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The Best Books By Arab and Muslim Writers to Read This Summer

Some food for thought

Once again, we present a reading list to intellectualize your summer, whether you’re lounging on a beach, relaxing at home, or sipping coffee at a bustling European café. This summer’s selection features exceptional literary novels by Middle Eastern and Muslim authors, many whose works echo the generational trauma of war and the violence of colonialism, resonating deeply and reminding us that literature is crucial in challenging the status quo. From pacy debuts to mind-expanding tell-alls,  read on for our selections for the beach, the city, or wherever you find yourself this summer. 

‘Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World’ Edited by Zahra Hankir 

This compelling collection of essays is a must-read, delving into the stories of Arab female journalists and their on-the-ground experiences. These women have worked tirelessly to craft nuanced narratives about their homelands, which have endured or are enduring destruction inflicted by Western influences. From facing sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo to coping with loss and relocating to unwelcoming countries, this tell-all is essential for everyone.

‘Traces of Enayat: And Other Stories’ by Iman Mersal, Translated by Robin Moger

In Traces of Enayat, celebrated Egyptian academic Iman Mersal combines autobiography, travelogue, and investigative journalism to paint a stunning portrait of forgotten Egyptian author Enayat al-Zayyat. Through meticulous interviews with family members, friends, and archival research, Mersal uncovers a story of depression, domestic abuse, a fractured marriage, and survival. Despite her talent, Enayat’s suicide pushed her into obscurity until Mersal revived her legacy. The exploration of post-war Egyptian culture and the parallels between author and subject are striking features of this work.

‘River Spirit’ by Leila Aboulela

River Spirit is a captivating tale set during the final years of Ottoman rule in Sudan. Young Akuany witnesses the relentless pillaging of her village, setting the stage for the volatile Mahdist revolution. As a man proclaims himself the Mahdi, exploiting his people’s desperation through violent manipulation, Akuany navigates her orphaned life amidst incessant plunder. She marries a thoughtful and spiritual man while her country burns in the backdrop. This novel threads Sudanese liberation, a nuanced depiction of Islam, and human complexity into its fabric, making it profoundly rewarding.

‘History of Ash’ by Khadija Marouazi

Khadija Marouazi’s debut novel, History of Ash, tells the story of Mouline and Leila. Their perspectives and timelines shift to illustrate the rampant corruption in Morocco’s judicial system. Arrested during Morocco’s “Years of Lead,” the reader witnesses their survival under torture, harrowing prison conditions, and re-assimilation into public life after release. This fictional tale vividly echoes the harsh realities of a period marked by state repression and unjust imprisonment of dissidents. Marouazi, a human rights activist and literature professor at Ibn Tofail University in Kenitra, Morocco, brings this era to life.

‘Evil Eye’ by Etaf Rum

Etaf Rum’s Evil Eye is a timely novel, despite its release being overshadowed by recent conflicts. The story follows Yara, a young Palestinian-American woman and art lecturer who confronts the trauma of living a sheltered life in displacement. After reacting to a colleague’s racism, she is put on probation and mandated therapy. Despite her family’s strict restrictions, she completed her education, forged a career, and started a family. Her family’s conservatism and superstitions come back to haunt her when her mother blames her situation on a family curse. This poignant novel explores multigenerational trauma, misogyny, and complex mother-daughter dynamics.

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