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Read­ing 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

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Orhan 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

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Youssef 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

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The 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

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The 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

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Elif 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

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  Rabih 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

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Syr­i­an-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

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Shel­na 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.

Lyrics Alley: A Novel – Leila Aboulela

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Lyrics Alley: A Nov­el is a sto­ry of fam­i­ly tur­moil, and is based on the life of the author’s uncle, Has­san Awad Aboulela, a famous poet. Writ­ten with atten­tion to his­tor­i­cal events, the inter­est­ing and cap­ti­vat­ing nov­el also pro­vides an insight into the cul­ture of Sudan. Ulti­mate­ly, though, this is the sto­ry of love between the char­ac­ters Nur and Soraya.

Coloured Lights – Leila Aboulela

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Sudanese writer Aboulela rewards read­ers with anoth­er won­der­ful sto­ry in Coloured Lights. This col­lec­tion of eleven short sto­ries chron­i­cles the dai­ly lives of Mus­lim immi­grants in Britain. Aboulela gives sub­jects the free­dom to tell their sto­ries and use their voice while man­ag­ing to artic­u­late in her words the deep emo­tions felt by peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing mas­sive changes and chal­lenges in their lives.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Run­ner is a well-known tale that became a movie, and cen­ters upon the forced sep­a­ra­tion of two Afghani friends dur­ing a kite fly­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed, the nov­el treats the polit­i­cal and social con­flict with poise and insight. Hos­sei­ni script­ed anoth­er won­der­ful sto­ry in A Thou­sand Splen­did Suns. This time, the Afghani author takes us into the lives of Mari­am and Laila, and their bat­tles with abu­sive patri­archy and a tumul­tuous polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment. The book is famed for its strong char­ac­ters, bril­liant sto­ry­telling and exam­i­na­tion of the source of hatred.

The Map of Love – Ahdaf Soueif

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Egypt­ian nov­el­ist Ahdaf Soueif takes us to her home­land to fol­low the pro­tag­o­nist, an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist whose heart is set on an Egypt­ian-Amer­i­can con­duc­tor. In the process, we meet Sharif and Anna, the protagonist’s ances­tors, who fell in love many years ago. A tale of love across cul­tures which was short­list­ed for the Man Book­er Prize.

The Dove’s Necklace: A Novel – Raja Alem

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Inspired by the holy site of Mec­ca, this nov­el exam­ines char­ac­ters whose lives are dom­i­nat­ed by walls, both phys­i­cal and metaphor­i­cal. Sau­di writer Alem has cre­at­ed char­ac­ters who must either chose to remain where life has placed them, or to break free – from tra­di­tion, expec­ta­tion, the laws of nature and even the dimen­sions of time and space. This nov­el offers a jour­ney towards the free­dom of the soul.

Lastly!

Choose a nov­el from the list above to start your col­lec­tion of won­der­ful sto­ries from the Mid­dle East, and drift away into a land of end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties!    
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