asya and Armanoush set off a series of events that take the reader on a fascinating journey.
The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi – Elif Shafak
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksElif Shafak presents us with another captivating story in The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi. Ella Rubenstein has reached middle age and is unhappily married. After finding work as a reader for a literary agent, she stumbles upon a novel which details the meeting between the poet Rumi and the mystical Sham of Tabriz, a whirling dervish, as far back as the 13th century. This meeting prompts Rumi into a personal transformation and quest to understand life and love. Inspired, Ella begins to undertake her own, similar journey. These two eras are connected via the story of Shams of Tabriz and centers upon Sham’s wisdom, interwoven with Ella’s rediscovery of herself and love.
An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksRabih Alameddine was born in Jordan to Lebanese parents, and his touching tale may make you rethink literature. It details the impact that books, reading and literature can have on someone’s life and is also a thoroughly enjoyable read. The story revolves around Aliyah, who is shunned by society because she is old and unmarried. As an introvert, Aliyah escapes into books, and we learn that every year, she translates one novel into Arabic. Reading and translating books provides solace and comfort for shy Aliyah. The story begins with an old woman dying her hair blue because she overhears the neighbours observing that her hair is turning white. The story then continues through twists and tales which are bound to leave the reader wiser.
The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf – Mohja Kahf
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksSyrian-American writer Mohja Kahf presents readers with a novel of great contemporary relevance. With increasing globalization, many people find themselves living in places vastly different from their homeland and their home culture, including Muslims. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf depicts the trials of a young Muslim woman growing up in a non-Muslim country and is a must-read for young Muslims, or anyone interested in understanding other cultures. The novel opens readers’ eyes to the beauty and diversity of the Muslim community and follows the daily life of a young woman trying to define her identity.
Love in A Headscarf – Shelna Zahra Janmohamed
middle east books l middle east authors l best middle east booksShelna Zahra Janmohamed is a British Muslim writer who has created a novel that follows a Muslim woman – and John Travolta. The protagonist, Shelina, secretly dreams of marrying Travolta but agrees to follow an arranged marriage instead. The narrative depicts Shelina’s search for her true love and lifelong partner, and the subsequent discovery about herself and her faith.
One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling – Hanan Al-Shaykh
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The title of this novel may sound familiar for a good reason. The novel by Lebanese author Hanan Al-Shaykh is a rethink of the popular Arabian Nights tales and is a magical and dream-like story that will carry you away. Perfect at any time, and especially valuable in uncertain times when you just need to escape for an hour or two. The book is also remarkable for being one of the first attempts at reimagining this heritage by a female author.