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Books Set in the Middle East

Whether you found this post looking for books set in the Middle East or are participating in our Book Voyage reading challenge, we hope you find a great book on our list.

Three angled book covers of titles set in the Middle East. Each cover has flowes on it and the center title is About the Night by Anat Talshir

The Geography of the Middle East

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 major world religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

For purposes of the Book Voyage reading challenge, we consider the Middle East countries to include: 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.

Some of the borders within this region remain contested. In creating this list, we are not taking any political positions. Instead, we hope that after reading about the Middle East, you will learn something new and find yourself better able to form your own opinions.

What Kind of Books Are Included on This List?

When many Westerners think of the Middle East today, they likely envision vast deserts and oil reserves. However, there’s much more to this varied and culturally rich region.

It can be very challenging to truly understand these countries’ dynamics of religion and politics. So, while no one book about the Middle East can carry the weight of explaining everything there is to know, we’ve worked hard to curate a wide variety of books, many written by authors native to this region.

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.

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 more profound respect for, our fellow humans.

Books Set in the Middle East Region

The Bird Tattoo illustrated book cover

Book Summary

Helen is a member of the Yazidi community, an ethnic-religious minority in Iraq. She lives with her family in the remote mountain village of Sinjar, which seems to stand apart from time – largely unaffected by political changes.

She falls in love with a man named Elias, and they start a family together in Sinjar. But when a brutal organization begins to infiltrate even the remote corners of Iraq, Elias, a journalist, goes missing. Helen’s search for her husband results in her being taken captive and enslaved by ISIS, an organization that justifies its violence as religious devotion.

When Helen eventually escapes and returns home, she discovers that not only is her husband still missing, but now her own sons are young recruits of the organization.

The Book Girls Say…

This novel is based on actual events that occurred in Iraq in the 2000s and 2010s. Readers say that while the topics of war and abuse are addressed throughout this novel, it’s the first chapter that is the most difficult to read. The remainder of the book is balanced by the beautiful story of Helen and her family.

Author Dunya Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965 and worked as a journalist for the liberal Baghdad Observer. After facing increasing threats from Iraqi authorities, Dunya was forced to flee first to Jordan and then the US. In addition to writing, she also serves as an Arabic instructor for Michigan State University. In recognition of the importance of her work, she was awarded a UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing in 2001.

Book Summary

Dr. Warren Ford is an esteemed archaeologist and the father of two very different twin daughters. Lila is an intellectual about to debut as a Manhattan socialite. Tess, on the other hand, is a nonconformist who wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps. Despite their differences, the brilliant sisters have their own language, and they excel at translating and code-breaking.

It’s the early 20th century, and the dawn of Egyptology is a time of imperialism and plunder. Dr. Ford is considered the man of the hour. But when a secretive organization wants to find a lost relic known for its dangerous legendary power, it’s not Dr. Ford they turn to – it’s his daughters.

The lost artifact – known as the Serpent’s Crown – is believed to reside in the Tomb of the Five Ladies. Opening the tomb, however, requires solving a seemingly impossible riddle. The organization believes that one of the Ford daughters holds the key to deciphering the code.

On the eve of Lila’s debutante ball, she and her father discover that Tess has been kidnapped and put on a ship across the Atlantic bound for Egypt.

The Book Girls Say…

This historical fiction novel has been described as a feminist take on Indiana Jones. The writing style is said to provide an adventurous, movie-like experience. Be sure to read the author’s note at the end, the authors do a good job outlining which parts of the book are history versus fiction.

Author Lee Kelly is an entertainment lawyer and author with an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Co-author Jennifer Marie Thorne studied drama at NYU before turning her focus to writing and moving to Cotswold, England.

For a different take on Egyptology, consider Empress of the Nile by Lynne Olson. This non-fiction book tells the little-known story of French archaeologist Christaine Desroches-Nolecourt. In the 1960s, she intervened to protect dozens of ancient Egyptian temples that would have otherwise been lost to the floodwaters of the new Aswan High Dam

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

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 three decades in Afghanistan, from the Soviet invasion, and the Taliban’s reign, to post-Taliban rebuilding. 

The emotional book follows two generations of brave women, Mariam and Laila, brought together by war. It explores the universal desire to find happiness and raise a family, even when tragic circumstances are happening all around you. It does a beautiful job of 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, and a sprinkling of hope. 

The Book Girls Say…

Author 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.

Book Cover of Hope You Are Satisfied by Tania Malik

Book Summary

It’s 1990, and 25-year-old Riyai is from India but works in Dubai for Discover Arabia, a desert tour company. While developers have dreams of transforming Dubai’s skyline and reputation into a modern metropolis, it hasn’t happened yet.

Like many of the transient workers who came to Dubai to earn money for families back home, Riya sees Dubai as a desert purgatory that separates her from her family. She’s constantly blamed for her company’s failings, which most recently included stranding the Sheik, his wives, and their children stranded on a tarmac. Can a notorious “fixer” get Riay back into good graces, or will Sadam Hussein’s impending invasion make everything else irrelevant?

The Book Girls Say…

Author Tania Malik was born in New Delhi, educated in boarding schools in the Himalayas, and raised in India, Africa, and the Middle East.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea is a non-fiction book that reads like page-turning fiction. In the 2010s, 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 four 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, we think you’ll also fall in love with Doaa.

If you’ve already read this one, another highly-rated Syrian refugee memoir is Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah.

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 she worked with.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 2010s

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

93% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

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 of her family after a coup. After being smuggled out of the palace, Sitara finds safety with an American diplomat, who later 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 who 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.

The Book Girls Say…

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.

NOTE: Only the first half of Sparks Like Stars is set in Afghanistan, but we thought it was worth including as a dramatically different look at the country from before the Soviet invasion. The author has also written three other well-rated books set in Afghanistan – The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, House Without Windows, and When the Moon is Low.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/05/2023
Finding Nouf Book Cover - silhouette in desert

Book Summary

Sixteen-year-old Nouf is the daughter in a prominent family, so when she goes missing along with her favorite camel, the family calls in desert guide Nayir al-Sharqi to lead the search party. Just as they are about to give up, Nouf’s body is found, but the coroner determines that she died via drowning, not dehydration as you would expect.

Nouf’s family is strangely uninterested in this turn of events, but Nayir, a Palestinian orphan, joins forces with Katya Hijazi, a lab worker at the coroner’s office in an effort to find out what really happened to Nouf. In one of the most rigidly gender-segregated areas of the Middle East, Nayir is determined to enter the closed society in his hunt for answers.

The Book Girls Say…

Zoë Ferraris was born in Oklahoma. In 1991, she married a Saudi man and moved 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.

We had the 2nd book in this series on the list previously, and it received an average rating of 4 stars out of 5. Readers recommended starting with Finding Nouf to understand Nayir and Kayta’s back story.

The Mismatch illustrated book cover

Book Summary

Soraya is a 21-year-old British-Iranian woman who has just graduated from university. She’s ready for her first job and catching up on life experiences she has missed due to her cultural upbringing – life her first kiss. Rugby player Magnus seems like just the person for the job. He is quintessentially British and so different from the type of person she is expected to marry that it seems like she can enjoy a harmless kiss with no risk of falling for him.

Soraya’s story is counter-balanced with flashbacks to her mother’s life growing up in 1970s Tehran, Iran, before it was radicalized. You’ll see her struggles and how she ended up leaving Iran, along with how her background impacted the decisions she made raising her own daughters.

The Book Girls Say…

While this book alternates between Soraya’s life dating and finding love in England with her mom’s experiences doing the same in 1970s Iran, the portions in England are also heavily influenced by Iranian culture. While this is a romance novel on the surface, it provides an interesting perspective on the immigrant experiences of both the first and second-generation women in the same family. However, if you are looking for a book that is fully set in the Middle East versus partially, skip this pick.

Author Sara Jafari is British-Iranian and is able to use her background to accurately portray both British-Iranian Muslims and the older generation in Iran.

Without a Country Book Cover, Orange with beige text

Book Summary

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 occurred in Turkey over the decades. Throughout this 80-year period, the Schliemann family experiences 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 contemporary 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 that it 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.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/15/2023

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

90% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

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 an excellent 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 may 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.

The Book Girls Say…

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.

Nefertiti book cover

Book Summary

This historical fiction novel takes us back to the 14th century BC to explore the life of Nefertiti, the ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful wife of the pharaoh, King Amunhotep.

Nefertiti is beloved by the people of Egypt, and there is hope that with her strong personality, she’ll be able to temper Amunhotep’s desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods in favor of introducing a new sun god for all to worship. But while Nefertiti is focused on the task of conceiving a male heir to the throne, she fails to see that the powerful priests and military are plotting against her husband’s rule.

Nefertiti’s sister, however, recognizes the shifting political winds and is brave enough to tell the queen. Unlike her sister, Mutnodjment has no desire for power, preferring instead a quiet life without the pressures of family duty where she can marry for love. But when Nefertiti learns of the threats to her reign, she demands that Mutnodjmet remain at court and marry for political gain.

Can Mutnodjmet defy her sister’s wishes while also remaining loyal to her family? This novel is packed with love, betrayal, political unrest, plague, and religious conflict.

The Book Girls Say…

This novel is said to be both fast-paced and historically accurate. Readers praise author Michelle Moran’s extensive research and ability to bring this iconic woman from history to life in greater detail, while crafting a compelling fictional story for her younger sister, Mutnodjmet.

Moran grew up in California and attended Pomona College and Claremont Graduate University. During her six years as a public high school reading and writing teacher, she spent her summers traveling around the world, including volunteering on archaeological digs. These experiences inspired her to write historical fiction.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

88% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

The main character, Leila, is a young Kurdish woman living in Iran. She dreams of telling the untold stories of her people, the 40 million stateless Kurds, via filmmaking. Her younger brother, Chia, pursues activism differently, and his involvement in politics and social justice has been growing. Then, one day, he disappears from Tehran.

Leila fears the worst and makes it her mission to save him. However, her attempts at finding him begin to endanger her own life. Throughout this fictional modern-day story, you’ll find yourself immersed in the everyday life of the Kurds while learning about Kurdish history from the 1970s to the present.

The Book Girls Say…

This is the first novel published in English by a female Kurdish writer. Ava Homa has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Windsor in Canada, and another in English Language and Literature from Tehran, Iran. She is a Kurdish writer, journalist, and activist who has given speeches on writing as resistance, human rights, gender equality, Kurdish affairs, media literacy, and other topics.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

95% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

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 an extraordinary 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 everyday routines and submerged back into Persian culture, the mother-daughter duo begins to understand each other better. 

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 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 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.

Book Summary

Author Sabeeha Rehman grew up in Pakistan and married her husband, a Pakistani doctor, via an arranged marriage. Together they raised their sons in New York, where Sabeeha attended grad school and received a Masters in Health Administration. After working as a hospital executive in New Jersey, Sabeeha and her oncologist husband, relocated to Saudi Arabia. They originally planned to live in Riyadh, the most conservative city in the country, for just two years- but they ended up staying for six. 

When Sabeeha is offered a position at Riyadh’s most prestigious hospital, she’s first required to get permission from her husband to work. Then she has to quickly familiarize herself with local laws and customs. Women in the city cannot work in public places, yet they do hold positions of authority within corporate culture. Sabeeha also discovers many women-owned-and-operated businesses flourishing outside of Riyadh. 

Sabeeha provides insights into the “don’t ask, don’t tell” boundaries in which Saudi and Western expat cultures coexist. As well as how to discern the difference between what is considered “culturally appropriate” versus what is legally required.

The Book Girls Say…

Rehman’s first memoir, Threading My Prayer Rug, details her upbringing in Pakistan and her later efforts to provide her young sons with a Muslim community on Staten Island.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

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. 

The Book Girls Say…

Author 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.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/05/2023

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This is the intimate memoir of a devout Muslim woman turned accidental activist. Raised in a modest Saudi Arabian family and born the year fundamentalism took hold in her country, Manal describes herself as a religious radical in her adolescence. She once melted her brother’s 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 too much for her to ignore quietly. 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 into the everyday lives of women in Saudi Arabia. She describes how she became an unexpected leader in supporting women’s right to drive, stood up to a kingdom of men, and won!

The Book Girls Say…

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.

WARNING: There is a short section of the book where Manal tells about her experience with female circumcision. It’s heartbreaking and may be shocking.

Book Summary

If you love international family sagas, consider this highly-rated 2021 novel. The Nasr family consists of a Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American adult children who have always lived a life of migration. However, their ancestral home has always been in Beirut.

When the family patriarch dies, Idris inherits the home and decides to sell it. However, no one else is on board with this plan. They all travel to Beirut to persuade him to keep the home. The region is still trying to recover from war, handle an influx of refugees, and is full of religious and political tension.

Tensions exist within the family as well. Although they share a goal of saving their home, secrets, and jealousy exist between the family members.

The Book Girls Say…

The author, Hala Alyan, is a Palestinian-American poet, novelist, and clinical psychologist.

This book is included with an Audible membership as of September 15, 2023.

Book Summary

Ora is a middle-aged Israeli mother, recently estranged from her husband and desperately waiting for her son’s return from military service. She decides that if she travels to Galilee for a secluded hike, her son will remain safe as the “notifiers” wouldn’t be able to reach her with any bad news.

Before leaving, she reaches out to Avram, a former best friend (and lover). He’s been reclusive since they were young and had his own terrible experience as a POW during his military service. As they walk together, day after day, Ora catches Avram up on her life as a mother, and he shares his experiences in war. Readers are left seeing two sides of life in Israel.

The Book Girls Say…

Leading Israeli novelist David Grossman studied philosophy and drama at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and later worked as an editor and broadcaster at Israel Radio.

His novel is on the longer side at 581 pages, and while it’s highly rated, keep in mind that it’s very character-driven literary fiction. This won’t be a great fit if you prefer a lot of action and plot. Much of the book takes place through discussions on a very long walk.

orange book cover of Inside Qatar

Book Summary

Qatar received worldwide attention when it hosted the 2022 World Cup. With Qatar reliant on migrant labor that exploits the workers, the wealthy nation had its extreme capitalism put in the international spotlight. 

On the surface, Qatar is a modern city full of Skyscrapers, museums, and Ferraris. However, the futuristic football stadiums were built by desperate migrant workers in horrific conditions for equally horrifying wages. Inside Qatar reveals how real people live in this surreal place, a land of both great opportunity and great iniquity.

The Book Girls Say…

Inside Qatar was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing in 2023. Author John McManus is a social anthropologist for the British Institute at Ankara. His research focuses on migration and multiculturalism in Europe and the Middle East.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

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…

A family tree at the beginning of the book will come in 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. 

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 Hala was 4 years old. Her family sought political asylum in the United States following the Iraqi force’s 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 the American University of Beirut and now resides in New York.

The Return book cover

Book Summary

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 the hope of finding clues about their father’s whereabouts.

This memoir is not told linearly but is instead made up of a series of stories through which Matar pieces the whole 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 and 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 shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and, while fiction, it provides a compelling glimpse of life in Libya under Qaddafi.

Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents. His father was working for 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 persecution 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.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

80% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

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, but they still had to endure a treacherous five-year journey, including walking the Hindu Kush section of the Himalayas, to find freedom again. 

The Book Girls Say…

For another fascinating memoir set in Afghanistan, check out Open Skies: My Life as Afghanistan’s First Female Pilot by Niloofar Rahmani with Adam Sikes.

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.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/05/2023
Cover of The Monk of Mokha with red border and blue background

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

95% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This non-fiction book tells the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Yemeni-American 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 travels 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 Yemen without giving up on his dreams or abandoning the people he’s met.

The Book Girls Say…

This book was a Goodreads nominee for Best History and Biography in 2018. It’s important to note that this book begins in San Francisco, and doesn’t travel to Yemen until later in the book. This is a particularly enjoyable read for coffee lovers. If you are uninterested in coffee, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

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 non-fiction successes. In writing The Monk of Mokha, he conducted hundreds of hours of interviews and spent countless days traveling with Mokhtar Alkhanshali.

You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope that this list of books has given you a good starting point.

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The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

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