July-September 2012 Theme Read: Middle Eastern Literature

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July-September 2012 Theme Read: Middle Eastern Literature

Jun 22, 2012, 5:46pm

Islamic and Coptic Cairo

The Wailing Wall, Old Jerusalem

Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 6:13pm

Lois (avaland) and I are the co-hosts of this quarter's theme read on Middle Eastern literature. Due to the extensive number of countries that comprise the Middle East, we have decided to use the traditional definition of the Middle East, as defined by Wikipedia, which includes the following countries and regions:

Palestinian Territories (West Bank and the Gaza Strip)
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates

Since we have already covered Turkey in the first quarter, I would propose leaving out this country for this theme.

This theme will be a work in progress, both during this quarter and afterward. Participants are encouraged to submit authors and resources that they would recommend to the group, and we will incorporate them into the opening segments of this theme. We have selected works of fiction that are currently available in English translation in the US and UK. However, participants are encouraged to read eligible books in any language they choose.

Some suggested resources:

Best 105 Arabic novels of the 20th century: These books were recommended by the Arab Writers Union, and the author of this blog has helpfully indicated which of these books are currently available in English translation.

The American University in Cairo Press: The AUC Press has a large selection of Arabic literature translated into English.

Banipal: A leading magazine of modern Arabic literature, published in the UK.

Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing: Bloomsbury's Arabic literature division is also publishing notable works of translated literature from the Middle East.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction: This prize, which is informally referred to as the "Arabic Booker", was created in 2007 to bring greater attention to authors from the Middle East. Unfortunately, many of the novels selected as finalists have not yet been translated from the Arabic, although all of the winners have contracts to be published in English translation.

Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 9:03am

The following sections include currently available books in English translation, listed by country. This is not an exhaustive list, and we would love to receive additional recommendations from all of you, particularly from those countries which have few available works.

Laala Kashef Alghata: Behind the Mask: A Folded Heart
Ali Al Saeed: QuixotiQ


Ahmed Alaidy: Being Abbas el Abd
Alaa Al Aswany: Friendly Fire; The Yacoubian Building
Inji Amr: To Each Her Own
Radwa Ashour: Specters
Reem Bassiouney: Professor Hanaa
Andrée Chedid: From Sleep Unbound; The Multiple Child; The Sixth Day
Anne-Marie Drosso: In Their Father's Country
Lawrence Durrell: The Alexandria Quartet
Dominique Eddé: Kite
Waguih Ghali: Beer in the Snooker Club
Sonallah Ibrahim: The Committee; Zaat
Ismail Kadare: The Pyramid
Penelope Lively: Moon Tiger
Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street; Children of the Alley; The Thief and the Dogs; Midaq Alley; Miramar; Arabian Nights and Days
Olivia Manning: The Levant Trilogy
Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
Alifa Rifaat: Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories
Nawal El Saadawi: Woman at Point Zero; Zeina; The Fall of the Imam; The Essential Nawal El Saadawi; God Dies By the Nile; Memoirs from the Women's Prison; The Circling Song
Magdy El Shafee: Metro: A Story of Cairo (graphic novel)
Robert Solé: The Alexandria Semaphore
Ahdaf Soueif: Aisha; In the Eye of the Sun; The Map of Love
Bahaa Taher: Love in Exile; Sunset Oasis
Miral al-Tahawy: The Tent; Brooklyn Heights; Gazelle Tracks
Amina Zaydan: Red Wine
Florian Zeller: The Fascination of Evil

Anita Amirrezvani: The Blood of Flowers; Equal of the Sun
Simin Daneshvar: A Persian Requiem
Mahmoud Dowlatabadi: The Colonel; Missing Soluch
Hushang Golshiri: The Prince
Sadegh Hedayat: The Blind Owl; Three Drops of Blood
Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet: Martyrdom Street
Laleh Khadivi: The Age of Orphans
Shahriar Mandanipour: Censoring an Iranian Love Story
Farnoosh Moshiri: The Bathhouse
Shahnush Parsipur: Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran
Dorit Rabinya: Persian Brides
Mahmood Saeed: The World Through the Eyes of Angels
Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis
Dalia Sofer: The Septembers of Shiraz
Fariba Vafia: My Bird

Sinan Antoon: I'jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody
Fadhil Al Azzawi: Cell Block Five; The Traveler and the Innkeeper
Ali Bader: The Tobacco Keeper; Papa Sartre
Annia Ciezadlo: Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
Al-Jahiz: The Book of Misers
Inaam Kachachi: American Granddaughter
Jim Al-Khalilia: The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Gave Us the Renaissance
Salim Matar: The Woman of the Flask
Anthony O'Neill: Scheherazade
Iqbal al-Qazwini: Zubaida's Window: A Novel of Iraqi Exile
Mahmoud Saeed: Saddam City
Samuel Shimon: An Iraqi in Paris: An Autobiographical Novel
Fuad Al-Takarli: The Long Way Back
Mona Yahia: When the Grey Beetles Took Over Baghdad

Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 6:57pm

S.Y. Agnon : The Bridal Canopy; Only Yesterday; Twenty-One Stories
Gavriela Avigur-Rolem: Heatwave and Crazy Birds
Chochana Boukhobza: The Third Day
Assaf Gavron: Almost Dead
Michal Govrin: Hold On to the Sun
Linda Grant: When I Lived in Modern Times
David Grossman: The Book of Intimate Grammar; Someone to Run With; To the End of the Land; See Under: Love; The Zigzag Kid
Gail Hareven: The Confessions of Noa Weber
Yael Hedaya: Eden: A Novel
Shifra Horn: Tamara Walks on Water
Rula Jebreal: Miral
Sayed Kashua: Dancing Arabs; Let It Be Morning
Alan Kaufman: Matches
Yehoshua Kenaz: Returning Lost Loves; The Way to the Cats; Infiltration
Etgar Keret: The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories; Suddenly, a Knock on the Door; Gaza Blues (with Samir El-Youssef)
John Le Carré: The Little Drummer Girl
Ron Leshem: Beaufort
Savyon Liebrecht: Apples from the Desert; A Good Place for the Night; The Women My Father Knew
Kanan Makiya: The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem
Avner Mandelman: Talking to the Enemy: Stories
Olivia Manning: School for Love
Rutu Modan: Exit Wounds
Eshkol Nevo: World Cup Wishes; Homesick
Amos Oz: My Michael; Black Box; The Same Sea; Scenes from Village Life
Dorit Rabinyan: Our Weddings
Philip Roth: Operation Shylock
Haim Sabato: Adjusting Sights
Igal Sarna: The Man Who Fell Into a Puddle: Israeli Lives
Yaakov Shabtai: Past Continuous
Meir Shalev: A Pigeon and a Boy; Four Meals: A Novel; The Blue Mountain
Naomi Shepherd: Ashes: and Other Stories
A.B. Yehoshua: Friendly Fire; A Journey to the End of the Millenium; The Liberated Bride; The Lover

Fadia Faqir: Pillars of Salt
Sahar Khalifeh: The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant; Wild Thorns
Ibrahim Nasrallah: Time of White Horses; Prairies of Fever; Inside the Night

Randa Jarrar: A Map of Home

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi: A Girl Made of Dust
Etel Adnan: Sitt Marie Rose
Tawfiq Yousef Awad: Death in Beirut
Hoda Bakarat: The Tiller of Waters
Alexandra Chreiteh: Always Coca-Cola
Rashid Al-Daif: Dear Mr. Kawabata
Kahlil Gibran: The Prophet; The Garden of the Prophet; The Madman
Joumana Haddad: I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman; Invitation to a Secret Feast
Laila Halaby: Once in a Promised Land
Tony Hanania: Unreal City
Nada Awar Jarrar: Somewhere, Home; A Good Land
Roseanne Saad Khalaf, editor: Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women
Elias Khoury: Gate of the Sun; Yalo; As Though She Were Sleeping; The Kingdom of Strangers
Amin Maalouf: The Rock of Tanios; Leo Africanus; Balthasar's Odyssey
Emily Nasrallah: Flight Against Time
Hanan al-Shaykh: Beirut Blues; The Story of Zahra; Women of Sand and Myrrh; Only in London; I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops; The Locust and the Bird
Iman Humaydan Younes: Wild Mulberries
Lamia Ziadé: Bye Bye Babylon


Palestinian Territories:
Susan Abulhawa: Mornings in Jenin
Suad Amiry: Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries
Rene Backmann: A Wall in Palestine
Mourid Barghouti: I Saw Ramallah
Selma Dabbagh: Out of It
Mahmoud Darwish: A River Dies of Thirst; In the Presence of Absence; Memory for Forgetfulness
Jo Glanville, editor: Qissat: Short Stories by Palestinian Women
Emile Habiby: The Secret Life of Saeed, the Pessoptimist
Jabra Ibrahim Jabra: In Search of Walid Masoud
Ghassan Kanafani: Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories; Palestine's Children
Sahar Khalifeh: Wild Thorns
Adania Shibli: Touch; We Are All Equally Far from Love
Yahya Yakhlif: A Lake Beyond the Wind

Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 9:26am

Carol Henderson and Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, editors: Qatari Voices

Saudi Arabia:
Ahmed Abodehman: Riem (aka The Belt)
Raja Alem: My Thousand & One Nights: A Novel of Mecca; Fatma: A Novel of Arabia
Turki Al-Hamad: Adama
Siba al-Harez: The Others
Bahiyyih Nakhjavani: The Saddlebag
Hilary Mantel: Eight Months on Ghazzah Street
Abdelrahman Munif: Cities of Salt; The Trench; Variations on Night and Day

Halim Barakat: The Crane
Ulfat Idilbi: Grandfather's Tale
Walid Ikhlassi: Whatever Happened to Antara?: And Other Stories
Muhammad Kamil al-Khatib: Just Like a River
Jean Said Makdisi: Teta, Mother, and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women
Hanna Minah: Sun on a Cloudy Day
Ghada Samman: Beirut Nightmares

United Arab Emirates:
Denys Johnson-Davies, editor: In a Fertile Desert: Modern Writing from the United Arab Emirates
Maha Gargash: The Sand Fish

Mohammad Abdul-Wali: They Die Strangers
Zayd Muti Dammaj: The Hostage
Denyse Woods: Like Nowhere Else

General Middle East:
Tariq Ali: The Book of Saladin: A Novel
Bandula Chandraratna: Mirage
Bruce Feller: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths; Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses
Samuel Shimon, editor: Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 7:27pm

I'm planning to read The Cairo Trilogy, Naguib Mahfouz's masterpiece about 20th century Egypt, during this quarter. I read the first two books, Palace Walk and Palace of Desire, years ago, but I plan to start from the beginning, and read one book per month starting in early to mid July. If enough people are interested and wish to discuss the trilogy, I would be happy to set up a separate thread for it.

I'd also like to read these books, all from my TBR collection:

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (Egypt)
The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (Iran)
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer (Iran)
To the End of the Land by David Grossman (Israel)
The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories by Etgar Keret (Israel)
My Michael by Amos Oz (Israel)
Friendly Fire by A.B. Yehoshua (Israel)
As Though She Were Sleeping by Elias Khoury (Palestinian Territories)
In the Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish (Palestinian Territories)

Jun 22, 2012, 7:45pm

This is terrific, Darryl and Lois!! Tomorrow, when I'm back on my computer, I'll update the Reading Globally group page so people can link to this thread easily. I'm going to look through my library too, so I may have some suggestions or questions.

Jun 22, 2012, 7:52pm

Anita Amirrezvani has published a new book Equal of the Sun which, since I loved The Blood of Flowers, I'm going to use this quarter's challenge as an excuse to get it for myself.

Jun 22, 2012, 7:55pm

Are Pakistan and Afghanistan now considered "far East?"

Jun 22, 2012, 8:03pm

>8 whymaggiemay: Thanks, Maggie! I've added Equal of the Sun alongside The Blood of Flowers in the list of recommended reads.

>9 The_Hibernator: Welcome to the group, Rachel! Lois and I had discussed whether or not we should include countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, and Libya, which are included in Wikipedia's definition of the countries of the Greater Middle East. We decided that this would be an overly broad definition for this theme, and that it would be better to focus on these other regions in the future.

Jun 23, 2012, 12:20am

I have a few suggestions you might consider. I rated each of these 4*.

Farnoosh Moshiri: The Bathhouse

Avner Mandelman: Talking to the Enemy: Stories
Meir Shalev: A Pigeon and a Boy

Susan Abulhawa: Mornings in Jenin

If you decide to include memoirs, I would be interested in participating in that as well.

Jun 23, 2012, 12:22am

The Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to World Fiction (2007) has the following recommendations. These are based on the setting of the work, not the author's nationality, although in most cases they are the same:

General Middle East
Mirage by Bandula Chandraratna
The Book of Saladin: A Novel by Tariq Ali

The Prince by Hushang Golshiri
Persian Brides by Dorit Rabinyan
The Blind Owl by Sadiz Hidayat
A Persian Requiem by Simin Daneshvar
My Father's Notebook by Kader Abdolah
Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran by Shahmush Parsipur
My Uncle Napoleon by Iraj Pezeshkzad

Saddam City b Mahmoud Saeed
When the Grey Beetles Took Over Baghdad by Mona Yahia
Scheherazade by Anthony O'Neill

Saudi Arabia
Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel
The Belt (aka Riem) by Ahmed Abodehman
The Saddlebag by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani
Adama by Turki Al-Hamad

The Rock of Tanios by Amin Maalouf
Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women ed. by Roseanne Saad Khalaf
Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury
Beirut Blues by Hanan al-Shaykh
Unreal City by Tony Hanania
Somewhere, Home by Nada Awar Jarrar

Qissat: Short Stories by Palestinian Women
A Lake Beyond the Wind by Yahya Yakhlif
Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh

Grandfather's Tale by Ulfat Idilbi
Just Like a River by Muhammad Kamil al-Khatib

Like Nowhere Else Denyse Woods

Pillars of Salt by Fadia Faqir

The Lover by A. B. Yehoshua
See Under Love by David Grossman
Past Continuous by Yaakov Shabtai
Four Meals: A Novel by Meir Shalev
The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem by Kanan Makiya
My Michael by Amos Oz
Our Weddings by Dorit Rabinyan
When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant
Matches by Alan Kaufman
Operation Shylock by Philip Roth
The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories by Etgar Keret
The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist by Emile Habiby
The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
Distant View of a Minaret and Other Stories by Alifa Rifaat
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
The Levant Trilogy by Olivia Manning
The Alexandria Semaphore by Robert Sole
The Pyramid by Ismail Kadare
Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali
The Fascination of Evil by Florian Zeller

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 7:21am

I've been sidetracked away from RG reading and am just finishing my Jan-Mar book.
I'll read Only Yesterday by S. Y. Agnon, I've already started it but have only read a little way in. I've read all the books listed below except for the Shalev, though I've read his A pigeon and a boy which is great, and recommend them.

Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato
World Cup Wishes by Eshkol Nevo
The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev
Beaufort by Ron Leshem
Tamara walks on water by Shifra Horn
Almost Dead by Assaf Gavron
Gaza Blues by Etgar Keret & Samir El-Youssef

Jun 23, 2012, 8:19am

Steven, thanks for adding Distant View of a Minaret, as I've been saving that for this theme read. Since you are mentioning books set in the Middle East but not by Middle Eastern writers, another one, set in a tumultuous time in Jerusalem is School for Love by Olivia Manning. I am certainly personally going to concentrate on books by Middle Eastern authors, but that was an excellent novel.

I understand why the Middle East was limited to these countries, but I have been saving A Tunisian Tale by Hassouna Mosbahi for this theme read, and I may read it anyway even though it doesn't qualify.

I'm not sure what else I'll read, but I'd certainly like to read something from Syria, Iran, Iraq, and/or Saudia Arabia, as I feel I should know more about the literature of these countries.

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 8:58am

Recommendations from writers and scholars (translations from Arabic only (not necessarily in 'Middle East'); also from the blog that listed the Top 105)


Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 11:33pm

> 13

I've read all the books listed below except for the Shalev,

I'll personally vouch for the Shalev book! :)

The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev

Here's more...

The Zig Zag Kid - David Grossman
Dancing Arabs - Sayed Kashua - Palestinian author
Let it Be Morning - Sayed Kashua - Palestinian author
Returning Lost Loves - Yehoshua Kenaz
The Way to the Cats - Yehoshua Kenaz
Apples From the Desert - Savyon Liebrecht - short stories
A Good Place for the Night - Savyon Liebrecht - short stories

The Blind Owl - Sadek Hedavat


Jun 23, 2012, 10:27am

I am planning to read:

Pillars of Salt by Fadia Faqir (Jordan)
Beirut Blues by Hanan Al-Shaykh (Lebanon)
The Sand Fish by Maha Gargash (United Arab Emirates)

All three of these books have a setting that's in the same country as the author's nationality.

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 1:59pm

I'll make my plans 1 month at a time because my reading schedule is rather stretched for the next couple of months, and I'm not sure what I'll fit in. For July, I plan on reading The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer (Iran). In addition, I will be reading non-fiction works (though I recognize this group is more fiction-oriented): Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff (Egypt); and Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler (Holy Lands).

Jun 23, 2012, 12:32pm

Very excited about this theme read!

There is an impressive list of Hebrew language authors at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature website:


Jun 23, 2012, 12:33pm

I have several of these books on the TBR list, so will decide nearer the time which ones to go for once I've completed my current reading!

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 12:57pm

Hey Rachel-- as far as non-fiction, there is also your August Science, Religion & History group read book The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Gave Us the Renaissance by Jim Al-Khalili (Iraqi scientist).

I haven't been very active this year in the group, but I almost always wander off into non-fiction.

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 1:57pm

:) Thanks Janet. Yes, our The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Gave Us the Renaissance group read would certainly count as thematic non-fiction. If anyone here is interested in joining us in August, you're welcome! I can post the link once I've set up the thread.

ETA: The UK name for that book is Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science.

Jun 23, 2012, 2:17pm

I will be joining in this group probably in AUgust/September. I have plans for reading some Israeli novels this year, so these are some great ideas. I'd also be interested in Bruce Feiler's book--I enjoyed his Walking the Bible which I read a few years ago.

Jun 23, 2012, 2:36pm

Two excellent collections of short stories I enjoyed -

Ashes: and other stories by Naomi Shepherd
The Man Who Fell Into a Puddle: Israeli Lives (AKA 'Broken Promises) by Igal Sarna

Jun 23, 2012, 11:18pm

Thanks, everyone! I knew this group would come up with lots of great recommendations; keep 'em coming! Due to my late work night I'll incorporate your recommendations into the main list of authors either tomorrow or Monday.

>11 labfs39: Lisa, I know that this group is dedicated to fiction, but I am completely in favor of reading other genres as well. I had planned to read Out of Place: A Memoir by Edward Said this year, and this upcoming quarter would be a good time to get to it. I'd also like to read the two poetry collections by Adonis that I own, The Pages of Day and Night and The Songs of Mihyar of Damascus.

I have read several outstanding memoirs and other works of nonfiction by Middle Eastern authors in the past couple of years, namely A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life by Sari Nusseibeh, and I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Izzeldin Abuelaish.

>12 StevenTX: Steven, that Bloomsbury guide sounds like something I should get. Books written by non-Middle Eastern authors about the region are fine with me. Lois also suggested including books written by authors who were born in the Middle East but are currently living elsewhere, such as Rawi Hage, who was born in Lebanon but has lived in Canada for several years.

>13 avatiakh: Kerry, are there books by S.Y. Agnon that you've read and would recommend? Anyone else?

>14 rebeccanyc: Rebecca, I own several books by North African authors that I'm eager to read, including The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal and Maps by Nuruddin Farah. Has this group had a theme read on North Africa in the past?

>15 Rise: Thanks, Rise; I missed that entirely.

>16 SqueakyChu: I completely forgot about Sayed Kashua, Madeline; I own those two books as well. Thanks for mentioning him.

>18 The_Hibernator: Rachel, I'll also read The Septembers of Shiraz, for the Orange January/July group.

Jun 24, 2012, 2:40am

Darryl - I haven't read anything else by Agnon so can't comment as yet. I also have A journey to the end of the millenium by A B Yehoshua on my tbr pile but didn't mention it before as I'd prefer to add an Arab author to my reading for this theme. I might try for Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. I have several nonfiction books about the politics of the region i'd like to read but given my record for the year I won't mention them.

#16 - Madeline, yes, I forgot about Apples from the Desert, that is a great short story collection
#17 - Paul, I agree with The Man who fell into a puddle, I thought that was great too. Note that it is a nonfiction selection.

Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 9:40am

I have just started Naguib Mahfouz's Arabian Nights and Days.

I plan also to read a poetry collection by a Palestinian author: Like A Straw Bird It Follows Me by Ghassan Zaqtan, who was scheduled to attend the NYS Writers Institute last semester, but had to cancel due to Visa problems, hopefully to be rescheduled for this fall.

ETA: >25 kidzdoc: Since authors may also be born, but not currently living in the Middle East, I will add Fady Joudah's poetry collection, The Earth in the Attic. Joudah is Palestinian-American, raised in the Middle East and North Africa. He was Zaqtan's translator and is also a practicing physician in the U.S.

Jun 24, 2012, 8:55am

#25 I don't think we've ever done a North African read in this book. Admitting my lack of knowledge about North African literature, I wonder if there would be enough titles to make it a theme read -- there aren't that many countries in North Africa.

Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 10:03am

I'm a bit late to the party due to an ongoing family crisis, but I promised Darryl I'd cull the Middle-eastern authors from Belletrista's 17 existing issues. Any references to them should come up if you Google "Belletrista" and the author's name. Some are reviews, others have books in the new & notable sections, several are mentioned in or the subject of articles, and there are excerpts of books by Alexandra Chreiteh and Adania Shibli. Apologies for any redundancies from previous posts.

Maha Gargash

Ronda Jarrar

Nada Awar Jarrar
Hanan al-Shaykh
Iman Humaydan Younes
Joumana Haddad
Hala Kawtharani
Alexandra Chreiteh
Lamia Ziadé (graphic memoir)
Laila Halaby

Laleh Khadivi
Marjane Satrapi (graphic memoir)
Fariba Vafi
Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet
Shahnush Parsipur

Siba al-Harez

Adania Shibli
Selma Dabbagh
Susan Abulhawa (American of Palestinian descent, wrote Mornings in Jenin)

Rosa Yassin Hassan

Gail Hareven
Sayyon Liebrecht
Michal Govrin
Yael Hedaya
Gavriela Avigur-Rolem
Rula Jebreal
Dorit Rabinyan
Rutu Modan (graphic novelist)
Chochana Boukhobza

Nawal el Saadawi
Radwa Ashour
Andree Chedid
Ahdaf Soueif
Inji Amir
Amina Zayden
Reem Bassiouney
Dominique Eddé (Egypt/Lebanon)
Anne-Marie Drosso


I want to also add that, for those in the US, there are some very good Middle-eastern movies available from Netflix.

>28 rebeccanyc: There are LOTS of North Africa titles and certainly enough for a theme read!!! I've read 4 or 5 from Morocco, 1 or 2 from Tunisia, 8 or 9 from Algeria, 3 or 4 from the Sudan, then there's Egypt again, and Somalia...

Jun 24, 2012, 10:17am

Thanks, Lois, for all those names, and also good to know about all the North Africa titles. 2013 anyone?

Jun 24, 2012, 12:03pm

#25 - Yes Darryl, I have read S. Y. Agnon's Only Yesterday - it was my read for the Migration theme last year - and can highly recommend it. I gave it five stars and my review can be found on the book's page. It is a wonderful (though not short) read, and certainly lived up to the billing as arguably Agnon's greatest work, and among the greatest ever in the Hebrew language.

It will delight many, but I think it will especially satisfy anyone wanting to know what life was like in early 20th century Palestine from the perspective of an immigrant Zionist. I will definitely read more of Agnon when I get the chance. I think he is a writer whose work is really to be savoured slowly, it is so simultaneously rich on so many levels. He is Israel's only Nobel laureate for literature to date.

I'm thinking I'll go for Etgar Keret's recently published Suddenly, A Knock On The Door as it was a birthday present last month, and also Yaakov Shabtai's Past Continuous - the latter being recommended to me once by a friend in Tel Aviv as 'the greatest Israeli novel ever' - quite a claim! It looks quite challenging to me, but very valuable as an example of Tel Aviv in a modernist novel. The English translation was published in 1985 and in the UK critic Gabriel Josipovici of The Independent named it the greatest novel of the decade.

I am also thinking of going for Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz which my local library has.

Jun 24, 2012, 4:19pm

>30 rebeccanyc: It occurs to me that, when I have time, I should come back and put the names in touchstones. That era of the touchstones not working got me out of the habit!

Jun 24, 2012, 5:14pm

I'm really enjoying this thread and am having fun deciding what to read for the Theme Read.

I've found a couple of books to add to the recommendations list:

Homesick by Eshkol Nevo - 4 stars

A Girl made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi - 3 1/2 stars
A Good Land by Nada Awar Jarrar - I rated this only 2 1/2 stars but you never know, someone else might love it!

If anyone wants to veer into non-fiction, I really enjoyed Sharon and my Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries by Suad Amiry and A Wall in Palestine by Rene Backmann (both 4 stars).

Jun 24, 2012, 11:20pm

Oh, I read A Girl Made of Dust and Sharon and my Mother-in-Law too. I wonder why they didn't come up in my search. I read almost all of A Wall in Palestine, but it made me so unbelievably sad about the Palestinian-Israeli quagmire that I couldn't finish. It was very good, just very sad.

Jun 25, 2012, 8:45am

Wow! So many new titles to add to Mt. TBR! I have read a few of the titles mentioned and look forward to this group read. Last year I read a collection of short stories from new writers, Beirut 39: New Writing from the Arab World. Very, very interesting collection.

Thanks for the great set up on this theme read!

Jun 26, 2012, 9:50am

>26 avatiakh: Thanks, Kerry. I'll look for Only Yesterday later today. If I can't find it, I'll probably read A Book That Was Lost, a compilation of Agnon's short stories that is available as a Kindle book in the US for $5.99. I'll read Palace Walk next month, so I hope that you decide to read it as well.

>27 Linda92007: I'll be interested to get your opinion about Arabian Nights and Days, Linda. I've added The Earth in the Attic to my wish list, and I'll look for it today as well.

>28 rebeccanyc:-30 Regarding North African literature, I agree with Lois; there are plenty of books I already own and am eager to read from that region, including The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal, Children of the New World and Algerian Stories by Assia Djebar, Knots and Maps by Nuruddin Farah, The Pillar of Salt by Albert Memmi, and The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih. I would love to see a North African theme in 2013!

>31 Polaris-: Thanks for that glowing recommendation of Only Yesterday. I'll order it if I can't find it here in San Francisco. I wanted to read at least one book by him primarily because he is Israel's only Nobel laureate to date, although I hope that Amos Oz will soon join him in receiving that honor.

I look forward to your comments about Past Continuous, and I hope that you'll read Palace Walk with us.

>32 avaland: Sounds good, Lois.

>33 cushlareads: Thanks for those recommendations, Cushla. I'll add them and those of everyone else to the master list over the next day or two. Thanks for mentioning Sharon and My Mother-in-Law; I accidentally received it several years ago from Granta Books, but haven't read it yet.

>34 labfs39: That reminds me of a book about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that I own, about an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian prisoner. I can't think of the name of it offhand, but I might try to get to it this coming quarter as well.

>35 hemlokgang: Thanks for the reminder about Beirut 39, another book I own but haven't read yet.

Jun 26, 2012, 10:22am

I am thinking that I will tackle The Alexandria Quartet as I have had it in Mt. TBR for a while.

Jun 26, 2012, 7:12pm

>37 hemlokgang: I'd also like to read The Alexandria Quartet, but I won't get to it anytime soon.

Back to >27 Linda92007:: Linda, I found Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems and The Earth in the Attic at City Lights Bookstore this afternoon, so I'll read them next quarter as well.

Jun 26, 2012, 8:37pm

There are several books here I have started and set aside (David Grossman, Amos Oz, Lawrence Durrell), so this theme might be the impetus needed to pick them up again.

>6 kidzdoc: If there are enough people interested, I too would be interested in a read and discussion of The Cairo Trilogy

Jun 26, 2012, 9:31pm

>6 kidzdoc: & 39 I was thinking of reading Midaq Alley instead of The Cairo Trilogy, but if there's a group read I might switch over to the trilogy...assuming the group read lasts the entire quarter.

Jun 26, 2012, 11:36pm

I'll have to do a head count, but it seems as though there are at least half a dozen people in the Reading Globally and 75 Books groups that have expressed interest in a group read of The Cairo Trilogy. So, I'll create a thread for it later this week.

>40 The_Hibernator: Right, Rachel. I had planned to read one book of the trilogy each month, so it will last for the entire third quarter. Participants can read at their own pace, though. I won't start reading it until I return to Atlanta the week after next, at the earliest.

Jun 27, 2012, 12:43am

I loved The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal. You won't be disappointed there, I think. I also enjoyed The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih and am thinking of a speed re-read, as I never wrote a review, and I would like to sum up my thoughts (so that I can remember them next year!)

Jun 27, 2012, 12:48am

Count me in on The Cairo Trilogy . . . Assuming I will be able to get this through my library.

Jun 27, 2012, 7:18am

I've just created a thread for the group read of Naguib Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy, which will run from July 1 to September 30:


Jun 29, 2012, 1:17pm

Here's my chance to get The Egyptologist: A Novel by Arthur Phillips off my shelf!

I've been reading Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo if anyone is looking for a memoir. The focus is more on food in the middle east although there's a good dose of Sunni/Shiite history and politics mixed in.

Jun 29, 2012, 2:48pm

I just picked up Day of Honey at a library book sale. Are you enjoying it?

Jun 29, 2012, 11:41pm

Whew! Except for the massive list of Hebrew language authors that PolarisBeacon referred to in message #19, I have now incorporated everyone's suggestions into the list of recommended reads, which can be found in messages #2, 3 and 4. I would encourage you to take another look, if you haven't done so recently.

Jun 30, 2012, 9:21am

I'll definitely start with Scenes From Village Life by Amos Oz.

One book I really liked that hasn't been mentioned yet is Teta, Mother And Me by Jean Said Makdisi, a three-generation family memoir by Edward Said's sister which really gives a great overview of the social and political changes in the Near East over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Jun 30, 2012, 9:31am

Thanks, wandering_star; I've just added Teta, Mother and Me to the list, under Syria.

Keep those recommendations coming!

I loved Scenes from Village Life, so I'm glad that you've decided to read it. His earlier novel My Michael will probably be the first novel I read for this theme, since I have it on my Kindle.

Jun 30, 2012, 10:48am

#47 Wow, thanks Darryl! And alphabetized too!

Jun 30, 2012, 12:00pm

Yes, that must have taken an awful lot of work!

Jun 30, 2012, 12:46pm

Thanks Darryl for the sterling work. I have another Amos Oz book for you to add... It's the last one published before the recent Scenes From Village Life: Rhyming Life and Death.

It's a fascinating insight into the mind of an unnamed famous novelist (Amos is in very playful form with this one) who is to attend a public reading of his work one summer evening in Tel Aviv. It's a short novel and a very enjoyable read.

While I'm here, another Yehoshua Kenaz one I've had on the shelf for ages and been meaning to read is Infiltration.

Jun 30, 2012, 6:56pm

>50 rebeccanyc:-52 You're welcome, Rebecca, Rachel and Paul. I did spend 2-3 hours incorporating those recommendations, but it was an enjoyable task.

>52 Polaris-: Thanks for mentioning Rhyming Life and Death, Paul. I read it last year or the year before and enjoyed it as well.

I'll add Infiltration to the list now. Thanks!

Jul 1, 2012, 9:55am

Well, I finished my first book! Ok, I finished it yesterday. But we'll just pretend I finished it in July. My full review for The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer can be found on my 75ers thread post 175. Or are we supposed to post the full review in this group? I'm not sure what the rules are.

I liked The Septembers of Shiraz, but felt that I ought to have liked it more than I did. I just didn't feel emotionally engaged with the characters, and it didn't teach me anything new about the Iranian Revolution since I've already read books covering the same issues. In fact, I noticed that The Complete Persepolis (which I read earlier in the year post 64 in this thread) had managed to cover most of the same issues (except Jewishness) in graphic novel form--an impressive feat. I'm wondering if Sofer might have read too many novels about the Iranian revolution before writing Septembers of Shiraz, and ended up with a derivative story. I hate to say that, because it really was a good book...but it's just the feeling I had while reading it. :( Sorry!

I'm currently working on Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff as my next theme read.

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 10:18am

Is anyone interested in a group read of The Alexandria Quartet ?

Jul 1, 2012, 10:23am

I am interested in rereading The Alexandria Quartet at some point, since I read it in my early 20s, but there are other books I"m interesting in reading for this theme read. If you do a group read, I'll follow along and return to it when I do reread the Quartet.

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 1:27pm

>54 The_Hibernator: I had the same feeling, Hibernator: that I should have liked Septembers of Shiraz more than I did. I've been wondering if I should reread it because everyone else seemed to like it so much. Nice to know we had a similar reaction. (Herd instinct of safety in numbers). :-)

Edited to fix touchstone

Jul 2, 2012, 7:00am

It's nice to know I'm not the only one Lisa! :) I felt vaguely guilty for not liking it more for some reason.

Jul 2, 2012, 5:17pm

46 labfs39
I like Day of Honey so far, it's just taking me a long while to get through. There's a lot of information to take in.

Jul 2, 2012, 7:22pm

Today's New York Times includes a feature article about Iranian author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, whose novel The Colonel has just been published in the US in English translation. I bought a copy of it in London last summer, and I'll read it no later than next month. I saw a copy of Missing Soluch, his other novel that has been translated into English, at City Lights Bookstore last week, and I'll buy it when I go there tomorrow.

I especially liked the first paragraph of the article:

After being arrested in 1974 by the Savak, the shah’s secret police, the Iranian writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi asked his interrogators just what crime he had committed. “None,” he recalled them responding, “but everyone we arrest seems to have copies of your novels, so that makes you provocative to revolutionaries.”

An Iranian Storyteller's Personal Revolution

Jul 2, 2012, 7:44pm

I just picked up Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji and I am really looking forward to reading it.

Jul 3, 2012, 1:38pm

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

While at times I found The Septembers of Shiraz a compelling read, ultimately I didn't find it very satisfying. Maybe I've read too many books about political oppression and torture all around the world in the last few years.

Sofer's story of the tribulations of Iranian-Jewish Amin family suffers, I think, from a third person omniscient viewpoint spread too thinly among the four members of Amin family: readers are not only privy to the thoughts and experiences of Isaac, a gem dealer arrested by the Revolutionary Guards, but also to his wife, Farnaz; his son Parviz, who has been sent to university in New York; and to his young daughter, Shirin. I generally appreciate multiple viewpoints in a novel, but here the shifting viewpoints seem to give the readers diluted characters and lessening tension.

Jul 3, 2012, 5:23pm

Hmm...these reviews of The Septembers of Shiraz aren't exactly encouraging. I had intended to read it this month, but I might choose another book instead.

Jul 4, 2012, 10:04am

I'm in awe... Thanks Darryl and Steven for pointing me over here. I may add a few books to your list. I'm focusing on Israel, but didn't had access to lists like these.

One question : must the author be from the country, or is the country/region as subject of the book enough?

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 10:26am

>64 dchaikin: Dan, the country or region as the subject of the book is sufficient; the author doesn't have to come from a Middle Eastern country. For example, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel counts for this challenge.

Jul 4, 2012, 10:26am

Some to consider

Iraq :
Papa Sartre by Ali Bader - maybe a 3.5 star read

Israel :
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden - graphic travelogue, highly recommended - but American author

DeNiro's Game by Rawi Hage - IMPAC winner

Some I haven't read, but want to:

Not the Israel my Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar - graphic- American author
City of Oranges : An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa by Adam LeBor

And, from Darryl's lists above, I can highly recommend When I lived in Modern Times and, not quite as highly but still recommended as very good, the graphic novel Exit Wounds - both take place in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Jul 4, 2012, 7:29pm

>66 dchaikin:

I'd like to second the recommendation of When I Lived In Modern Times - the Orange Prize winner by Linda Grant - an excellent historical fiction set in the time of 1940s Tel Aviv.

I'm kicking off this quarter read with Scenes From Village Life by Amos Oz.

Jul 5, 2012, 3:23pm

There is a very interesting article in today's NY Times about Boualem Sansal, author of The German Mujahid. The monetary award for a prize that he recently won was revoked because he had visited Israel. Very thought-provoking in light of the topic of this book.

Jul 5, 2012, 7:17pm

>68 catarina1: Right. Here's a link to the article:

Arab Envoys Rebuked for Denying Prize Money to Algerian Writer

Basically what happened is that Sansal was selected as the winner of this year's Prix du Roman Arabe (Arabic Novel Prize), a French literary award sponsored by the Arab Ambassadors' Council, a group of diplomats from Arab League nations, and judged by an independent jury, for his novel Rue Darwin. After he was announced as the winner, he traveled to Jerusalem to speak at the International Writers Festival. His appearance was later denounced by Hamas, who claimed that he committed "an act of treason against the Palestinian people" by attending this conference and the comments he gave there. As a result, the council decided to cancel the award ceremony and rescind the monetary award that accompanied it, because Sansal's attendance there was in opposition to their countries' political policies. Sansal was given the prize in a private ceremony, without the €15,000 he should have won.

The jury of the Prix du Roman Arabe intends to seek new sponsors next year, in order to avoid further corruption of art by politics.

Jul 6, 2012, 8:32am

What a shame about Sansal! :(

I have finished the biography Cleopatra: A Life, which takes place in Alexandria, Egypt. It was interesting to me because I've not read much about Cleopatra in the past. I think this book is a good start for someone like me, but I imagine there are more formal, well organized biographies out there. I would have been interested in learning a lot more about the politics of the events than was explained in this book. You can read my full review on my blog.

I'm currently reading Samir and Yonatan, by Daniella Carmi, an Israeli author. I don't figure this group is much interested in children's literature, but I figured since this book HAD been translated from Hebrew I'd mention it anyway. :) It's about a Palestinian boy who breaks his leg and has to go to a Jewish hospital for a special operation. There, he must fight he fear of Israelis, and, predictably, he makes a new Israeli friend. :)

Jul 6, 2012, 10:51am

#70, I loved Cleopatra: A Life, and I thought it was utterly fascinating, and gave a wonderful portrait not only of Cleopatra as a compelling, remarkable, educated, and politically brilliant woman but also of Alexandria, Egypt in general, and the turbulent times, as discussed in more detail in my review on the book page. I haven't read other biographies of Cleopatra either, but I really could find no fault with this one.

Jul 6, 2012, 11:13am

>71 rebeccanyc: Oh I definitely see the appeal of Cleopatra: A Life...I just wished there was more coverage on her relationship with Ceasar and the political implications of that. The first part of the biography (which talked about Ceasar) wasn't as well organized as the part about her relationship with Antony.

Jul 6, 2012, 12:22pm

# 70 - I read Samir and Yonatan a few years ago, with my daughter's religious ed class. It was pretty good, I thought.

# 68 and 69 - Has anyone read Rue Darwin? This controversy makes me want to read it.

Jul 6, 2012, 12:27pm

I think that The German Mujahid is his only book that has been translated into English. The others are in French, I think.

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 12:40pm

>74 catarina1: I think you're right. An Unfinished Business is the UK title for The German Mujahid. Hopefully this controversy will pay off for Sansal, and permit more of his novels to be translated into English.

Jul 6, 2012, 8:08pm

I am delayed in reporting here that I have finished and posted a brief review of blue has no south, a slim volume of short-short stories by an Israeli author, Alex Epstein. He is obviously a very talented writer, capable of crafting a story in very few words, and I did enjoy the book. However, there were aspects of his writing that left me feeling uncomfortable, although I am finding it difficult to articulate exactly why. There is an unemotional yet aggressive tone to some of the stories, while in others he writes about emotions and suffering in a way that felt distant. I wish I had a better sense of what Epstein was really trying to communicate.

Jul 6, 2012, 11:11pm

I tried reading this but only managed 10 or so pages before giving up. The prose was just to sparse for me and like you say, without feeling. I generally enjoy flash fiction but this didn't do anything for me.

Jul 7, 2012, 4:06pm

I've finished Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour and have reviewed it on my 75 Challenge thread.

I liked the novel's structure and the bitter humour - the narrator is an author trying to get a love story published, but of course there is so much that he can't have his main characters say or do. The draft novel is written in bold, with lots of text struck through, and his thoughts about how to write it are in normal text. It is probably the funniest book I've read about Iran but at the same time very depressing. Unfortunately I felt like the last 100 pages really dragged, and weird things started to happen. I don't usually like magical realism but if you do, it might be a 4 or 5 star read.

Jul 7, 2012, 4:11pm

I've finished my first book for this theme: In the Heart of the Seas by Shmuel Josef Agnon.

Describing the pilgrimage of a small band of Jews from Galicia to Jerusalem around 200 years ago, this book is not so much about Israel itself as about the idea of Israel and how important it is to Jewish culture. My full review is on the book page.

Edited: Jul 9, 2012, 7:47pm

Ok, I haven't read a single books since I originally saw this thread, but I have just reviewed two on Israel ...and just, briefly, commented on a short story on Israel from an Armenian perspective...and reviewed another a mere six days ago...

Ok quick comments. I read these all in June. You can find the reviews on the work page or on my thread in the links

When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant - Absolutely loved this look at 1946 pre-Israel Jews and British, mainly in Tel Aviv. Posted on my thread here

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden - A look at Israel from a conflicted American Jewish perspective, in graphic form. Just reviewed on my thread here.

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan - This graphic novel opens as a taxi driver in Tel Aviv is taken aside by a young, awkwardly tall female soldier, who informs him that the unidentified body in a café bombing is probably his estranged father. Just reviewed on my thread here.

The short story I read was from a 2004 issue of The Missouri Review. It's titled Bringing Ararat by Armand ML Inezian (who has a completely unrelated book coming out soon). In the story a young Armenian is left behind with his younger sister in Israel, while the rest of the family moves to the United States. Sent money to join the family, he hesitates, feeling more at home in Israel than anywhere else he has lived. It was wonderfully done and a fascinating look at Armenian culture and history.

Jul 11, 2012, 11:29pm

I am planning to read the following books during the quarter:

When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
Links by Nuruddin Farah
A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz
The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz

I already read The Septembers of Shiraz last week and I'm glad I hadn't seen this thread before because I'm sure it would have affected my feelings about the book. I actually enjoyed it, possibly because I hadn't read anything set during the Iranian Revolution.

I know that technically the Amos Oz book doesn't belong here because it's a memoir but I'm just going to read it because it fits the geographical designation. I'm looking forward to the Farah book because I'm going to be hearing him speak in a few months.

I'm presently reading Palace Walk.

Edited: Jul 12, 2012, 8:06am

Does Links count as Middle Eastern literature? I have that book on my Nook...

ETA: I'm glad you weren't influenced by our luke-warm receptions of The Septembers of Shiraz, that's exactly why I felt bad saying I didn't really like it...because it seemed like the type of book I SHOULD have liked. I would hate to influence someone into not liking it. :)

Jul 12, 2012, 8:55am

>81 brenzi: Even though this group's main focus is on literature, I'm counting nonfiction, poetry, YA literature, graphic novels, etc. I've read one book of poetry already and I'm planning to read several others this quarter. I'm also planning to read at least a couple of nonfiction books, including Out of Place: A Memoir by Edward W. Said, which I'll start this week.

>82 The_Hibernator: Rachel's right; Links technically doesn't count, as Farah is from Somalia, a country that isn't part of the traditional Middle East. Based on earlier comments from Lois and Rebecca, I'm hopeful that there will be a North African Literature quarterly theme in 2013, as I have quite a few novels that I'd like to read from that region, including several by Farah.

Edited: Jul 12, 2012, 10:15am

I finished Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler. I enjoyed it, but I didn't have much to say about it because it was so short. I will just post my "review" here:

In this short work, Feiler reviews the Biblical story of Abraham and then describes how the myth of Abraham has changed over time and between the Abrahamic religions. It is well-written and interesting, and its length is well-suited for the amount of information Feiler wishes to convey. (There were no lengthy speculations in order to add bulk.) I enjoyed it and learned a little bit, too!

Also, I have set up a thread for an August group read of a history book covering the development of science in the Middle East during the Middle Ages. It is written by an Iraqi scientist. The book is House of Wisdom, by Jim Al-Kahalili (a.k.a. Pathfinders in the UK). Anyone is welcome to join in and add this book to their Middle Eastern literature theme. The thread is here.

ETA: Ok, he's not an Iraqi scientist, he's an Iraqi-born scientist.

Edited: Jul 12, 2012, 12:53pm

I've started reading Palestinian walks by Raja Shehadeh - non-fiction about the changing landscape around Ramallah over Shehadeh's lifetime.

#84 House of Wisdom sounds fascinating...at least the topic is fascinating

ETA - fixed touchstone based on comment in #87

Jul 12, 2012, 11:49am

Jim Al-Khalili does a lot of broadcasting on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, and he is always very interesting. I'll look out for the book.

Jul 12, 2012, 12:16pm

>86 wandering_star: Be careful if you're looking in the US...there's another book by the same title on the same topic. :) They should have kept the name Pathfinders for US instead of picking a less unique name. :)

Jul 12, 2012, 1:49pm

I'm surprised that in listing non-fiction about the Middle East no one has listed the following:

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Nine Parts of Desire, the Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks
The Places In Between by Rory Stewart
The Lemon Tree, An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan

Edited: Jul 12, 2012, 2:01pm

Maggie, I plan on reading Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Lemon Tree, I just haven't said that yet. :) I also plan on reading I Shall Not Hate and HOPEFULLY A Tale of Love and Darkness. I was going to try reading The Blood of Flowers as well, but I might not get to everything planned. I have a rather heavy reading plan for the next few months, and I don't want to over-commit myself.

Jul 12, 2012, 7:17pm

I have finished, and really enjoyed, Scenes From Village Life. Now staying in Israel, although with a rather different twist, with The Saturday Morning Murder

Jul 12, 2012, 11:04pm

>82 The_Hibernator: and 83. Well of course you're both right. Somalia is not in the Middle East; don't know what I was thinking. Well I'll probably read it anyway, if not this quarter then next. I just won't count it for the Middle Eastern Theme Read.

Jul 12, 2012, 11:36pm

I've finished S. Y. Agnon's epic Only Yesterday, it was a great read, one that needs to be taken slowly and savoured. I'm still considering how I feel about different aspects of it and need to finish reading the introduction which I always prefer to only glance at before I begin a book as they tend to give away too much of the plot.

Jul 13, 2012, 4:29pm

Based on the talk above about the revocation of his prize and monetary reward, I've put The German Mujahid on hold at the library.

Jul 15, 2012, 12:18pm

Distant View of a Minaret, and Other Stories by Alifa Rifaat
cross posted from my Club Read & 75 Books threads

Alifa Rifaat was an Egyptian writer who wrote in the 1950s - 1980s and lived a largely very traditional life. Her stories focus on the lives of women, often in rural settings, and present a straigrohtforward view of sex, love and its absence, and death Women's lives are hard, and Rifaat shows their struggles for happiness in a culture in which men often do not live up to the family and sexual obligations required by their religion. Some of the most moving stories involve the closeness some of the characters to the rural world and its animals, more so, perhaps, then to other people. The daily five calls to prayer set a rhythm for the book, and mark the passing of time. As with any collection, some stories are better than others, but taken together they provide a vivid sense of time and place and the limitations of a world in which a women's role is circumscribed not only by poverty but also by oppressive tradition.

Jul 16, 2012, 12:58am

#93 The German Mujahid was one of my favorite reads of last year (or the year before?).

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 11:55pm

Only Yesterday by S.Y.Agnon (1945)

S.Y. Agnon is Israel's only Nobel Prize winner and this is his magnum opus. A sprawling, chaotic literary novel that details the life of Isaac Kumer when he ascends to the land of Israel as part of the second aliyah between 1904 to 1912. Agnon wrote this through the late 1930s -1943 and it was first published in Israel in 1945. There are so many layers to this novel, much to admire and enjoy. I'm still coming back to it and reconsidering especially after reading the excellent introduction essay.
What I loved were the many colourful characters, the detailed descriptions of Jerusalem neighbourhoods, of Jaffa and the early neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv. Back in his Austrian-Galician village Isaac dreams his Zionist dreams of Israel, of working the land with his fellow Jewish brothers and sisters, but on arrival he is totally unprepared for the reality of the situation. Those farmers of the first aliyah prefer to hire Arab labour rather than the politically activated Jewish socialists and idealists lining up for work. An outsider, never quite fitting in anywhere even his fellow Zionists are almost all Russian, and with no money or work Isaac must focus on daily survival rather than the political ideals that brought him here.
At first I found the writing style a little hard to get into, but once I got used to the style I found it fascinating. The breadth of the novel is epic, there are wonderful glimpses into the religious communities of Jerusalem of the time, folktales, surreal-like passages with a dog named Balak, a modern woman and a religious one who both capture Isaac's heart. But this is not a straightforward story, not by any means, Isaac is never quite the hero but he is on a journey and he takes us on a bountiful ride. Yes, layers on layers.

@PolarisBeacon (Paul) wrote a great review of OY last year, he encouraged me to finally pick it up and I'm very happy I did.

I'm hoping to start on Palace Walk before the end of the month.

Jul 17, 2012, 12:44am

Wonderful review. I must look for this one.

Jul 17, 2012, 5:54am

>97 labfs39: - It's a brilliant novel.

>96 avatiakh: - Thanks for the review Kerry, and your kind words. Looks like you had a similar experience with it as I did.

Jul 17, 2012, 10:19am

Lovely review -- must keep this one on my radar.

Jul 18, 2012, 8:55am

#96 avatiakh - Very nice review! Jaffa and Tel Aviv in 1943...this might be a perfect book for me right now...unfortunately it's not that easy to get a hold of. (going to read the review by PolarisBeacon)

Jul 18, 2012, 11:59am

>100 dchaikin:
Just so you're prepared, Only Yesterday is set in pre-WWI Jaffa, Jerusalem etc., and not in the 1940s. Tel Aviv was just at its very first stages of development. Still, it's a really good read if you can get a copy.

While I'm here, If you are interested in a good novel set in 1940s Tel Aviv then I recommend When I Lived In Modern Times by Linda Grant. She evokes the Bauhaus 'White City' of 1940s Tel Aviv better than anyone else I've yet encountered. It's very well written.

Jul 18, 2012, 12:13pm

#101 I read Linda Grant's in June, a great recommendation. (Lost up there in post 80.)

Jul 18, 2012, 12:51pm

Great minds....

Jul 18, 2012, 3:10pm

Another pre-Independence book worth looking at is Bernice Rubens' The Sergeants' Tale.

One that's a bit hard to track down in English but worth seeking out is Nahum Gutman's Path of the Orange Peels: Adventures in the Early Days of Tel Aviv. It's set during WW1 and covers the expulsion of all the Jewish population from Tel Aviv, something I knew little about before reading this. Gutman, a major Israeli artist, has filled it with quaint illustrations and side notes and while it's a classic children's book, it's one of those timeless reads that suit all ages.

Jul 18, 2012, 6:44pm

I finished and REVIEWED Palace Walk and now I can't wait for others to read it because there's so much to talk about. In addition to the repression of women, the occupation of Egypt by the British after WWI was a large theme in the book.

I am moving on to When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant. I have to thank Darryl for getting me interested in the Reading Globally Theme Read. I am really looking forward to the rest of The Cairo Trilogy.

Jul 18, 2012, 8:27pm

>104 avatiakh:

Thanks for reminding me about those two books.

Jul 18, 2012, 9:02pm

I meant to start Palace Walk today, but opened up Love and Exile and was immediately hooked. Perhaps I can fit both in before the end of the month.

Jul 19, 2012, 12:00pm

#107 That's Poland, not the Middle East... ;)

Finished Palestinian Walks, a memoir by Raja Shehadeh, but I haven't reviewed it. This is a Palestinian perspective on Israel. It was tough for me in some ways, as Shehadeh is very reasonable about realities in Israel that I have trouble confronting. Recommended for understanding Israel, also it's an easy read.

Jul 19, 2012, 12:31pm

#104 - avatiakh - interesting, noting.

#150 - brenzi - Noting especially your enthusiasm for when my interests align with books on Egypt and/or by Mahfouz...probably not in time for this group read. : /

Jul 19, 2012, 12:44pm

I finished My Michael by Amos Oz last week, which I'll review in the next day or two. After I finish my current LT Early Reviewer book I'll start Palace Walk, which I should finish by Sunday.

Edited: Jul 19, 2012, 2:13pm

"Women are just another kind of domestic animal, and must be treated like one" (Yasin, 363)

I finished Palace Walk two days ago and began immediately with Nawal El Saadawi’s autobiography A daughter of Isis, which is balm.

Edited: Jul 19, 2012, 4:24pm

Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

5-star writing, but I'm taking off one star for what seem to me to be overly neat coincidences in plot development. This book was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker. Soueif also translated I saw Ramallah, which was a 5-star read for me.

This was basically the story of the relationship between a British woman and Egyptian man set in turn-of-the-18th-to-19th century Egypt. I normally don't like romance for the sake of romance, and that was what seemed too neat in this story - but I did enjoy the depiction of Egyptian culture and the tension between Egyptians and the British.

I am following up with Soueif's In the eye of the sun.


Naphtalene by Alia Mamdouh translated into English by Peter Theroux: fiction set in Baghdad in the 1950s, told from the viewpoint of 9-year-old Huda.

This novel depicts family life and women's lives in a working-class neighborhood in Bagdhad. Huda's father Jamil works as a prison guard and is gone for weeks at a time. Huda, her younger brother & her mother live with her father's mother and sister. Huda's mother has tuberculosis and can have no more children. Her father marries a 2nd wife near his job who can give him children and sends his first wife back to her family. I'm about 1/3 of the way through and Jamil's sister has just married her cousin, a marriage their mother has been advocating, but that Jamil boycotts.

Those of you who enjoy magical realism more than I do would probably enjoy this one. I'm very glad I have a group to read this with (Goodreads North Africa/Middle East group), as I tried to read it on my own a few years ago and didn't finish. Huda tells her story in both 1st & 2nd person, which I find jarring, but when I can stop trying to analyze/figure out what's going on, I get caught up in the flow.

Edited: Jul 31, 2012, 4:35pm

I have quite a few Israelis on Mt. TBR, so this Theme Read is perfect. I got to start off with really great one too!


My First Sony by Benny Barbash

10-year-old Yotam relays the fate of his dysfunctional yet loving family through the recordings he makes on a tape recorder he gets from his father. This stream-of-consciousness story takes a few pages to get into since Yotam transcribes recorded conversations that he doesn't always himself understand - although the reader does - along with his own ponderings and tangents thrown in. It never ceases to be fascinating, though, even borderline addictive, since you can virtually feel every person's passion for the point they're making, whether it be right-wing politics or left, religion or secularism, love or hate. It's a tragic, funny, and sometimes frustrating roller-coaster ride which ultimately describes a microcosm of Israeli contemporary society with its numerous and inherently disparate views on life.

Jul 19, 2012, 11:01pm

#108 That's Poland, not the Middle East... ;)

Ha, ha, Dan. I simply meant that I might have two rather large books left in me for the month, not that they are both from the Middle East. Sorry if my post was confusing.

#109 I must try some Ahdaf Soueif, Ardene. Your reviews have sold me.

#113 This sounds interesting too, Eva. *wishlist begins to groan under the weight*

Jul 20, 2012, 8:23am

Lisa, Just giving you a hard time.

Eva - intrigued by this comment: "which ultimately describes a microcosm of Israeli contemporary society" - this happens to be the kind of book I'm looking for at the moment.

Jul 20, 2012, 6:49pm

->115 dchaikin:
He does manage to include an amazing array of viewpoints - all of which are present in contemporary Israel. Lots of historical info in this one, which can be a lot if you have no previous knowledge, FYI. Unfortunately, this is his only novel translated into English so far.

Jul 21, 2012, 9:06am

I've finally started a book that fits this challenge!

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan.

Jul 21, 2012, 7:13pm

I finished and REVIEWED Linda Grant's 2000 Orange Prize winner When I Lived in Modern Times. This is my first Grant book but certainly won't be my last.

>80 dchaikin:, 101 I will agree with both of you as to the ability of Grant to evoke the time and place--Palestine, 1946--as Israel tried to gain freedom from the British mandate. Breathtaking prose and sense of being on the streets of Tel Aviv just incredibly well done.

Jul 21, 2012, 10:27pm

Great review Brenzi. If you're interested in photography (by one of the masters), there's a bunch of Robert Capa photos of Tel Aviv taken during the period Grant's book is set in. You could even check out Robert Capa: Photographs from Israel, 1948-1950 if you were so inclined.

I'm loving this theme read!

Edited: Jul 22, 2012, 4:54pm

#116 - thanks Eva.

#117 bookwoman247 - Very curious about The Lemon Tree.

#118 brenzi - Enjoyed your review. I would also like to read more Grant.

# 119 PalorisBeacon - Here is a link with some of these photos at magnumphotos.com: HERE

Jul 22, 2012, 7:46pm

#120 dchaikin: I haven't had time for reading today. I'm only on about pg. 100. So far, The Lemon Tree is very good, seems very well-researched, and I'm learning a lot of historical details about the birth of modern Israel and Palestine. However, I'm still waiting for the two people to meet! Also, I've read one or two reviews that say that it reads like fiction. That is not at all the case, IMO. Still, I think it offers valuable insight to today's Middle East chaos, most of wjhich I'd already intuited. Now I know why I feel the way I do about the situation ... no one is right and no one is wrong. It's just a big ol' mess.

Jul 22, 2012, 9:26pm

>119 Polaris-: Thanks so much PolarisBeacon. I think I will check out the Capa book. I'm loving this theme read as well.

>120 dchaikin: Thanks dchaikan. Grant has published quite a few books. I have her The Clothes on Their Backs on my shelf.

Jul 22, 2012, 9:57pm

It's so long since I read When I lived in modern times that all these glowing comments are making me feel like picking it up for a reread. I read Tel Aviv: From Dream to City a couple of years ago which is a nonfiction look at the city, its architecture and history, so would probably enjoy another look at her descriptions of Tel Aviv in the 1940s.
I've also read her People on the street: a writer's view of Israel and The clothes on their backs.

Jul 22, 2012, 11:59pm

#123 avatiakh - Glad you mentioned People on the street. I wasn't aware of it. It's on kindle, and I may start that as my next book.

Jul 23, 2012, 10:31am

The Proof of the Honey by the Syrian-born author Salwa Al Neimi is a short novel exploring sensuality and eroticism in Arab culture through its literature going back to the Middle Ages. The narrator is a librarian and researcher who discovers in her reading, her conversations, and in her own feelings that there is an innate frankness about sensuality and desire in Arab culture that has been obscured but not eradicated by political and religious repression.

This is an interesting but not essential work that would be especially recommended for those who are interested in reading pre-20th century Arab literature. The author names and quotes from a variety of Arab writers.

Jul 23, 2012, 11:06am

Those are interesting comments, Steven. I was somewhat surprised in Distant View of a Minaret by the frank acknowledgment of women's sexual needs, given as you say the repression of women.

Jul 23, 2012, 11:31am

Yes, they are very similar in that respect, and Al Neimi recounts episodes of adultery, teenage sex, etc. that are so reminiscent of some of Rifaat's stories that I had the feeling I had read them before.

Jul 24, 2012, 8:12am

Just finished Scenes From Village Life by Oz. Not going to review it I don't think, as the reviews already up on the book's page are excellent and I don't think I'm going to say anything to add to it. Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the eight short loosely connected stories. Oz is in fine form. I loved them all, especially the longer 'Digging' and also 'Singing'.

Going to start Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato which I've had on my shelf waiting for far too long. I'm postponing my reads of Past Continuous and Palace Walk until later in August as I'm in the mood currently for something shorter than those two.

Jul 25, 2012, 8:17pm

Read Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, a graphic memoir of sorts by Harvey Pekar & J. T. Waldman. It's well done, wonderfully illustrated, but overall nothing spectacular...which I feel bad saying since Pekar passed away while working on it, in 2010. I did find it interesting that Pekar's discomfort with Israel began in 1967 after the six-day war when Israel kept the West Bank and Gaza strip.

I've started People on the Street : A Writer's View of Israel by Linda Grant

Jul 27, 2012, 11:13pm

I was going to try to stick to the literature of the Middle East, but this autobiography has been calling to me for a while. Shirin Ebadi was a judge in Iran and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work defending battered children, women hostage to abusive marriages, and political prisoners. She is known in the West as the lawyer who worked tirelessly on behalf of the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. Not only is Iran Awakening: From Prison to Peace Prize: One Woman's Struggle at the Crossroads of History the story of an amazing woman, but it was written with Azadeh Moaveni. After this book, Azadeh went on to write her own story as a Iranian-American journalist. The first, Lipstick Jihad, was like the Economist meets chick lit. An amazing perspective of a 20-something trying to date in Iran while working as a Western political journalist, and a darned good journalist at that. The sequel, Honeymoon in Tehran, is the story of her falling in love and marrying an Iranian, and I thought it was even more introspective and revealing than the first. I had the chance to hear Azadeh speak, and she is a very bright young woman, trying to decide when and where it is safe to live and work now that she is a mother. I highly recommend her books, and from what I've read of Ebadi's book, this one as well.

Note from Wikipedia: In 2004, Ebadi filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Treasury because of restrictions she faced over publishing her memoir in the United States. American trade laws include prohibitions on writers from embargoed countries. The law also banned American literary agent Wendy Strothman from working with Ebadi. Azar Nafisi wrote a letter in support of Ebadi. Nafisi said that the law infringes on the First Amendment.49 After a long legal battle, Ebadi won and was able to publish her memoir in the United States.

Edited: Jul 29, 2012, 8:52am

I finished I Shall Not Hate, by Izzeldin Abuelaish. It's a memoir of a Palestinian physician. Heartbreaking, but excellent. My review is here.

I also finished A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, by Valerie Zenatti. It's a YA book about an Israeli girl who contacts a Palestinian boy through a message-in-a-bottle. It sounds cheesy, but it was actually pretty cute. My review is here.

I am currently working on A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz

Jul 29, 2012, 10:45am

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

The first novel in The Cairo Trilogy is set in a Cairene neighborhood in October 1917, just after the death of Husayn Kamal, the Sultan of Egypt. Kamal was chosen three years earlier as the figurehead of the land that was a part the Ottoman Empire but had been ruled by Great Britain since 1882. The previous leader, Abbas II, was deposed by the British at the onset of World War I, once the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers and against Great Britain. Egypt was declared a British protectorate, which ended its semi-independent status and fueled the nationalist movement to expel the unwanted colonizers.

Palace Walk is centered upon al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, a successful neighborhood shop owner in Cairo. He is a merciless tyrant at home, imposing his unbending will and strict Muslim beliefs on his family, but a beloved and devoted friend to many and a fervent lover of wine, women and song outside of it. The al-Jawad family includes Amina, al-Sayyid's pious and tirelessly devoted second wife, his two daughters, the beautiful and vain Aisha, and the homely but quick witted and razor tongued Khadija, and his three sons, Yasin, a government servant whose prodigious appetite for debauchery exceeds his father's; Fahmy, an idealistic law student and freedom fighter; and Kamal, the youngest of the clan, an irreverent young dreamer who has a nose for getting into trouble but loves everyone in his family passionately and unconditionally.

The al-Jawads and those closest to them each struggle with parallel internal conflicts, in keeping with the struggle of the Egyptian people torn between the protection from the ravages of war by British occupation and the burning desire for independence, between older religious traditions and emerging secular freedoms, and especially between the traditional and modern roles and rights of women in early 20th century Egyptian society. In addition, the three sons of al-Jawad each seem to serve as metaphors for different periods of modern Egyptian history, with Yasin representative of traditional Cairo, Khady of the troubled land during the British protectorate, and Kamal of the bright but uncertain future independent country.

Mahfouz does a masterful job in fully portraying each character, the bustling neighborhood that surrounds Palace Walk, and the deep tension and stifling oppression within the al-Jawad household. Palace Walk is a monumental work, one which is essential to an understanding of the history of modern Egypt, and an outstanding family saga that rivals any other in literature.

Jul 29, 2012, 11:39am

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories by Etgar Keret (3½ stars)

The first collection of short stories by Israeli writer Etgar Keret published in English starts out brilliantly, with several surreal and fantastic tales that seem to be a witches' brew of the best of Jorge Luis Borges, mixed with a splash of Julio Cortázar and José Donoso. In the title story, a principled but misunderstood bus driver invokes a higher calling to serve one of his passengers, though with an unexpected result. In "Uterus", a young man despairs when his mother's organ, preserved for prosperity in a local museum, is sold and then hijacked by eco-terrorists. And, in "A Souvenir of Hell", a young Uzbek woman works at a convenience store which primarily serves the residents of Hell, who emerge from its mouth for one day of freedom every 100 years. However, the stories in the latter half of the book, particularly the lengthy Kneller's Happy Campers, were very disappointing to this reader. Despite this, I was sufficiently impressed and enthralled with many of Keret's stories, and despite my mediocre rating of The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God I will eagerly search for more of his books soon.

Edited: Jul 31, 2012, 4:34pm


Past Continuous by Yaakov Shabtai

Past Continuous follows three friends - Goldman, Israel, and Caesar - through their physical and mental meanders through Tel Aviv, discussing its inhabitants, its landscape, and its history. It is considered one of the peaks of modern Hebrew fiction, often compared to the scope of Remembrance of Things Past (which the original Hebrew title, זכרון דברים, also nods at). Not only is the novel a literary tour de force, but reading it can also be one, due to its long, complex sentences (some spanning several pages), which roam from one topic to another (albeit in a remarkably unambiguous way) linking one character to another, however disparate they seem, as if they are all part of the whole - a commune with every single character a member. The story is about a seemingly endless tangle of family relations (keep a notebook at hand if you want to keep track) and convoluted relationships, their arbitrary feuds replaced by happenstance friendships or love-affairs, all clad in a shadowy existential angst where not much contentment is to be found, or even seriously sought.

Jul 30, 2012, 3:10pm

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

Mysteries generally appeal to me because of their locales and cultures. Finding Nouf, set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, opens up a world with which I have practically no familiarity and which I shall probably never visit. Zoe Ferraris is an American, but according to the book cover, she was married to a Saudi and moved to Saudi Arabia to become a part of an extended Saudi-Bedouin-Palestinian family (she now lives in the US).

The plot involves the disappearance of Nouf Shrawi, the sixteen year old daughter of a wealthy family -- with a truck and a camel. A desert guide, the pious Nayir ash-Shariq, is hired to find out what happened to her. When she is found drowned in the desert, the body is turned over to the coroner, and a lab assistant in the women's division, Katya Hijazi, discovers information crucial to Nayir's investigation.

Ferraris guides us through the labyrinths of modern Saudi life -- bounded and veiled in tradition and religion -- and the elaborate gender struggles it entails. Her descriptions of the desert, the dusty streets of Jeddah clogged with traffic, and the enclosed quarters of the Shawri women are highly evocative. This is the first in a series, and I've already ordered the second.

Edited: Aug 19, 2012, 9:01pm


Talking to the Enemy by Avner Mandelman

This collection seems to be a favorite of everyone who has reviewed it, but it didn't quite hit home for me. A couple of the stories (like "Pity" and "Terror") are straight gut-punches and one ("Mish-Mash") is very funny, but overall the writing was a smidgen too stark to evoke strong emotions in me, although the subject of each story had potential to do so. Many of the stories deal with the internal workings of Sayeret, Shin Bet, and Mossad, so if you have a special interest in those, this collection may prove quite interesting.

Aug 1, 2012, 6:02pm

Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz

I have posted a review of this captivating novel on my thread and the book page. It was a wonderful introduction to this Egyptian Nobel Laureate and has made me anxious to read more of his work.

Aug 2, 2012, 1:41pm

My first read for this thread:
Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven won the Sapir Award in Israel and was the Best Translated Book in 2010. This is a beautifully written novel with an interesting and unique narrative voice. Noa Weber, reviews her life in the light of a continuing obsession with Alek, who she first met at age 17. She focuses on the contrast between her success and strength as a professional woman and her vulnerability with Alek. She sees herself turning into a marshmallow whenever he is around, and hides that side of herself from friends and family.
This book raises interesting questions about the role of women in the modern world, especially in Israel. At times I found Noa’s continued obsession with an unrequited love difficult to believe in. On the other hand, I thought that her relationship with her adult daughter was very well portrayed.

Aug 5, 2012, 8:19am

I finished The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan. It was pretty amazing! Fantastic blend of biography (for personal effect) and history. My review is here: http://rachelreadingnthinking.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-lemon-tree.html

I'm still working on A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz, though I've had a lot more time for my audiobook reading than my physical reading lately, so I might finish Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi first.

Aug 5, 2012, 8:24am

I'm a third of the way through Palace of Desire, the second novel in The Cairo Trilogy, and I hope to finish it later today. I'll probably start To the End of the Land by David Grossman next.

Aug 5, 2012, 10:07am

Working through a volume of Naguib Mahfouz's short stories, The Time and the Place that I found lurking on my shelves where DD left it after taking an Arabic literature class. According to the intro, Mahfouz was quite interested and well read in Sufiism and several of these reflect that.

Aug 6, 2012, 8:16am

Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz

The second novel in The Cairo Trilogy begins in 1926, seven years from where Palace Walk left off. Egypt is no longer a British protectorate, after the passage of the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence in 1922, but it has not yet won complete freedom from British rule. As a result, the country is in a state of relative calm in comparison to the 1919 revolution, but leaders of different factions, most notably Sa'ad Zaghlul of the Wafd Party, continued to press for independence. Egypt is ruled by its new King, Fuad I, the former Sultan of Egypt during the protectorate period. He and his wealthy supporters are more closely aligned with the British than with the populist Wafd Party, which adds to the nationalists' ever increasing calls for a government led by the people.

Palace of Desire continues the saga of the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, the Cairene merchant owner. He remains an iron fisted tyrant at home, demanding complete loyalty and strict adherence to the Qur'an by his wife and children, while he continues to enjoy the company of his friends, wine and women outside of it. The main character in this second novel is Kamal, al-Sayyid Ahmad's youngest son, who has matured from a wildly passionate and irreverent youth to become an intense but naïve student who loves philosophy and literature and is a fervent supporter of the Wafd Party. His greatest love, however, is for Aïda, the sister of one of his classmates and his closest confidant, who comes from a wealthy family that is aligned with the King rather than the Wafd Party, spends its summers in Paris, and has turned away from the strict teachings of Islam. Kamal's friends reflect the different middle and upper class segments of Egyptian society, and their political and philosophical discussions portray the different viewpoints held by them.

Meanwhile, Kamal's father and stepbrother Yasin provide comic relief, as the two continue to wallow ever more deeply in the mud of hedonism. Kamal's mother, his sisters and their families occupy a more peripheral role than they did in the first novel. There is also less tension and drama outside of the Abd al-Jawad family, due to the absence of British soldiers and street protests that ended four years earlier.

Palace of Desire isn't nearly as compelling as its predecessor, Palace Walk, but it is still a superb portrait of an ordinary middle class Cairene family and Egyptian society in the mid-1920s, and is highly recommended.

Aug 7, 2012, 6:28pm

I finished and REVIEWED the second book in The Cairo Trilogy, Naguib Mahfouz's Palace of Desire.

As Darryl says, not nearly as compelling a read as Palace Walk but a good transitional novel and I am really looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, Sugar Street.

Aug 12, 2012, 11:49am

City of Veils is Ferraris's second mystery set in Jeddah, featuring the investigations of Katya Hijazi and Nayir ash-Shariq. (the first was Finding Nouf). The violent murder of a wealthy young Saudi woman who roams the city filming women and backgrounds for the local TV station and freelances as a photographer leads to a complicated investigation. Ferraris is most interested in exploring the complex gender relationships within a rule-bound Islamic society, and while her feminist bias is obvious, she also deals sensitively with genuinely devout and well-meaning traditionalists. The relationship between Katya and Nayir proceeds bumpily, as it probably will continue to do in the sequels.

A new angle touched upon in this book is the scholarly linguistic controversy about the Syro-Aramaic origins of the Qu'ran: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Syro-Aramaic_Reading_of_the_Koran -- something I had not previously encountered and will have to follow up on.

I gave this one 3 1/2 stars, as it didn't quite excite me as much as Finding Nouf, which I gave 4 stars to -- maybe I read them too close together. I think I'll wait awhile before continuing in the series.

Edited: Aug 19, 2012, 1:24pm

I just finished The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, an Iranian author. Here is my review, cross-posted from my Club Read and 75 Books threads.

It is raining in a northern Iranian city, and the aging colonel hears that knock on the door in the middle of the night that never means anything good. So begins this complex and bleak novel that, with memories, nightmares, and ghosts, interweaves the story of the colonel and his five children with 20th century Iranian history and millennia of Persian literary tradition.

The colonel was in the Shah's army, but was kicked out either for his principled refusal to follow a particular order or for a personal crime, or both. He is an admirer of an earlier Iranian colonel, a hero to secular nationalists, referred to as The Colonel (with capital letters); a portrait of The Colonel hangs in the colonel's home, with photos of his dead children tucked into the frame. At the outset of the novel, which takes place during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the colonel's oldest son, Amir, released from imprisonment and torture as a revolutionary, is living in the basement, talking to nobody. He has mysterious visits from Khezr Javid, a secret policeman who conducted his "interrogations." The colonel's second son was killed as a revolutionary; his youngest son has just been killed in the war and thus is a "martyr." His older daughter is married to a man who bends with the wind, and the current wind is the Ayatollah; he tries to prevent his wife from visiting her father and brother. And his younger daughter, just 14, has vanished.

On the surface, the novel covers the few days in the colonel's life in which he discovers what has happened to his young daughter, attends the essentially state funeral of his youngest son and other "martyrs," and finally connects with Amir. But the surface, and the present, are only a thin veneer in the book. The reader travels back and forth in time, back and forth between the "real" and the memories, nightmares, and ghosts. It takes concentration to figure out what is happening, and when it is happening. Amir is as important in the colonel; while at times he appears "crazy," the reasons for his behavior gradually become clear.

And what of these memories? The colonel has political memories, of what happened under the Shah and before the Shah took power with US and British help, kicking out the democratic and nationalistic government under Mossadegh, as well as of the Islamic revolution under the Ayatollah in 1979. But he also has memories of his wife, and reflections on whether he raised his children right, given the toll of their involvement in revolutionary activity. Amir has nightmares of his experience in jail, the torture, his wife, the unanswered questions. At the same time, the author weaves in references to earlier Persian history and to Persian literature; the translator has provided invaluable explanatory notes, because otherwise these would go right by readers not well versed in Persian history and culture.

Ultimately, this is a very sad book, an elegy for a lost history of culture and freedom and a reflection on ideology and betrayal, love and loss, reality and the interior world. And it rains and rains and rains.

Aug 19, 2012, 9:00pm


A Trumpet in the Wadi by Sami Michael

Coming-of-age story set just before the First Lebanon War of two Christian Arab sisters living in the Wadi Nisnas of Haifa: one of them pregnant with the local mobster's son and negotiating a marriage with her cousin and the other seemingly doomed to staying unmarried until a Jewish dockworker moves in upstairs and mesmerizes her with his music. At the forefront is, unavoidably perhaps, the tension between the Arab and Jewish citizens, but also the clash between the various traditions of the cultures somehow attempting to coexist in the pressure-cooker which is Israel. The characters manage to be irritating and endearing at the same time and their choices, based on their own peculiarities or tradition or a merge of both, are understandable and commendable and frightfully tragic all at once. My only problem with the book is that it's not very long and some events that are merely hinted at would have been more fascinating were they described more fully. It is a poetic novel and its writer something of a master, so the gripe about the length may be mine alone.

Aug 25, 2012, 6:24pm


Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
First published in Arabic 1947
English translation by Trevor Le Gassick 1966

Midaq Alley is a small, narrow street, but a community unto itself. Here, amid the feverish bustle of wartime Cairo, life goes on as it seems it always will. Uncle Kamil naps at the door of his sweets shop. The baker's wife berates her husband. Salim Alwan is busy making money and taking aphrodisiacs to feed his timeless libido. Mrs. Saniya Afify decides to put an end to years of widowhood and visit the professional matchmaker. Zaita the beggarmaker gives one of his clients a profitable new deformity. And Abbas the young barber gazes longingly at a window in hopes of catching a glimpse of Hamida, the girl he adores.

Hamida herself is the central character of the novel. An orphaned girl taken in by the matchmaker, she has few prospects in life despite her beauty. She dresses in rags. Her gorgeous thigh-length hair smells of the kerosene she uses to kill the lice. Yet she has an unconquerable pride and a fearsome temper. Even when she is fond of a man, she can't help lashing out with her sharp tongue at every chance, and she seems stubbornly determined to spurn the few opportunities life hands her.

In this community of generally high religious values there is also Kirsha, the café owner. Late in life he has developed a fondness for hashish, as well as for the intimate company of young men. His loud arguments with his wife and adult son have made him the scandal Midaq Alley. Yet the same group continues to gather daily at Kirsha's café for their evening tea and a smoke.

The novel takes place in the mid-1940s when the air raids and the threat of German occupation have passed, but the city is still a hub of military activity. The Allied armies provide both an economic windfall, with jobs aplenty for young men, but also the temptations to vice. There is still, however, a sense of timelessness that leaves Midaq Alley, not isolated, but somehow insulated from the passing centuries. This novel is like an exquisitely painted miniature depicting all of life's pleasures and sorrows in a tiny frame.

Midaq Alley makes a nice contrast with The Cairo Trilogy, which many are reading. One views a cross section of Cairo households during a single year, the other follows a single household through a span of years.

Aug 26, 2012, 3:24pm

I am enjoying all the reviews of Naguib Mahfouz's work. I plan to try the Cairo Trilogy next year. This year I have planned a challenge for myself that doesn't allow any middle eastern literature except for Israeli. Obviously, I will need to rectify that in 2013!

I completed The Same Sea by Amos Oz which I loved. It is a wonderful description of how the main character, Albert, and his son react to the death of his wife to cancer. Beautifully written with many biblical references. I was happy to have those, because I have been doing some reading about biblical literature, and it was nice to feel that I could use that knowledge.

Oz does a really good job exploring the effects of grief and loss on the young adult son, Rico, which I found interesting for personal reasons. He describes how RIco distances himself from his mother when she becomes ill, and goes on to say "Her illness seemed to him as though she had suddenly had a baby daughter, a demanding pampered creature, a little like him, it was true, but a spoilt child. He imagined that if he went away his mother would have to choose between the two of them, and he was sure she would never give him up."

Aug 28, 2012, 7:10pm

I finished and REVIEWED the last volume of The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, Sugar Street. Taken as a whole, the trilogy is a sprawling, family epic that enabled me to understand Egypt's history more fully.

Sep 3, 2012, 4:57pm

I read The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God by Etgar Keret. These stories are off-beat, and maybe a little too strange for me, despite being very well-written.

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 12:58pm


Blue Has No South by Alex Epstein

A collection of poetic flash fiction stories and musings that sometimes hit home and sometimes seem too quirky to know what they are supposed to be. I'm not a huge reader of poetry, so most of the "stories" that were poems in prose format didn't really work for me, but the more straight-forward flash fiction, especially the more surreal pieces, was very engaging. The span of Epstein's stories is vast, covering biblical mythology, Homerian legend, Kafkaesque nightmares, the Israeli situation, bookstores, angels, lovers, and many other topics. The imagination is there, for sure, but I may have been spoiled by "that other" Israeli flash fiction writer (yes, I mean Keret) and so can't help but find Epstein's work, technically great though it is, a little too literary to truly touch the soul.

Sep 5, 2012, 2:58am

I've completed Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz, the first in the Cairo trilogy and would like to read the other two books but not right now. Like everyone else I found this an interesting family saga set in a time of change.

I'm hoping to read The Same Sea by Amos Oz, Lion's Honey by David Grossman and A journey to the end of the Millenium by A.B. Yehoshua this month. I also have a couple of graphic novels out from the library, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle (Canada) and Not the Israel my parents promised me by Harvey Pekar (US) & JT Waldman (US).

151> Eva - I tried to read that book but only lasted about 15 pgs.

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 1:08pm

->152 avatiakh:
I guess the flash fiction/Israeli-combo would make me jump any time! It didn't work for me, unfortunately - if you've already tried, I'll ship it to the Madeline-woman instead to see if she likes it. :)

Looking forward to hearing what you think of Not the Israel my parents promised me - I put it on the watch-list when dchaikin mentioned it above.

Sep 6, 2012, 12:54pm

Like many of you, I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Cairo Trilogy, but I did not post reviews. My thoughts can be found on my thread, posts 24, 43, and 67, if you are interested.

On the other hand, I did review the following memoir:

Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni

Every once in a while I read a book that not only personalizes a human rights issue, but does so in a way that inspires without candy-coating the situation. The first book I think of in this category is I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish, who wrote about the Gaza Strip and some of the atrocities there, but also about the hope he sees for the future. Iran Awakening is another such book. Shirin Ebadi is a long-time human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Her life has been a constant struggle as an Iranian woman to be educated, to become a female jurist, and to practice her profession with dignity despite the many obstacles in her way. When women are forbidden from being judges, she doesn't let that stop her, and becomes a renowned human right lawyer defending women and children from the vagaries and abuse of the government's system, often working pro bono. Learning there is a fatwa out for her assassination doesn't stop her. Imprisonment doesn't stop her. Disappointment doesn't stop her. She is single-minded in her demand for a better Iran, one which is ruled by law, not whims.

Although the story of her public life alone is enough to open eyes and inspire, I found the juxtaposition of her public and private lives to be the most complex and culturally interesting part of the book. For at home, Ms. Ebadi is a traditional wife and mother. Her faith is very strong and often helps her in her work, as she is able to quote religious passage back to imams who seek to create law based on very narrow interpretations of Islam. In addition, she sees herself as a woman devoted to her family, and in her context, that means cooking and freezing meals for her family so that they will eat well while she is in prison. She is devoted to her children and takes their upbringing seriously, while at the same time knowingly exposes them to danger through her work. She doesn't see a contradiction in these things. In her words:

In the last twenty-three years, from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered. That belief, along with the conviction that change in Iran must come peacefully and from within, has underpinned my work.

I would highly recommend this book. It's a bit dated now, having been published in 2006, and I wish a new edition would be published, with updates. The message is important for those of us in the West to hear, and her life is an inspiring example of how to effect change in a complex political climate. The book is written with the assistance of Azadeh Moaveni, who went on to write her own very engrossing memoirs of her life as a young person in Iran: Lipstick Jihad and Honeymoon in Tehran, two books which I would also recommend. My one fault with Iran Awakening is that the transitions between voices can occasionally be jarring. Some parts I assume Moaveni wrote (about politics and Iranian history, which are her forte) and other parts are clearly in Ms. Ebadi's voice (personal statements of belief and how she has chosen to live her life). Sometimes the transitions are seamless, sometimes not. But that is a minor quibble, and I would still encourage everyone to read this book.

Edited: Sep 7, 2012, 2:33pm

Catching up from back in July...

avatiakh & -Eva- - I hope you get more out of Not the Israel my parents promised me than I did.

During my absence I visited Israel and added Israeli authors David Grossman, Meir Shalev & Yehudit Katzir to my fanciful TBR. And from comments here and elsewhere I'm also adding Etgar Keret. Shaley and Katzir aren't mentioned above in THE list by Darryl above.

I read Closing the Sea by Yehudit Katzir. No proper review, but below is the comment from my reading log thread. What it fails to mention is that the location is always modern (circa 1990) Israel - typically Tel Aviv or Haifa.

This collection of four stories I picked up in Tel Aviv. Katzir's stories come out in one continuous breath, rushing along, but slowly pulling the reader in. What she seems to create is experience, and for me it was a total success. Despite the depth, I found I could pick this up anywhere and get lost in her characters and when I put the book down, I seemed to come out of an entirely separate atmosphere. Enjoyed this quite a bit.

Sep 7, 2012, 9:34pm

Which books by David Grossman did you add to your TBR list, Dan? I'm bringing To the End of the Land with me to London, and I'll probably read it next week.

Edited: Sep 8, 2012, 7:27am

I don't own any yet. But I have See Under: LOVE and Someone to Run With on the wishlist, based on a bookstore employee's recommendation.

ETA - I've had Writing in the Dark on my wishlist for almost three years, but that is a book of essays, not a novel.

Sep 13, 2012, 9:39am

I finished The Blind Owl, by Sadeq Hedayat. This book is the landmark work of Hedayat, who is considered one of the fathers of Persian fiction and THE father of Persian modernist fiction.

My review is on my 75ers thread:


Sep 17, 2012, 2:53pm

L’Shana Tova!
I finished Only Yesterday by S.Y. Agnon, Nobel Laureate.
Only Yesterday was published in 1945 and was set in Israel during the time of the Second Aliya (1904 to 1914), when Eastern-European Zionists came to Israel to till the soil and to revive the Hebrew language. The book gives a good background into the development of modern Israel and Israeli identity.
This is the story of Isaac Kumer, a simple man from Galicia, who emigrated to Jaffa and then Israel. His intent was farming, but it was too hard to get work, and he ended up as a house-painter.
He is a simple man, maybe even sort of a schlub, who stumbles into things (Zionism, House-painting, marriage), rather than leading a self-directed life. In the last part of the book, it takes a surreal turn, with the character of the dog, Balak. Isaac, without thinking, painted the Hebrew words for “Crazy Dog” onto the stray’s back. Isaac’s action has large unintended consequences.
This is a book that made me wish I could read Hebrew. The language is interesting; lots of echoes of biblical language, a story told in many, sometimes contradictory layers. I read in Wikopedia that “Agnon's writing often used words and phrases that differed from what would become established Modern Hebrew. His distinct language is based on traditional Jewish sources, such as the Torah and the Prophets, Midrashic literature, the Mishnah, and other Rabbinic literature.” It’s interesting to think that Agnon did not write in his first language (which would have been Yiddish) and wrote in a language that was still developing.
This is a good book—insightful at times, funny at times as well. It gives a perspective on how history, culture and religion create layers of meaning in the life of impressionable young man.
I read this at the same time as I was reading The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie. I was interested in the contrasts and similarities between the two books. Both deal with religion, mental illness, father-son relationships. Both have a surreal element. There are also tons of differences, but one that I thought was interesting was the depiction of sexuality and male-female relations. In Only Yesterday, Isaac had not even talked to a woman, other than his sisters, before moving to Israel, and he is very fumbling in his romantic attempts.

Sep 17, 2012, 2:54pm

#158--Thanks for the review of The Blind Owl. It sounds really interesting.

Sep 17, 2012, 9:46pm

#159 banjo123 - L'Shana Tova. Enjoyed your comments on Only Yesterday.

Sep 17, 2012, 10:00pm

One from Libya and one from Dubai:

The Sand Fish by Maha Gargash

Gargash's novel is set in 1950s Dubai -- when the pearl industry was still the main source of wealth, and oil had not yet been discovered within its borders. This is not the Dubai of the UAE, the Burj Khalifa or jet-setting tourism; its residents are Bedouins and merchants living very much within a highly traditional, near medieval, culture.

Noora, a 17-year old Bedouin girl, feels she is holding her family together after her mother's death and her father's descent into semi-madness. But her brother, eager to assure her welfare, promises her in marriage as a third wife to a wealthy pearl merchant. Noora is brought into the family essentially as a breeder -- to provide her elderly husband with the child he has never had. It soon becomes obvious that her husband is sterile. Her immediate rival is the young second wife, her husband's favorite, who has, unfortunately, not provided the heir. The first wife sees the naive young Bedouin as a way back into her husband's favors by creating the opportunity for an heir to be conceived. But Noora is clever and manages to carve out a secure position for herself.

An interesting look into yet another society is which women must try to assure their positions by subtlety and deceit.

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

I think In the Country of Men is one of the saddest books I have ever read.

I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay brilliant and still beneath it.

Thus begins the memoir narration of Suleiman, who we later learn is a 24 year-old Libyan exile living in Egypt. But in 1979, he was 9 years old and was drawn in the political upheaval and repression that marked the early years of the Gaddafi regime. Suleiman's father, involved in an anti-Gaddafi movement, is rarely home, and his mother, resentful of her arranged marriage, drinks herself into stupors with liquor obtained from the local druggist.

The child is drawn into situations he doesn't understand and is the unwitting, yet not entirely ignorant, agent of terrible harm to those he loves. He is seduced by power and fear to betrayals he does not understand -- a child living in a country of men who do not care about the vulnerability of the sensitive.

Matar's book was a well-deserved finalist for the Booker Prize.

Sep 19, 2012, 7:34pm

Wow! Three great reviews. Thank you banjo123 and Jane. Fortunately I already own In the Country of Men, but had to add the other two to my list.

Sep 19, 2012, 10:34pm

In The Country of Men sounds great. Though I must be a little twisted to think that "one of the saddest books I ever read" sounds enticing.l

Sep 30, 2012, 5:56pm


I finished four more books for this theme read, all from Israeli writers.

If you are a fan of graphic novels/comics/sequential art, The Actus Box (review here) and Jamilti and Other Stories (review here) are both collections of graphic stories by members of the Israeli comic collective, Actus Tragicus -a very creative group that has published a number of story collections.

The Shunra and the Schmetterling (review here) is Yoel Hoffmann's prose poem about transitioning from child to adult.

For an alternative look at Hebrew mythology, look no further than Hebrewpunk (review here) by Lavie Tidhar.

Thanks to you all for helping me with my attack on Mt. TBR! :)

Edited: Oct 1, 2012, 5:05pm

Enjoyed your reviews, Eva. I was impressed with Rutu Modan in the graphic book of hers I read. Your comments are interesting.

Oct 1, 2012, 4:58pm

Thanks! Exit Wounds is funnily enough my least favorite of hers - it's very good, but I feel she gets more inventive in the shorter pieces. However, it was quite a few years since I read it, so a reread is probably due. :)

Oct 4, 2012, 2:46pm

#162: I read In the Country of Men last year, and the mention of it still brings me a feeling, more than just remembering I read that one. I checked from my traveling thread what I thought about it after finishing. I guess I liked it, though I was not totally convinced by it. But it made sad too, what happened to Suleiman, and the fact that the change took so long.

Edited: May 7, 2014, 5:35pm


The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, translated from the Persian by Tom Patterdale

Winner, Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (2013)
Shortlist, Best Translated Book Award (2013)
Longlist, Man Asian Literary Prize (2011)

The tragedy of our whole country is the same: we are all alienated, strangers in our own land.

Fear eats away at the soul worse than leprosy; it hollows a man out and takes him over.

This powerful novel is set in a town in Iran in the late 1980s, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and roughly a decade after the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the accession to power of Islamic fundamentalists, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The main character is 'the colonel', an unnamed disgraced former member of the Shah's army, who is so named because of his former title, but also because he reveres Mohammad-Taqi Khan Pesyan, or 'The Colonel', who is considered to be a hero by Iranian secular nationalists (but not Islamic fundamentalists) because of his sacrifice in attempting to free the country from foreign influences in the early 20th century. the colonel frequently speaks to and confides in the portrait of The Colonel in his home, as he lives in fear of what will happen to him, to his children who are missing under separate circumstances, and to his eldest son Amir, who refuses to emerge from the basement and seems to be descending into madness.

On a rainy night two young police officers come to the colonel's door, to inform him that he is wanted by the local prosecutor. He follows them, and receives tragic news: his youngest daughter, who is not yet 14, has been murdered. He and the two policemen proceed to the local mortuary to claim the body, as it must be washed and buried before the dawn call to prayers.

The night, like the rainfall, is seemingly unending. the colonel is plagued by fear and uncertainty, as he recalls and regrets his past actions and decisions, while reality merges into often nightmarish scenarios that make him question his own sanity. The lives of his children, his wife, a roguish son-in-law, and an 'immortal' former intelligence officer of the deposed Shah's feared secret police are weaved throughout the novel, along with frequent references to important figures throughout Iranian history. The individual stories merge in the manner of a tornado that forms and strengthens, as chaos and a foreboding sense of doom becomes ever present.

The Colonel was published in 2008, after Dowlatabadi had worked on it for 25 years, and it has been published worldwide to critical acclaim. However, it remains in the hands of censors in Iran, as the author, who still lives in Teheran, continues to refuse to allow it to be edited to meet the demands of the current regime. It is a beautifully written but challenging read, due to its references to Persian history, although the translator, Tom Patterdale, does a superb job in providing brief footnotes throughout the book, along with an excellent afterword and glossary that is invaluable to the average reader. My comments don't do justice to the complexity and richness of this superb and highly instructive novel about a country that is important to the Western world, but one that continues to be a worrisome enigma to most of us.

Dec 9, 2020, 7:33am

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi is structured as a series of non-linear vignettes, which slowly reveal glimpses of the inner and outer lives of an extensive cast of characters revolving around three generations of one extended family originating from a village in Oman. It's a process that will be familiar to anyone who has lived in a small community: you know everything about everyone else, but that information is only learned in fragments which each person pieces together slightly differently to form their own perspective. Like life, the overall story tends towards tragedy, from small disappointments to the great tragedy of death. The novel is permeated with ways of thinking and doing that are rooted in Omani village culture and Ibadi Islam and, for an outsider like me, it appears to be a fair representation. The translation seems good and I only noticed one error when what should have been a "moth" in English (like a moth to a flame) was translated as a "butterfly".

In conclusion, skilfully written as a whole, although without any short passages I especially want to quote, and interesting to read but also ultimately tragic in tone.

Edited: Jan 23, 9:08am

The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria is an autobiographical account of a girl growing up in Tacoma, USA, and amongst settled Bedouin in Qatar, with camping trips in the Saudi desert and university in Cairo. The author's self-protagonist is neither heroine nor villain, although she does choose to emphasise her roles as an outsider. The prose is readable, and the content is interesting. These aren't the usual published perspectives on life in any of these societies. Although I was left wondering about the status of the Bedouin family's maid, who is mentioned once by name as a cook and then never referred to again. On the whole, a satisfying read.


On flying out of Qatar: "She folded the hijab up and slipped it into her seat pocket with the barf bag and escape instructions."

Generation gap: "At ten years old I had played Oregon Trail on a computer, shooting squirrels with pixel bullets and getting virtual dysentery on a wagon train. My father, at ten, was on an actual epic trek, hunting with an actual falcon and risking very real tuberculosis while riding in a bona fide camel caravan."