Middle Eastern Fiction
Book List Category:
By Elif Shafak.
In a novel overflows with a kitchen sink's worth of zany characters, women are front and center: Asya Kazanci, an angst-ridden 19-year-old Istanbulite is the bastard of the title; her beautiful, rebellious mother, Zeliha (who intended to have an abortion), has raised Asya among three generations of complicated and colorful female relations (including religious clairvoyant Auntie Banu and bar-brawl widow, Auntie Cevriye). The Kazanci men either die young or take a permanent hike like Mustafa, Zeliha's beloved brother who immigrated to America years ago. Mustafa's Armenian-American stepdaughter, Armanoush, who grew up on her family's stories of the 1915 genocide, shows up in Istanbul looking for her roots and for vindication from her new Turkish family. The Kazanci women lament Armanoush's family's suffering, but have no sense of Turkish responsibility for it; Asya's boho cohorts insist there was no genocide at all. As the debate escalates, Mustafa arrives in Istanbul, and a long-hidden secret connecting the histories of the two families is revealed.
By Barbara Nadel.
British author Nadel's deep passion for Turkish culture and her intimate knowledge of that land come through vividly in this riveting crime drama set in present-day Istanbul, but with roots in two of the last century's epic bloodbaths.
By Anita Amirrezvani.
After her father dies without leaving her with a dowry, a seventeenth-century Persian teen becomes a servant to her wealthy rug designer uncle in the court of Shah Abbas the Great, where her weaving talents prove both a blessing and curse.
By Naguib Mahfouz ; translated by William Maynard Hutchins ... [et al.] ; with an introduction by Sabry Hafez.
The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence,
By Mohammed Hanif.
Ali Shigri, Pakistan Air Force pilot and Silent Drill Commander of Fury Squadron, is determined to understand what or who pushed his father to commit suicide--and to avenge his death. His father, one of Zia ul-Haq's colonels, may or may not have been involved in the conspiracies and coincidences leading to the mysterious 1988 plane crash that killed Pakistan's dictator General Zia ul-Haq. His search immerses him in a snarl of events: Americans in Pakistan, Soviets in Afghanistan, dollars in every hand.
By Shahriar Mandanipour ; translated from the Farsi by Sara Khalili.
Shahriar Mandanipour, a contemporary and controversial Iranian writer, presents his first novel written in English. Seamlessly entwining two related narratives, Mandanipour unfolds the tale of an Iranian writer attempting to pen a love story set in present-day Iran. Similar to Romeo and Juliet, the writer's two lovers struggle to endure against powerful external forces. Unfortunately, though, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance furiously attempts to censor the writer's work.
By by Amin Maalouf ; translated by Dorothy S. Blair.
The life of Mani, the 3rd century Persian mystic who founded the Manichaean religion, teaching that man is created by Satan but has divine light in him which has to be released. The novel traces his humble beginnings, his rise to fame as he synthesized the teaching of Jesus, Buddha and Zoroaster, and his execution. By the author of The Rock of Tanios.
By Tamar Yellin.
Shulamit, a biblical scholar from England, returns to her grandparents' home in Jerusalem for a visit after an absence of many years. Almost immediately she becomes embroiled in a family feud over possession of the so-called Shepher Codex, a mysterious manuscript which has been discovered in the attic.
By Rabih Alameddine.
In 2003, Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father's deathbed. The city is a shell of the Beirut Osama remembers, but he and his friends and family take solace in the things that have always sustained them: gossip, laughter, and, above all, stories. Osama's grandfather was a hakawati, or storyteller, and his bewitching stories--of his arrival in Lebanon, an orphan of the Turkish wars, and of how he earned the name al-Kharrat, the fibster--are interwoven with classic tales of the Middle East, stunningly reimagined. Here are Abraham and Isaac; Ishmael, father of the Arab tribes; the ancient, fabled Fatima; and Baybars, the slave prince who vanquished the Crusaders. Here, too, are contemporary Lebanese whose stories tell a larger, heartbreaking tale of seemingly endless war--and of survival.--From publisher description.
By by Eshkol Nevo ; translated by Sondra Silverston.
Amir and his girlfriend Noa decide to move in together, choosing a tiny apartment in a village that was forcibly emptied of its Arab inhabitants in 1948, and encounter a complex web of neighbors in the racially-charged region.
By Daniyal Mueenuddin.
A volume of linked stories describes the intertwined lives of landowners and their retainers on the Gurmani family farm in Pakistan, in a collection that explores such themes as culture, class power, and desire.
By Jason Goodwin.
When the Ottoman Empire of 1836 is shattered by a wave of political murders that threatens to upset the balance of power, eunuch intelligence agent Yashim Togalu conducts an investigation into clues within the empire's once-elite military forces.
By Khaled Hosseini.
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present day. The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy Afghan youth and the son of his father's servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption. It is also about the power of fathers over sons: their love, their sacrifices, and their lies.
By Simone Zelitch.
Set in Hungary and Israel after the Second World War, Louisa breathes modern life into the Old Testament. In Simone Zelitch's recasting of the Book of Ruth, a mother and her daughter-in-law--both widows--once again travel toward Israel, enduring hardship and hunger. But this time they're together in the wake of the Holocaust.
Nora Gertz, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, and her daughter-in-law Louisa emigrate to Palestine in 1949.
By Ahdaf Soueif.
Isabel Parkman, an American journalist, discovers that her romance with an Egyptian-American conductor is paralleled by her great-grandparents' romance.
By Susan Abulhawa.
In this richly detailed, beautiful and resonant novel examining the Palestinian and Jewish conflicts from the mid-20th century to 2002.
By Orhan Pamuk ; translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely.
It is 1975, a perfect spring in Istanbul. Kemal, scion of one of the city's wealthiest families, is about to become engaged to Sibel, daughter of another prominent family, when he encounters Fusun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant relation. Thus begins an obsessive but tragic love affair that will transform itself into a compulsive collection of objects--a museum of one man's broken heart--that chronicle Kemal's lovelorn progress and his afflicted heart's reactions.
By Atiq Rahimi ; translated by Polly McLean ; with an introduction by Khaled Hosseini.
In Persian folklore, Syngue Sabour is the name of a magical black stone, a patience stone, which absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. It is believed that the day it explodes, after having received too much hardship and pain, will be the day of the Apocalypse. But here, the Syngue Sabour is not a stone but rather a man lying brain-dead with a bullet lodged in his neck. His wife is with him, sitting by his side. But she resents him for having sacrificed her to the war, for never being able to resist the call to arms, for wanting to be a hero, and in the end, after all was said and done, for being incapacitated in a small skirmish.
By Mohsin Hamid.
"Changez is living an immigrant's dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite valuation firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore. But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned and his relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez's own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love"--Book jacket.
By Mahbod Seraji.
An unforgettable debut novel of young love and growing up in an Iran headed toward revolution. In a middle-class neighborhood of Iran's sprawling capital city, 17-year-old Pasha Shahed spends one perfect, stolen summer with his beautiful neighbor, Zari, until he unwittingly guides the Shah's secret police to their target: Zari's intended. The violent consequences awaken Pasha and his friends to the reality of life under the rule of a powerful despot, and lead Zari to make a shocking choice from which Pasha may never recover.
By Dalia Sofer.
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known. As Isaac navigates the terrors of prison, and his wife feverishly searches for him, his children struggle with the realization that their family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.
By Ruchama King.
Two Orthodox Jewish matchmakers strive busily to marry off their neighbors in this bustling debut novel set in modern-day Jerusalem.
By Yasmina Khadra ; translated from the French by John Cullen.
Set in Kabul under the rule of the Taliban, this extraordinary novel takes readers into the lives of two couples: Mohsen, who comes from a family of wealthy shopkeepers whom the Taliban has destroyed; Zunaira, his wife, exceedingly beautiful, who was once a brilliant teacher and is now no longer allowed to leave her home without an escort or covering her face. Intersecting their world is Atiq, a prison keeper, a man who has sincerely adopted the Taliban ideology and struggles to keep his faith, and his wife, Musarrat, who once rescued Atiq and is now dying of sickness and despair. Desperate, exhausted Mohsen wanders through Kabul when he is surrounded by a crowd about to stone an adulterous woman. Numbed by the hysterical atmosphere and drawn into their rage, he too throws stones at the face of the condemned woman buried up to her waist. With this gesture the lives of all four protagonists move toward their destinies. The Swallows of Kabul is a dazzling novel written with compassion and exquisite detail by one of the most lucid writers about the mentality of Islamic fundamentalists and the complexities of the Muslim world. Yasmina Khadra brings readers into the hot, dusty streets of Kabul and offers them an unflinching but compassionate insight into a society that violence and hypocrisy have brought to the edge of despair.
By Masha Hamilton.
Staircase of a Thousand Steps lifts the veil from a mystical land, where jasmine and dung mix and the inconceivable is embraced as commonplace.In a Middle Eastern village that traces its history back to Abraham, the men gather nightly beneath a tree named Moses' Finger, and the women meet at a place where "the earth breathes." But the midwife Faridah possesses transcendent wisdom and a dangerous scorn for tradition. And the shepherd Harif, seer and village outsider, weaves stories in an effort to protect his fragile status. While Harif's granddaughter, Jammana, struggles between the allure of the ancient world and the tensions of a modern age. Through an ancestral gift, Jammana experiences the memories of those closest to her-Faridah, Harif, and her mother, Rafa. But as she unwittingly uncovers the village's secrets, old grudges move like a slow burn across the fields and ignite. Set in Transjordan just before the 1967 war with Israel, Staircase of a Thousand Steps braids a chorus of voices into a poetic, haunting tale of loyalty, longing, and accidental betrayal.
By Tariq Ali.
"The Ottoman Empire, known as the "sick man of Europe" in the 19th century, continues its slow, steady decline in the summer of 1899 as elderly Iskander Pasha (a descendant of a sultan's favorite courtier) and his well-born family gather at their seaside palace outside Istanbul. Ali, a well-known leftist activist in Britain, explores the complexities of the Ottoman mentality in his fifth outing, a colorful, sensual drama of families, sexual intrigue and rebellion. As the novel begins, Iskander suffers a stroke and loses his power of speech. Various members of the family tell their stories, interwoven with chapters transcribing confessions made to the "stone woman," a rock formation on the estate. Iskander has four children: Salman, the eldest son; Halil, a general in the army; Nilofer, the daughter whose dramatic life is most fully explored; and her married stepsister, Zeynep. Memed, Iskander's elder brother, and his lover, the Baron, also join the family. The plot coheres neatly as the stories interconnect: Nilofer married a Greek schoolteacher for whom her love cooled, leaving her miserable; when her husband is murdered, a victim of anti-Greek violence, she pursues a love affair with a barber's son. Salman is also unhappily married, to a woman in Egypt who turns against him with an almost psychopathic violence. Halil conspires with other generals in the army to overthrow the Ottoman government. The Baron, a trained Hegelian scholar, holds forth, pedantically, on the roots of Ottoman decay." -- This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
By David Grossman ; translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer's release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the "notifiers" who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along their former best friend and her former lover Avram. Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young. Avram was sent into Egypt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy. Ora supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world.
By Anne Sanow.
Winner of the 2009 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, this book is a loosely connected collection of short stories portraying the monotonous, isolated lives of American expats and Saudis living in small, isolated Saudi Arabian communities.
By Jamil Ahmad.
A debut novel set in the Federally Administered Tribal lands at the intersection of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan follows the story of banished refugees' son Tor Baz, who travels throughout the region while considering his prestigious lineage and witnessing the effects of extreme culture and geography on the lives of those he encounters.
By Jenny White.
Special Prosecutor Kamil Pasha encounters his most ruthless adversary to date: Vahid, head of a special branch of the secret police, who has convinced the sultan that a socialist commune is leading a secessionist movement and should be destroyed--along with surrounding villages. Kamil must stop the massacre, but he finds himself on the wrong side of the law, framed for murder and accused of treason.
By A.B. Yehoshua ; translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin.
A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies nameless in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of "gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee," the bakery's owner, overwhelmed by guilt, entrusts the task of identifying and burying the victim to a human resources man. This man is at first reluctant to take on the job, but as the facts of the woman's life take shape--she was an engineer from the former Soviet Union, a non-Jew on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and, judging by an early photograph, beautiful--he yields to feelings of regret, atonement, and even love.--From publisher description.
By Alaa Al Aswani ; translated by Humphrey Davies.
All manner of flawed and fragile humanity reside in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor now slowly decaying in the smog and bustle of downtown Cairo: a fading aristocrat and self-proclaimed "scientist of women"; a sultry, voluptuous siren; a devout young student, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism; a newspaper editor helplessly in love with a policeman; a corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify his desires.
By by Moris Farhi.
Farhi weaves together 13 short tales to tell a powerful story of Turkey just before, during, and after World War II.