This geographical region of the world, which covers portions of Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa, has been of great importance in history for thousands of years. Well known for its ancient civilizations, including Ancient Egypt, the Persian Empire, and the Babylonian Empire, it is also home to three of the major world religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Due to its geographic location and cultural and religious diversity, the Middle East has been at the center of many ongoing conflicts.
When many Westerners think of the Middle East today, they likely envision vast deserts and oil reserves, but there’s much more to this varied and culturally rich region.
Some of the borders within this region remain contested and, in creating this list, we are not taking any political positions. Instead, it is our hope that after reading about the Middle East, you will learn about this complex region and find yourself better able to form your own opinions. As we have stated in the past, we hope that, in addition to traveling virtually through the pages of books, the Book Voyage Challenge will also help us all gain a deeper understanding of, and deeper respect for, our fellow humans.
As always, you are welcome to choose any book set in this region that you’d like, but to help get your started we’ve compiled a diverse list of books set throughout the Middle Eastern geo-political region, including books that take place in: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kurdistan (autonomous region of Iraq), Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
PS: You can read all about the Book Voyage challenge, find new book lists each month, and download your free printable map book tracker, with a color-coded map of each region here.
While many of us are accustomed to hearing frequent references to the Middle East in daily news reports, it can be very challenging to truly understand the complex dynamics of religion and politics in these countries. While no one book can possibly carry the weight of explaining everything there is to know about the Middle East, we’ve worked hard to curate a wide variety of books, many written by authors native to this region, that will help you both expand your understanding, and hopefully pique your interest to learn even more.
Our list of books set in the Middle East includes historical fiction, contemporary fiction, memoirs, and travelogues that will shed light on both the challenges and beauty of modern-day life in this corner of the world.
Books Set in the Middle East Region
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Author Khalid Hosseini is most known for his best-selling novel, The Kite Runner, which would also be a great pick this month. However, we choose one of his other works, A Thousand Splendid Suns, for the list because it spans the last three decades in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion, the Taliban's reign, to post-Taliban rebuilding.
The emotional book follows two generations of brave woman, Mariam and Laila, brought together by war. It explores the universal desires of finding happiness and raising families that occur even when tragic circumstances are happening all around you. It does a beautiful job humanizing the real people living in a country that has undergone dramatic changes in lifestyle due to the changing government. So grab the tissues and prepare for tears, horror, but also a sprinkling of hope.
AUTHOR BIO: Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980. Hosseini is also a U.S. Goodwill Envoy to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the founder of The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
While titled a memoir, it's important to know going into this choice that it was ghost-written by an adult based on the memories of a child fleeing Afghanistan after the Soviet Invasion in the early 1980s. As political rest intensifies in the region, Enjeela's mother visits India for medical treatment. While she is gone, the rest of the family realizes that they need to flee their home and attempt to reconnect with the mother.
The family's wealth gives them more options than many had, but they still had to endure a very treacherous five-year journey, including walking the Hindu Kush section of the Himalayas, to find freedom again.
AUTHOR BIO: Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller was born in 1976 in Kabul, Afghanistan and is currently a citizen of the United States. She has also lived in Pakistan and India.
At the beginning of this novel, written by an Afghan author, ten-year-old Sitara has a great life. It's 1978, and Sitara's father has an important job as the right-hand man of the country's progressive President, Sardar Daoud.
Her privileged world is shattered when she's the lone survivor from her family after a coup. After being smuggled out of the palace, Sitara finds safety in the arms of an American diplomat, who adopts her.
Thirty years later, she's become a successful surgeon in America. However, her past comes racing back when she sees a new elderly patient, Shair, who was the soldier that saved her during the coup. However, Shair may have also been responsible for the deaths of her family. Her desire for past answers is rekindled after decades of a successful life.
AUTHOR BIO: Nadia Hashimi is a first generation American of Afghani parents. In addition to traveling to Afghanistan with her parents, she serves on the boards of organizations committed to educating and nurturing Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children and empowering the female leaders of tomorrow. She is also a member of the US-Afghan Women’s Council.
Based on the author, Azar Nafisi's, real life, this book tells the story of a secret reading group. For two years, seven women met with their teacher to read forbidden Western classics. With fundamentalists taking over universities and "morality squads" conducting unannounced raids, the simple act of reading Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald was life-threatening. In the memoir, you'll see how the stories they read intertwined with the woman's real lives and be reminded of the power of literature.
The Book Girls Say... Keep in mind that this book includes the group's discussions on five classics, and if any are on your reading list, there may be spoilers. The books discussed are: Lolita, Invitation to a Beheading, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, and Pride and Prejudice. The book also has a slightly lower rating than our normal cut-off for inclusion, but with many still giving it 5 stars and the book being a compelling true story, we wanted to include it with hopes our group of book lovers will enjoy it.
AUTHOR BIO: Azar Nafisi was born in Iran in 1948. During her teenage years, her father served as mayor of Tehran from 1961 to 1963. After attending university in the US, she returned to Iran where she worked as a professor and writer. In 1997 she moved to the United States and became a US citizen in 2008.
From the author of The Stationery Shop (also set partially in Iran), Together Tea is a novel about family and love. Darya decides her daughter, Mina, needs a very special birthday gift for her 25th birthday - a husband!
However, Mina is exhausted by her mom's constant matchmaking. After yet another dating fail in New York City, Darya and Mina travel back to their home country of Iran. Once they're out of their normal daily routines and submerged back into Persian culture, the mother-daughter duo begins to better understand each other.
Will that understanding continue when Mina meets a man outside her mom's radar?
The Book Girls Say... While this is a lighter choice with both romance and family themes, it also gives great insight into Iran in two unique time periods - 1978 and 1996. With descriptions of architecture, food, and even a few Farsi words, you'll feel like you took a trip to this beautiful and often misunderstood country.
AUTHOR BIO: Marjan Kamali was born in Turkey to Iranian parents. She spent her childhood in Kenya, Germany, Turkey, Iran, and the United States. She studied English Literature at UC Berkeley and received her MBA from Columbia University and her MFA from New York University. She now lives in Boston.
This novel is set in war-torn 1979 Kurdistan, a province in northern Iraq that is now an autonomous region. The main character, Olivia, is a secretary for an LA newspaper but dreams of being a photojournalist. So when her Kurdish boyfriend is invited home to a wedding, she agrees to join him and hopes to take photos that will get her recognized at work. Plus, it's a great opportunity to understand her boyfriend's past.
However, when they arrive, they realize the trip will be more dangerous than they anticipated. The town is now under curfew and patrolled by the armed Iraqi military. When Olivia photographs a tragic event, it has the potential to pull her relationship apart.
Despite the region being torn apart by war, the book is a beautiful look at the lush landscapes and culture of Kurdistan. You'll also find a balance of destruction and hope in this descriptive romance.
This book is available via Kindle Unlimited.
AUTHOR BIO: Gian Sardar was born and raised in the US. Her father is from Kurdistan of Iraq, where he grew lush gardens amid turmoil, and Take What You Can Carry is based on his stories as well as a trip the family took in 1979.
This suspenseful tale of espionage is a fictionalized story based on the author's own experiences in Baghdad, Iraq. You'll follow the complicated friendship of three women, two from Iraq and one from Australia, who each have a hidden past.
The Mukhabarat (secret police) are everywhere and Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, has been tasked with befriending Ally, the deputy Ambassador's wife. Huda doesn't want to be an informant, but fears for her son if she doesn't comply. Huda's friend, Rania, was the wealthy daughter of a Sheikh, but with the family funds gone, she also fears for her family. As these women's lives intersect, hidden pasts and fragile futures complicate the need for extreme trust in each other.
AUTHOR BIO: Gina Wilkinson was born in the US but spent her childhood and most of her adult life living all over the world. Her career has included foreign correspondent, radio journalist, and documentary maker for the BBC, NPR, the ABC. Where the Apricots Bloom is inspired by her own experiences living in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein.
For 7 years, pediatric oncologist Elisha Waldman worked in Jerusalem treating children--Israeli Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza--who had been diagnosed with cancer. His memoir reflects back on those difficult, but cherished, years of his life as tensions and traditions complicated an already difficult career. The ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians became part of his daily life. Along the way, his own identity as an American immigrant to Israeli was questioned as he straddled two cultures, not feeling a part of either fully.
The Book Girls Say... Because of the nature of his career and work, some of the stories of his patients are pretty grim. However, reviewers consistently refer to this book as compelling and praise the way the author treats everyone with respect, whether they share the same Jewish beliefs with him or not.
NOTE: The eBook version of this one is called an eTextbook vs a Kindle book because it was made so the page numbers in the digital edition would match the print version. However, it will still be readable like normal in the Kindle app.
AUTHOR BIO: Elisha Waldman is an American-born physician who received his medical degree from the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv. He spent seven years working as a pediatric oncologist at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Looking for a lighter peek into Israel and Jordan? This travel memoir by an Australian woman takes you along her journey on a group tour throughout the region. You'll experience the good and bad of the food, sights, and the tour second-hand as they visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Jordan.
The Book Girls Say...Keep in mind that this trip was taken by an inexperienced traveler, so the author's innocence and insecurities are shared openly. As long as you see this as refreshing that she's willing to share her inexperience versus frustrating that she's not digging even deeper into local life, you should enjoy this one!
AUTHOR BIO: Noor De Olinad lives with her family in Australia. Her ancestral roots are from a tiny mountain village in the Italian Alps on her father’s side, and in the Middle East on her mother’s side. Her academic background is in cultural anthropology, sociology, history, and languages.
This debut novel was written by a Palestinian-American poet and covers three generations of the same Palestinian family. It begins as the family is uprooted after the Six Day War of 1967. The main character, Alia, moves to Kuwait City, and builds a new life with her husband and three children until Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990. Then, the family must again flee, this time being spread apart to Beirut, Paris, and Boston.
As Alia's grandchildren are born, each part of the family navigates the burdens and blessings of assimilation in new cities.
The Book Girls Say... There is a family tree at the beginning of the book that will come in very handy during the shifting perspectives throughout the book. Because of this, it may be a better choice as a paper or Kindle book than audio.
AUTHOR BIO: Hala Alyan spent her early years living in Kuwait, where her parents met and married. Her mother had a Lebanese passport and her father had Palestinian travel documents. In what the author describes as “a stroke of foresight and genius” her mother traveled to visit her brother in Illinois when she was 8 months pregnant and Hala was born there. They then returned to Kuwait where they lived until, when Hala was 4-years-old, her family sought political asylum in the United States following the Iraqi forces invasion of the country. In the years that followed, her family moved over a dozen times between the middle east and the U.S. She received her bachelor’s degree from American University of Beirut and now resides in New York.
Written by one of Beirut's most celebrated authors, this book is all about one introverted character, 72-year-old Aaliya. She lives alone among her treasured books, considered unnecessary by her family as a divorced, childless, Godless woman. She spends her days translating books to Arabic, and then stowing them away without sharing them. As Aaliya enters a late-life crisis, her experiences in past and present-Beirut, including the Lebanese Civil War, ricochet through her mind even as she tries to reflect on happier topics of literature and art.
As Aaliya tries to overcome her aging body, an unthinkable disaster threatens the little life she has left.
The Book Girls Say...This book has been described as a love letter to literature and novel for bibliophiles. However, Aaliya's observations and words about different people groups are complicated. Some reviewers have pointed out inconsistencies in her thoughts about Israeli Jews, with one section within the book being offensive while other mentions were positive.
AUTHOR BIO: Rabih Alameddine was born in in Amman, Jordan to Labanese parents, and grew up in Lebanon and Kuwait. He received his education in England and the US, and has an engineering degree from UCLA and an MBA from the University of San Francisco.
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea is a non-fiction book that reads like page-turning fiction. The Syrian refugee crisis flooded the news, with many countries overwhelmed trying to process the vast numbers of asylum seekers fleeing their war-torn homes.
This book tells the well-rounded story of one girl, Doaa, starting with her life in Syria before the war and following her journey of strength, courage, and sorrow. Each page is compelling as you get an inside look at a 19-year-old refugee who first fought to stay in Syria and then fought for her life and the lives of other children during a harrowing 4 days at sea.
The Book Girls Say...This is one of Melissa's favorite books of all time. It intersects a dramatic page-turning story with rare insight into everything a refugee endures before landing in another country to ask for asylum. If you loved Adunni in The Girl with the Louding Voice, I think you'll also fall in love with Doaa.
AUTHOR BIO: Melissa Fleming was born in Massachusetts and has spent her adult life living in Europe and working for international refugee organizations. She leads communications for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and travels to war zones and refugee camps to give voice to those people forcibly displaced from their homes. In A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea, she tells the story of one of the Syrian refugees that she worked with.
This true story of Syrian rebels forming an underground library was written by an award-winning journalist. In Daraya, a town outside Damascus, a group searching for survivors in rubble came across a pile of books instead. They're inspired to begin searching for more books, and their collection soon grows to 6,000 and then 15,000.
Soon, they've created a secret sanctuary for those living through the war. Foreign aid was blocked for four years, but those in Daraya could escape into the world of books. In 2015, while working as a journalist, Minoui heard about the library and tracked down one of the founders. Over social media, she interviewed him about the founding of the library, the most popular books, and the lives of these untrained librarians in a war-town town as they fight for democracy. The book's reach goes well beyond the library and covers activity in the region from 2011-2016.
AUTHOR BIO: Delphine Minoui was born in France to a French mother and Iranian father. She moved to Iran at the age of 25 and has worked in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Egypt. She is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey, where she works as the Middle Eastern correspondent for Le Figaro newspaper.
Translated from the original Hebrew, About the Night is a love story that begins in the 1940s. Elias is a Christian Arab living on the eastern side of the newly divided city, and Lila is a Jew living on the western side. Despite their deep love for each other, they're separated by a physical wall and by distrust between their regions. Sadly, from 1948 until the end of the 1967 Six Day War, which reunited Jerusalem, Elias and Lila couldn't communicate at all.
This slow-burning book is told from the perspective of Elias from his sick bed in 2006 as he reflects on his life and choices. It's fiction, but loosely based on the story of the Israeli author's family friend.
AUTHOR BIO: Anat Talshir is an Israeli author and has been one of Israel’s most distinguished investigative journalists, and also taught creative writing at a college in Rishon LeTsiyon, Israel. About the Night was written in Hebrew and translated.
Set in 1921 Constantinople, Last Letter from Istanbul is a historical fiction novel from the author of the contemporary thriller, The Guest List.
Nur's childhood home has been turned into an Army hospital, and her town is now full of Allied soldiers. Yet, Nur tries to keep her focus on the orphan boy she adopted in her fallen city.
When he becomes very ill, Nur makes a desperate choice to intertwine her life with the enemy and return to her old home for medical assistance. As she pleads for help from Officer George Monroe, will he remain an enemy or become a friend? And is something even more threatening lurking?
AUTHOR BIO: Lucy Foley is from London, England, but as a full-time writer she now divides her time between the UK and the Middle East. She says that much of Last Letter from Istanbul was written in a garden in Tehran.
This historical fiction novel, based on true events, follows four generations of a Jewish family. As Hitler rose to power, Gerhard and Elsa Schliemann fled Germany in search of a safe place to raise their children. After finding few opportunities elsewhere in Europe for Gerhard to continue his work as a medical professor, the family unexpectedly found refuge in Istanbul, Turkey, where the universities and hospitals welcomed him. But despite embracing their adopted country, this family's story would not be without struggle.
From WWII to the age of social media, this novel provides a good look at political, societal, and cultural upheavals that occured in Turkey over the decades. Throughout this 80 year period, the Schliemann family experience challenges to their cultural identity, and 80 years after escaping Germany, anti-Semitism once again threatens their future.
The Book Girls Say... Ayşe Kulin is one of Turkey's most beloved authors, and also wrote the international best seller, Last Train to Istanbul. Although less of that novel takes place in Turkey, historical fiction fans will also enjoy this novel that follows a group of Turkish diplomats aiding hundreds of Jewish people fleeing the Nazi invasion of France. From Akara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, The Last Train to Istanbul crisscrosses a war-torn continent in an uplifting tale of love and adventure.
This book is available via Kindle Unlimited.
AUTHOR BIO: Ayşe Kulin is a Turkish contemporary novelist and columnist. Without a Country was first published in 2016, and was translated into English in 2018.
Setting: TURKEY, as well as other countries in Europe
Alice Pendelbury's life in post-war London was comfortably settled before a carnival fortune teller tells her that she must travel to Turkey to meet six people who will lead her to secrets about her past. Her typically hostile neighbor, Mr. Daldry, encourages her to take the prophecy seriously, and even agrees to finance her trip.
This is a witty and charming story of love and friendship mixed with just enough mystery. Throughout her journey, Alice (herself a perfume seller) experiences the world through smells, and the atmospheric writing will help you feel like you're right there with her every step of the way from England to Istanbul, Turkey.
The Books Girls Say... Some say that this book is a bit slow to start, but that it's worth sticking with it for this lovely story. The book is primarily told in a 3rd person narrative, but the format changes to a series of letters late in the book, which audiobook listeners report particularly enjoying.
This book is available via Kindle Unlimited.
AUTHOR BIO: Marc Levy was born in France. When he turned eighteen, he joined the Red Cross, where he spent the next six years. Before his full time career as a writer, he was a tech entrepreneur and an architect, co-founding an interior design and planning company that became one of the leading architecture firms in France. At the age of 37 he wrote a story that his sister, then a screenwriter, encouraged him to publish. Prior to publication, Steven Spielberg acquired the film rights to the novel. The movie, Just like Heaven, produced by Steven Spielberg, and starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, was a #1 box office hit in America in 2005. Since that time, Marc has written 18 novels that have been translated into 49 languages. He now lives in New York.
This non-fiction book tells the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Yemeni-American, who was born in California to Yemeni immigrant parents. At the age of 24, Mokhtar discovers Yemen's central role in the history of coffee. He decides to travel from his home in San Francisco to his ancestral homeland to resurrect the ancient art of Yemeni coffee.
While he is traveling deep into the country, touring terraced farms high in the rugged mountains of Yemen and meeting the farmers, war engulfs the country and Saudi bombs begin raining down. Mokhtar must find a way to safely escape from Yemen without giving up on his dreams or abandoning the people he's met.
The Book Girls Say... This is an enjoyable read, especially for coffee lovers.
AUTHOR BIO: Dave Eggers is an American author whose breakout work was a memoir about the death of his parents and his struggle to raise his younger brother. That memoir was chosen as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Nonfiction. Since that time, Eggers has had many other fiction and nonfiction successes. In writing The Monk of Mokha he conducted hundreds of hours of interviews and spent countless time traveling with Mokhtar Alkhanshali.
In this novel, the main character, Nahr, was born in Kuwait in the 1970s and is the daughter of Palestinian refugees. Nahr dreamed of falling in love, raising children, and opening her own beauty salon. But life didn't go according to her plans. Her husband jilts her not long after their marriage, her family is on the brink of poverty, and she is forced to prostitute herself to get by. When the US invades Iraq, she finds herself a refugee, just as her parents had been.
After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, under Israeli occupation. Here she rebuilds her life and falls in love. So how is it that she now finds herself locked away in prison under solitary confinement?
The Book Girls Say... Described as both impactful and haunting, this book is told from the perspective of the Palestinian experience. Nahr is a very well-written and complex character, and the writing style will allow you to understand her thoughts and actions, whether you agree with them or not.
AUTHOR BIO: Susan Abulhawa was born in Kuwait to parents who were refugees of the 1967 war when Israel captured what remained of Palestine. She currently lives in Pennsylvania, and is considered one of the most widely read Arab authors in the world. She also the founder and President of Playgrounds for Palestine, a children’s organization dedicated to upholding The Right to Play for Palestinian children.
This book is part anthology and part travelogue. Ethan Chorin was one of the first U.S. diplomats posted to Libya, and during his time there, he noticed that Libyan fiction rarely mentioned specific cities and landmarks. He made it his mission to track down and translate stories that specifically mentioned places in Libya. In this book, Chorin has collected 17 short stories about life in Libya, almost all of which are written by Libyan authors. He then visited the places mentioned in each story and described what he experienced there.
The Book Girls Say... This book provides a fascinating look at modern-day Libya told from the dual perspective of Libyan authors and an outsider experiencing it through an American-lens.
AUTHOR BIO: Ethan Chorin was born in New York and began his career as a business developer for an oil company. In 2004, he joined the US foreign service was one of the first U.S. diplomats posted to Libya. In 2011 he returned to Libya to co-found a non-profit to assist with post-revolutionary medical capacity-building. He is now a Middle East and African focused scholar, and is considered a leading analyst of Libyan affairs.
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Libyan author Hisham Matar returns home to his native Libya in search of answers to his father's disappearance. When he was just 12, Matar's family went into political exile in Egypt. His father was a former Libyan diplomat turned political dissident against the Qaddafi regime. Eight years after their exile, Matar's father was kidnapped from the streets of Cairo by the Libyan government. When the Qaddafi reign fell, Matar and his family returned home with hope of finding clues about their father's whereabouts.
This memoir is not told in a linear fashion, but is instead made up of a series of stories through which Matar pieces the full story together. His prose allows readers to feel the same painful emotions that his family experienced through the years. In addition to sharing the story of his family, Matar also explores the concept of home, as well as what it means to be a man and a father.
The Book Girls Say... Hisham Matar also wrote a powerful novel titled In the Country of Men, which tells the story of a 9-year-old Libyan who, in 1979, sees his best friend’s father arrested and shoved into a car on the streets of Tripoli. Then his own father disappears. In the Country of Men was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and, while fiction, it provides a compelling glimpse of life in Libya under Qaddafi.
AUTHOR BIO: Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents. His father was working fo the Libyan delegation to the United Nations. The family returned to Tripoli, Libya when he was three years old, and he spent his childhood there until the family was forced to flee to Egypt due to political persecutions under the Ghaddafi regime. At the age of 16, he moved to London to further his education, where he has lived for much of his adult life.
The city of Dubai (one of seven United Arab Emirates) has been drastically transformed in the past 60 years - from dusty village to capitalist oasis to the quintessential, cosmopolitan metropolis of the future. Dubai is a city of contrasts. Located not far from some of the world's most dangerous places, Dubai is one of the world's safest. Filled with architectural landmarks and luxury resorts, Dubai is also one of the world's worst polluters. Rapid growth has left its citizens as just a tiny minority in a sea of foreigners.
In this non-fiction book, Jim Krane, who reported for the Associated Press from Dubai, provides a "boots-on-the-ground" look at this fascinating city, its history, and its future.
AUTHOR BIO: Jim Krane grew up in Ohio. His career with the Associated Press took him to the Middle East where he covered Baghdad, then all six Gulf Arab nations, including the UAE and Dubai. He now lives in England with his family.
In this light-hearted work of travel literature, David Millar explores the Emirates in search of the past through a series of road trips. At each destination, Millar experiences the modern location as well as unearthing its history. Through this book, he sheds light on the lost cities of the United Arab Emirates.
Described as Bill Bryson meets Leonary Woolley, Millar's humorous writing style makes his subject both accessible and enjoyable.
The Book Girls Say... There are quite a few travelogues about the UAE written by expats, but we specifically selected this one for our list based on the reviews from long-time UAE residents who praise this book for exploring far beyond glittery Dubai, and for working to understand and document the history.
This book is available via Kindle Unlimited.
AUTHOR BIO: David Millar studied archaeology and glaciology in England worked as a science journalist and editor in London. After a career change, he lived as an expat in Dubai for 10 years, and during his time there he developed a fascination for the archaeology of the Emirates and Arabian Peninsula. He now lives in Western Canada.
This is the intimate memoir of a devout Muslim woman turned accidental activist. Raised in a modest family in Saudi Arabia, and born the year that fundamentalism took hold in her country, Manal describes herself as a religious radical in her adolescence (she once melted her brothers boy band cassettes in the oven because the music was haram, forbidden by Islamic law). But education changed everything for her.
In her twenties, she became a computer security engineer and was one of only a few women working in a desert compound that she describes as resembling suburban America. It was here that her experiences and the contradictions of the Saudi kingdom became to much for her to quietly ignore: she was labeled a slut for talking with male colleagues, she had to have her teenage brother chaperone her on business trips, and while she could keep a car in her garage, she was forbidden from being behind the wheel on city streets.
In this memoir, Manal provides a rare glimpse inside the everyday lives of woman in Saudi Arabia, and she describes how she became an unexpected leader in the supporting women's right to drive, stood up to a kingdom of men, and won!
This book is available via Kindle Unlimited.
WARNING: There is a short section of the book that Manal tells about her experience with female circumcision. It's heartbreaking and may be shocking.
AUTHOR BIO: Manal Al-Sharif was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. She graduated from King Abdulaziz University with a degree in computing and, until May 2012, she worked as an Information Security Consultant for the Saudi national oil company. She has spent much of the last decade campaigning for women's rights in Saudi Arabia.
In this fast-paced crime fiction thriller, nothing is what it seems. The body of a burqa-clad and brutally beaten young woman is discovered on a sandy beach in Jeddah, in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia.
The detectives are all too used to murders like these, and they are quick to want to dismiss this case as another unsolvable murder in a city where women are kept anonymous in life and in death. But Katya, a forensic scientist, is convinced that the victim can be identified and her killer can be found. Interwoven with Katya's story, as she seeks to solve the mystery, is that of American Miriam Walker. Miriam's expat husband, Eric, has gone missing leaving her alone and essentially trapped in Jeddah- forced to wear a veil and not allowed to drive a car unaccompanied.
The author moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War and lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his extended Saudii-Palestinian family. Through this novel she provides a nuanced and intimate portrayal that lifts the veil and takes us deep inside the fear-filled lives of woman living under the repressive Saudi regime. Through the eyes of Miriam, she also provides a look at this world from the perspective of an American woman.
The Book Girls Say... This book is the second in a series, and while it continues some of the character relationships established in the first book, it can be read as a stand alone. If you are interested in reading all three books in the series, begin with Finding Nouf, then City of Veils, followed by Kingdom of Strangers.
AUTHOR BIO: Zoë Ferraris was born in Oklahoma. In 1991, she married a Saudi man and moved with him to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where they lived in a conservative neighborhood with his Saudi-Palestinian family. Zoë now lives in San Francisco, but all three of her novels are based on her time living in Saudi Arabia.
Sultana (a name used to protect her identity) is a Saudi Arabian princess who seemingly has everything and more. Four mansions across three continents, a private jet, jewels galore, and endless designer dresses. But in reality, she lives in a gilded cage. She has no freedom or control over her own life - everything is controlled by her father, husband, sons, and country.
At great personal risk, Sultana has told her story to author Jean Sasson in hopes that by speaking out about the treatment of women in her country, she'll be able to improve the future for her daughters.
The Book Girls Say... This is presented as a non-fiction book. Some readers have questioned the accuracy of this work and asked how this book could reveal so many details of the princess's life story without her being caught and punished. While we cannot answer those questions, the follow-up books do address this issue and describe how she deals with the fallout from the publication of the first book and the punishments she receives as a result.
This book is available via Kindle Unlimited.
AUTHOR BIO: Jean Sasson was born in Alabama. At the age of 28, she accepted a position at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh, and lived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for 12 years. She traveled extensively, visiting 66 countries over the course of 30 years.
This historical fiction novel will take you right to the heart of Egypt during the 1922 hunt for Tutankhamun's tomb. In 1922, at the age of just 11, Lucy is sent to Cairo with her governess to recover from the typhoid that killed her mother. There she befriends Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist, which gives Lucy an inside look at the intrigue and excitement surrounding the search for King Tut.
Nearly a century later, as she is interviewed by a documentary film maker in the year 2002, Lucy finally comes to terms with the mistakes she made, and the secrets she kept, and what happened after her time in Cairo and the Valley or the Kings, when Frances need her the most.
The author has crafted a narrative that draws readers deeply into the lives of the characters and presents many mysteries beyond just the search for King Tut. While this book is a work of fiction, Bauman's research of the events is fantastically thorough (she provides a detailed bibliography), and she approaches historically controversial issues from a neutral viewpoint. Drawing upon diaries and letters that she read during her research, Beauman seamlessly weaves together both fictional and real life characters. Herbert Winlock, for example, was the actual representative from the Metropolitan Museum in the US, and his daughter Frances actually accompanied him to Cairo during those years. Frances introduces Lucy to other real life people who were famously involved in the search for Tut's tomb.
The Book Girls Say... If you enjoy this novel, you may also want to dig into the 20-book series about Egyptologist Amelia Peabody. Publishers Weekly says, "If Indiana Jones were female, a wife, and a mother who lived in Victorian times, he would be Amelia Peabody Emerson."
AUTHOR BIO: Sally Beauman was born in England. After completing her master’s degree at Cambridge, she moved to the US where she began her career as a journalist at New York Magazine. She later returned to England where she continued her work as a journalist and as an author.
This is the first book in a trilogy of best-sellers that follow the saga of a Muslim family living in Cairo during the World War I British occupation of Egypt. Palace Walk is a soap opera-esque tale of a large family - headed by a tyrannical father - with well developed and complex characters. As the story evolves, it also expands to shed light on the political, social, and religious matters of the times.
The trilogy was first published in the author's native Arabic in the mid-1950s, but his works weren't translated into English until three decades later after he won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.
AUTHOR BIO: Naguib Mahfouz was born in Cairo, Egypt, and published over 50 novels and 350 short stories in Arabic over his 70-year career. Mahfouz was the first Arabic author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His writing provides an inside look at life in the Middle East that for too long was viewed by Westerners only through a lens of stereotypes.
When Qatari newlywed, Abdalla loses his beloved pregnant wife in a car accident, he blames himself and vows never to marry again. But, unfortunately, that is not an option in his traditional family. When he's forced into an arrangement with his cousin, Hind, he tries to stretch out the engagement as long as possible.
To his surprise, he discovers Hind is just as reluctant to marry as he is. She's more focused on going to grad school in England. However, when she meets an Indian-American friend, her journey takes a turn that jeopardizes her future.
The Book Girls Say... This book is said to reveal a glimpse of Muslim life in Qatar that Westerners rarely see. Reviewers describe this novel as a fast-paced and enjoyable contemporary romance with feminist undertones. While some describe the prose as a bit too simplistic, the main characters are well developed and the story will open your eyes to the beauty of Qatar.
Love Comes Later is currently available on Kindle for $0.99 and the sequel, Pearls of the Past, is currently free with Kindle Unlimited.
AUTHOR BIO: Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar was born in India, educated in the US, and has lived in Qatar since 2005, where she raised her children. She is a scholar of gender and literature, and has published both works of fiction as well as essays about her experience living in the Arabian Gulf.
The main character, 7-year-old Aref, has been told his family is leaving Oman to move to Michigan, but he doesn't want to leave his home. When he refuses to pack his suitcase, Aref's mom calls his grandfather, Siddi, for help.
Instead of forcing him to pack immediately, Siddi takes Aref on a series of visits to notable places throughout their beautiful country. Siddi collects a small stone for Aref to carry to America as a precious memento of home at each stop. As they tour Oman, you'll get a great feel for the varied ecosystems in the area.
The Book Girls Say... While this is technically a middle-grade book, it's full-length at 309 pages and said to be a sweet book for all ages. Some reviewers are turned off by the uncomplicated sentence structure or poetic style of the book. Still, others adore the writing in this gentle story and the relationship between grandfather and grandson.
AUTHOR BIO: Naomi Shihab Nye was born is Missouri to a Palestinian refugee father and an American mother. She spent her adolescence living in Jerusalem, Ramallah (a Palestinian city), and San Antonio, Texas.