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6 Books by Middle Eastern Authors to Read This Summer

A beach and a book, a sublime combination

In my humble opinion, I don’t think there is anything more sublime than sitting on a beach, pineapple juice with extra ice in one hand, and a book in the other. Sounds enticing doesn’t it? Well, we have compiled a list of summer reads for that very moment– books that are guaranteed to either spark your curiosity, answer questions you’ve long had, take you down a rabbit hole you didn’t know you needed to go to, or ones you just simply cannot put down, all of which are written by authors from the Middle East, who share a similar story, sentiment, and experience. Be it non-fiction or fiction, below, six books to throw in your beach tote for a fruitful reading list to enlighten and philosophize your summer. 


1. If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

Brilliance in a book. Egyptian author Noor Naga has created a contemporary literary masterpiece. Set in Cairo, the novel starts off with an unconventional format. The first part of the book unfolds with a philosophical question on top of each page, shifting between two perspectives– a man from a village called Shobrakheit, and an Egyptian-American woman, coming back to her homeland that feels like anything but home to her. Naga, captures the plight of being a third culture kid, and not knowing where you belong– feeling too Arab for the West, and too Western for the Middle East. She captures sentiments of shifting powers, global capitalism, and an identity crisis through an abusive relationship between the two main characters. In the second part of the book, footnotes appear on each page providing context about Egyptian culture. As for the final  section, well, read it and find out. All in all, I don’t think I’ve read a book this good in a while. 


2. On Identity by Amin Maalouf 

Lebanese author Amin Maalouf takes us on a philosophical journey of questions about the who’s what, when, where, and why’s of the notion of identity– personal, religious, ethnic, or national. He deeply looks at what it is that makes each and every single one of us unique– with an importance on how the above factors shape our perspectives and outlooks on life. Through his reflections, you will find that essentially our sense of self is an amalgamation of all of our identities coming together. 


 3. Beirut I Love You: A Memoir by Zena Al Khalil

Lebanese artist, writer, and activist Zena Al Khalil gives a personal account of her toxic relationship with Beirut that has threatened to engulf her in war, grief, alcohol, and love affairs. The memoir is an honest depiction of the hardships of being a passionate artist and lover set against the constant threat of war. A love letter to Beirut, Khalil gives a raw and gritty depiction of the city. 


4. Karnak Cafe by Naguib Mahfouz 

Written in 1974 by renowned Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, this novella tells the tale of a group of individuals from all walks of life who wanted nothing more than to better Egypt. As they sit at the Karnak Cafe they talk of politics, and their tumultuous relationship with Egypt during the 1960s, suspicions arise, and the inevitable happens and they are targeted by state security– disappearing one after another, subjected to torture, and accused of subversion. The novella captures the country’s state, in questionable times, under questionable rulings. A very important piece of literature that still remains ever more relevant today. 


5. Watch Us Dance by Leila Slimani 

This book is the second part of a autobiographical trilogy written by Moroccan author Leila Slimani. Drawing back on her family history, Slimani transports you to 1960s Morocco, shortly after it received independence from France. The book tells a revolutionary tale of foreign tourists flocking to Casablanca in search of the hippie dream, whilst others are caught up in the pursuit of money and power. 


6. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi 

In this literary work, Azar Nafisi tells the story of how she secretly gathered seven of her most dedicated female students each Thursday to read forbidden Western classics. The author’s girls risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov while Islamic morality squads staged raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized control of universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression. Their stories intertwine with the ones they are reading in this extraordinary memoir– a celebration of literature and resilience in the face of tyranny.


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