AMMAN- With the growing attention Arab literature written in English has been receiving in recent years, many authors have been producing excellent works that capture the profound beauty and pain of the Arab complex identity. More so than ever due to the countless turmoils the region is going through over the past years. Since literature is an essential medium of expression for the suppressed and the angry, our select authors below have never been short on wielding their pens to break down the traditional, yet extremely dimensional life and journey of the Arab person.

Finding a story that encapsulates the multifaceted lives of Arabs in all their divisions can be quite the challenge, and therefore, we have accumulated a collection of 8 novels that have been written in recent years that we believe everyone should give a read:

Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury, 2005:

I’m scared of history that has only one version. History has dozens of versions, and for it to ossify into one only leads to death
Portrait of author Elias Khoury

Through time hoops and countless tales, Gate of the Sun recounts the stories of many Palestinians in exile post the ‘48 Nakba. From tragedies to dreams to love stories, Elias Khoury retells the stories he collected from refugee camps over time in painful yet mesmerizing detail that leaves you hungry for more.

The book focuses mainly on Yunus, a Palestinian freedom fighter lying in a coma at the hospital. Next to him sits Khalil, his son, who patiently awaits the day his father wakes. During this time, Khalil goes on to narrate the many stories of his father, his love story with his mother whom he used to meet at Bab Al-Shams in Jerusalem (Gate of the Sun) as well as the stories of countless Palestinians scattered in refugee camps all over the world. Gate of the Sun is an essential read for all those who are seeking their next literary treasure.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum, 2019:

Where I come from, voicelessness is the condition of my gender, as normal as the bosoms on a woman’s chest, as necessary as the next generation growing inside her belly.
Portrait of Author Etaf Rum

A raw debut from Etaf Rum, that tells the story many Arab women consider their own. In A Woman is No Man, Etaf introduces Isra, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl whose life drastically changed when she was forced to marry and fly to Brooklyn to start her new life. 

Lost in the disparities and chaos of Brooklyn, the story picks up and we meet her four daughters, where her eldest leads the storyline and relives what her mother once tried to escape. 

A Woman is No Man is a story of choice or lack thereof. An entertaining account between mothers and daughters in the east and the west. Their lives confined by the rule of men, and other times, women. In this novel, Etaf captures the battle Arab women have to fight in its painful detail while sending a hopeful message to all the future daughters of the region. This novel is recommended to anyone looking to get a glimpse into the life of Arab women across the globe.    

The Pact We Made by Layla Alammar, 2019:

How much damage do parents do, unintentional though it may be? A word that cleaves the psyche, a withheld embrace that ripples through generations, an episode that festers like an open wound. Might these things not be so easily avoided if we all just scattered ourselves to the wind?
Portrait of author Layla Alammar 

In the new genre of Arab coming-of-age novels, Layla AlAmmar writes the story of Dahila growing up in Modern Kuwait. We follow her life’s story from when she made  a pact with her friends as young girls to get married in their early twenties, to her early thirties, still unmarried. In this refreshing piece, Layla shares the experience of an Arab woman living under the pressure of her society’s expectations in mixture with the traumas of her past. 

The Pact We Made is a shockingly honest yet humorous account that illustrates one of the many facets of Eastern patriarchy; depicting the duality and complexity of the lives of Arab Women while uncovering the multitudes of societal contradictions Arab societies continuously perpetuate.  

Samarkand by Amin Maalouf, 1988:

Time … has two dimensions, its length is measured by the rhythm of the sun but its depth by the rhythm of passion.
Portrait of author Amin Maalouf

A historical work of fiction like none other, Samarkand is considered to be one of the most original reimaginations to feature the life of the great Persian poet Omar Al Khayyam and his famed Rubaiyaat. In a divided story set in the past and the present, Amin Maalouf first tells the story of Al Khayyam and how the manuscript of Rubaiyaat came about in the 11th century, then later in the 19th century where an American academic seeks to find it.

As a disclaimer, this book is not for the light-hearted. It contains countless historical references to 11th century Persia as well as the politics of the region. That said, this continues to be one of Maalouf’s best works as it examines the conflicts of the east while addressing the way western imperialism fed into them.

Mezzaterra by Ahdaf Souief, 2004:

They don’t want you to understand your enemy. Because the minute you understand them they will no longer be your enemy.
Portrait of author Ahdaf Souief

A collection of essays by none other than Ahdaf Souief. Mezzaterra, or Common Ground, was a word before it was a book, adopted by the author after the constant description of her work by other writers and critics as an intersection of Eastern and Western culture.

The book encompasses a collection of pieces, from book reviews to stories on the Middle East, where Ahdaf joins 25 years worth of work into one book. Mezzaterra represents few political analyses of the modern-day Middle Eastern conflicts while adding a ting of personal accounts from her life across the Middle East and Europe.  

The book is a must for everyone interested in reading a 21-century perspective on the politics, identity, and art of the Middle East.

Cockroach by Rawi Hage, 2010:

I was part of their TV dinner, I was spinning in a microwave, stripped of my plastic cover, eaten, and defecated the next morning just as the filtered coffee was brewing in the kitchen and the radio was prophesying the weather, telling them what to wear, what to buy, what to say, whom to watch, and whom to like and hate.
Portrait of author Rawi Hage

Cockroach is the post-suicide story where Kafka’s Samsa meets Murakami’s Toru. In the mix of delusions and despair and obscurities, Rawi Hage narrates a story set in Montreal but stuck in Lebanon; a stranger stuck in a strange country.

Cockroach tells the story of an individual’s internal conflict, where you mostly live inside the head of a presumably illiterate yet impressively articulate character. The book is divided into the adventures of an unnamed protagonist living in the streets of Montreal and the account of his family’s history in Lebanon told through the voice of his old psychologist. The journey of this book takes you into worlds where identity meets immigration and creates ever-lasting nostalgia. This book is for all who seek a dark yet exquisite book to play mind games with.

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadwai, 1984:

Firdaus, however, remained a woman apart. She stood out amongst the others, vibrated within me, or sometimes lay quiet, until the day when I put her down in ink on paper and gave her life after she had died.
Portrait of author Nawal El Saadawi

This infamous piece of work written in the late nineties by Nawal El Saadwai still resonates with many to this day. This story starts abruptly with a death sentence, later to find out that the protagonist, Firdaus, had something to do with it. The dead was a pimp she was married to who she was later fed up by.

Woman at Point Zero is set in Egypt and tells the story of a woman abused ever since she was young. Firdaus recounts the timeline of her life where betrayal seems like the recurring pattern. Yet, we see the life of a woman who chooses her own destiny, who is free despite the oppressive society that surrounds her every move. The story breaks down the autonomy of a woman who seeks nothing but the truth. This book is perfect for anyone looking for a gripping short-read that can also wrench your heart out.  

Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine by Noura Erekat, 2019:

I argue that the law is politics: its meaning and application are contingent on the strategy that legal actors deploy as well as on the historical context in which that strategy is deployed. This does not mean that the law is a political fiction. To the contrary, it has a life of its own and the capacity to influence.
Portrait of author Noura Erekat

It would only be suitable to conclude this list with this masterwork. Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine by Noura Erekat. This comes as no surprise for renowned international law human rights expert; Noura Erekat who defines the image of the powerful Palestinian author.

From OSLO to Nakba to PLO to Apartheid, this book provides an in-depth analysis of the history of Palestine and the decades-long ongoing conflict. Erekat discusses the states of exile and refuge while drawing a hopeful future of liberation for the Palestinian people through an international framework.  This piece is for those hunting for a well-researched book that can explain the biggest ever-going conflict of the region in true detail and harsh politics.

Read more from Ahmad Amaireh.
Image courtesy indicated in captions.