The rich Arab world…

From the literary classics of Layla Wa Majnun and The Arabian Nights to the timeless iconic works of Taha Hussein, Tayeb Salih and Etel Adnan, stories from the Arab world have long captivated our minds and souls weaving diverse identities, cultural experiences and history with such richness and profound depth.

Whether investing in heart-wrenching family sagas or buying a wish from the local Cairene kiosk, these novels will definitely leave a mark on you. And as we begin our summer holidays, our friends at the Emirates Literature Foundation have compiled a list of contemporary novels that can transport you into rich narratives from the Arab world to love, learn and reflect on.

Sudan: River Spirit by Leila Aboulela

arab world books

River Spirit is a tale that takes us back in time to 1880s Sudan, when the Sudanese Mahdiyya spreads across the nation and takes shape as a revolutionist front against the Egyptian Khediavate, the Ottoman Empire and British forces.

The book explores this wave of religious movements and political upheaval through the personal perspectives of nine different characters, providing different insights into Sudanese society during this era; exploring systems of slavery, poverty, everyday life, Islam and the role of women in society.

Sudanese British author Leila Aboulela is renowned for her works of historical fiction that immerse you into different periods of Sudanese history and often brings to light the nuances and narratives that we rarely see in contemporary literature.

Syria: As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh

arab world books

As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow sweeps us up into the shaking and harrowing realities of the Syrian Revolution. Heartbreaking yet hopeful, the novel follows Salama Kassab, a young teenager studying pharmaceutical science when the Syrian Revolution breaks out.

As author Zoulfa Katouh’s love letter to her country, the book presents how the sudden turn of events propels Salama into a whirlwind of loss, burden and frequent tormenting visits from Khawf, the physical personification of fear, which leaves her desperate to flee at any cost.

In the midst of this, Salama meets Kenan, whose unwithering love for Syria pushes his drive to keep on fighting for freedom, leaving her torn between love and fear.

Zoulfa Katouh’s powerful debut explores powerful themes of displacement, oppression and freedom. Offering us a reminder to take a moment to find hope in tragedy and that despite it all, lemons will blossom and bloom once more.

Kuwait: An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib

arab world books

Our first novel starts off in Kuwait but traverses time and continents as a multi-generational epic saga. From the 1920s to the near present, jumping through Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, India and the United States, An Unlasting Home immerses us in the trials and tribulations of three generations of Arab women.

The protagonist, Sara, is a Philosophy professor at Kuwait University who is charged with blasphemy and is threatened to be executed by the state. Throughout the novel, she goes through a difficult period of reflection on her family history, her complicated relationship with Kuwait, and her current precarious situation to reconcile the past with the present.

This beautiful debut novel comes from celebrated short story writer and academic Mai Al-Nakib, who similar to her character, is also currently an Associate Professor of English and comparative literature at Kuwait University. Her writings and research explore cultural politics in the Middle East, with a special emphasis on gender, cosmopolitanism, and postcolonial issues.

If you are not ready to return back to reality after reading this novel, An Unlasting Home happens to be the June book club pick for the Emirates Literature Foundation’s Foundation Book Club meeting on the 15th. Slots are limited so make sure you reserve a spot now!

If you enjoyed today’s variety of book recommendations from Farah Ali, Assistant Programming  Manager at the Emirates Literature Foundation, then don’t miss their other bookish content on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Or sign up for one of their five official book clubs!