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Looking for the right Christmas present? We could do it for you: we offer you the 10 most beautiful books of 2019 from the Middle East and Surroundings. At the bottom of the article you will also find the list of Amazon gifts, an appointment on Thursday with our “Christmas letter”
A fading aristocrat and self-proclaimed ‘scientist of women.’ A purring, voluptuous siren. A young shop-girl enduring the clammy touch of her boss and hating herself for accepting the modest banknotes he tucks into her pocket afterward. An earnest, devout young doorman, feeling the irresistible pull toward fundamentalism. A cynical, secretly gay newspaper editor, helplessly in love with a peasant security guard. A roof-squatting tailor, scheming to own property. A corrupt and corpulent politician, twisting the Koran to justify taking a mistress. All live in the Yacoubian Building, a once-elegant temple of Art Deco splendor slowly decaying in the smog and hubbub of downtown Cairo, Egypt. In the course of this unforgettable novel, these disparate lives converge, careening inexorably toward an explosive conclusion. Tragicomic, passionate, shockingly frank in its sexuality, and brimming with an extraordinary, embracing human compassion, The Yacoubian Building is a literary achievement of the first order.
“One day all the birds of the earth came to parliament, the known and the unknown. “There is no place in the world,” they said, “that does not have a king: why does a sovereign not reign over our country? If we unite in fraternal partnership, we will be able to start looking for kings, being clear that order and harmony do not reign among subjects without a sovereign. ” It was then that the hoopoe, excited and anxious, jumped to the center of the restless assembly. On his breast he wore the robe of those who know the way, on his head the crown of truth. Along the way she had sharpened her mind, she had learned of good and evil. “Friends birds”, he began “in truth I am the courier of divine majesty, the messenger of the Invisible …” “This is the incipit of” The word of the birds “, considered the masterpiece of Farid ad Din Attar, master of the anchor most famous Rumi (or Mevlana if you are Turkish). Composed in the twelfth century in north-eastern Iran, Attar’s great mystical poem is among the most significant of all works of Persian literature. A marvellous, allegorical rendering of the Islamic doctrine of Sufism – an esoteric system concerned with the search for truth through God – it describes the consequences of the conference of the birds of the world when they meet to begin the search for their ideal king, the Simorgh bird. On hearing that to find him they must undertake an arduous journey, the birds soon express their reservations to their leader, the hoopoe. With eloquence and insight, however, the hoopoe calms their fears, using a series of riddling parables to provide guidance in the search for spiritual truth. By turns witty and profound, The Conference of the Birds transforms deep belief into magnificent poetry.
The Arab world continues to live today, beyond the veil of our prejudices. Millions of invisible Arabs move in a changing belt from Casablanca to Riyad, crushed by the weight of a stereotype now prevailing in the West, for which all those who have a Middle Eastern or North African passport are potential terrorists, kamikaze, followers of Osama bin Laden. Today’s catalog of invisible Arabs, on the other hand, is long, varied, surprising. Ne fanno parte ragazzi che usano Internet, professionisti educati nelle nostre università, cineasti e fior di scrittori. If the list of Arabs we don’t know were only this, however, we would be the simple list of good, good and nice ones. Instead, we must overcome the wall, and observe that long theory of men and women to whom the West does not recognize face and features: those who bend over backwards to send their children to school, who flood the region of remittances of their work. , which make culture between the links of censorship and opposition between the constraints of the regimes. Written in 2009.
“Nedjma” by Yacine Kateb (Algeria)
Four friends, Rachid, Lakhdar, Murad and Mustafà are obsessed with the love of a woman, Nedjma, Kamel’s bride. A mystery surrounds the birth of her: entrusted as a child to an adoptive mother, she is the daughter of a French woman later kidnapped by four lovers, including Rachid’s father and a prestigious seducer, Si Mokhtar. Nedjma is conceived during a fateful night in which these last two characters had led the Frenchwoman into a cave where, the following morning, the body of Rachid’s father will be found. Rachid will then follow Si Mokhtar and spare her father’s alleged murderer, as he is obsessed with the desire to know the truth about Nedjma, perhaps his sister or daughter of Si Mokhtar. The seducer, then, is also Kamel’s father: he could not prevent him from marrying the girl, under pain of revealing the drama and mystery of his birth. After a pilgrimage to Mecca, Rachid and Si Mokhtar decide to kidnap Nedjma to her incestuous husband and lead her to the inaccessible mountain where the last survivors of their tribe live. Thus Nedjma fulfills its destiny. After several injuries the two friends find themselves working on a construction site. Here Lakhadar has a brutal confrontation with the foreman, is arrested and manages to escape. Shortly thereafter Murad is also arrested for killing the sordid old businessman, whose young wife, Suzy, was impressed. Later, Rachid, a deserter, will find Murad in prison. Each will remain obsessed with the presence of Nedjma continually evoked: on Murad’s nights and days of captivity, in Mustafà’s diary, in Rachid’s conversations with a stranger. Nedjma is a masterpiece of North African writing. Its intricate plot involves four men in love with the beautiful woman whose name serves as the title of the novel. Nedjma is the central figure of this disorienting novel, but more than the unfortunate wife of a man she does not love, more than the unwilling cause of rivalry among many suitors, Nedjma is the symbol of Algeria. Kateb has crafted a novel that is the saga of the founding ancestors of Algeria through the conquest of Numidia by the Romans, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and French colonial conquest. Nedjma is symbolic of the rich and sometimes bloody past of Algeria, of its passions, of its tenderness; it is the epic story of a human quest for freedom and happiness.
“A small death” by Mohammed Hassan Alwan (Saudi Arabia)
A Small Death is the fictionalised account of the life of a Sufi saint, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, from his birth in Muslim Spain in the 12th century until his death in Damascus. It follows his mystic Sufi experience and heroic travels from Andalusia to Azerbaijan, via Morocco, Egypt, the Hijaz, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Of a sensitive and anxious nature, Muhyiddin struggles with inner turmoil throughout the course of his travels. Witnessing fictitious events including savage military conflicts, he attempts to fulfil his mission against a backdrop of states and numerous cities where he meets countless people.
“I was born in a harem in 1940 in Fez, Morocco…” So begins Fatima Mernissi in this exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem. In Dreams of Trespass , Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth,women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination Dreams of Trespass is the provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.
“Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London” by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan)
Discontent and its Civilizations collects the best of Mohsin Hamid’s writing on subjects as diverse and wide-ranging as Pakistan; fatherhood; the death of Osama Bin Laden and the writing of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Unified by the author’s humane, clear-headed and witty voice, the book makes a compelling case for recognizing our common humanity while relishing our diversity – both as readers and citizens; for resisting the artificial mono-identities of religion or nationality or race; and for always judging a country or nation by how it treats its minorities, as ‘Each individual human being is, after all, a minority of one’.
“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive, and his fame spreads throughout West Africa like a bush-fire in the harmattan. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy. First published in 1958, Chinua Achebe’s stark, coolly ironic novel reshaped both African and world literature, and has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people begins Achebe’s landmark trilogy of works chronicling the fate of one African community, continued in Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. ‘His courage and generosity are made manifest in the work’ Toni Morrison ‘The writer in whose company the prison walls fell down’ Nelson Mandela ‘A great book, that bespeaks a great, brave, kind, human spirit’ John Updike Certainly one of the most important book in the entire African history
“Being Arab” by Samir Kassir (Lebanon)
This is a passionate meditation on the current crisis in Arab identity. “Being Arab” is an essential book about what it means to be alienated from one’s roots, and how to trace back those lines of history. One of Lebanon’s most prominent journalist, Samir Kassir describes the state of Arab malaise in which he finds his generation, and searches to understand how the Arab world arrived at this point of political and intellectual stagnation. Kassir turns to the past, recounting the Arab “golden age,” the extraordinary flowering of cultural expression in the nineteenth century that continued into the twentieth as, from Cairo to Baghdad and from Beirut to Casablanca, painters, poets, musicians, playwrights and novelists came together to create a new, living Arab culture. Investigating the huge impact of modernity on the region, and the shockwaves that turned society upside-down, Kassir suggests that the current crisis in Arab identity lies in the failure to come to terms with modernity and embracing false solutions such as pan-Arabism and fundamentalism. “Being Arab” is a clarion call, urging Arabs to closely examine their own history, to reject Western double standards and Islamism, and to take the future of the region into their own hands.
“Like a Sword Wound” by Ahmet Altan (Turkey)
The novel tells the story of Mehpare Hanim, a mysterious and charming woman, capable of seducing even Sheikh Yusuf Effendi, an illustrious master of a school of dervishes. Realizing the soul of his bride, the Sheikh will however be forced to part with it, even without stopping to think about it. Mehpare Hanim will soon find new love in Hüseyin Hikmet Bey, son of the sultan’s official doctor and fresh from his return from France, where he trained according to Western customs. The union of these 2 souls will however be made irreconcilable by Mehpare’s soul and by the imminent transformation of the Great Sick, the Ottoman Empire that is experiencing its last moments of life. Will it be up to the Organization for the Union and Progress to transform it or will it be its executioner?
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