Wish list: books from the Maghreb

This article is also available in: Italiano

To celebrate our two years of activity with you, we offer you our wish list; you chose the theme on Instagram


On June 16, the Middle East and Surroundings celebrated 2 years from its first publication and, precisely for this reason, last week we launched a survey on Instagram to establish which wish list to reveal to you. The Maghreb was finally the winner, beating incredible opponents such as: Sub-Saharan Africa, Persia, Sufis and finally the Middle East, the largest category of all. Here are 10 books from our Amazon list, we hope to give you some interesting ideas; they are not in order of preference.

This is our wish list and therefore they are objects we want, if you want to buy them just for you and only 1 or 2 copies are missing, please notify us and / or give us a copy. It is still a project far from being completed, but we would like to create a sort of digital library of the Islamic world later on, so that nothing of this culture is lost; giving it to us means aiming to preserve its knowledge forever.

“The Moor’s Account” by Laila Lalami (Morocco)

In these pages, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, as part of a danger-laden expedition to Florida. Within a year, Estebanico is one of only four crew members to survive. As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history&;and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.


Among the most awarded books of last year, so much so as to be on the list for Pulitzer, a plot that inspires adventures and many true stories to discover; Laila Lalami’s book cannot fail to be among our greatest desires. Warning: currently not available in Italian.

“Portrait Du Colonise” by Albert Memmi (Tunisia)

Is it possible to take stock, losses and benefits, of decolonization and understand what the consequences are on the identity and behavior of the former colonized? This book identifies three figures, the ex colonized who remained in his own country, the immigrant who chose to live elsewhere and the son of the immigrant, born in the country where the parents went to live; it reviews the problems linked to the interdependence of the contemporary world and indicates the battles still to be fought to achieve conditions of equality and dignity for all nations and for all minorities.


One of the most interesting writers of the Maghreb and Jewish world, who passed away in 2003. In reality we would be even more curious to read his “The statue of salt” but at the moment we have not found any copies. In any case, we still have nothing of this great author who nevertheless carries within himself a story that has always fascinated and intrigued us.

“Sleepless Nights” by Ali Douagi (Tunisia)

Ali Douagi, a Tunisian writer from the 1930s, was part of the intellectual group “Taht Essur”. His works are deeply human and claim to be the expression of a daily reality of the world around him, in a sarcastic and humorous way, criticizing the customs and habits of that era. This book has been translated by Dr. Zoghlami Tarek.


Same speech made previously for Memmi: a great author of whom we know nothing, flaws to be remedied as soon as possible.

“Le miroir vide” by Samir Toumi (Algeria)

Algeri. On the morning of his forty-fourth birthday, an anonymous employee of the Algerian National Oil and Gas Company wakes up, looks in the mirror and does not see his own image. It is the first of the cancellations that from that day will mark his life determining his fate. In the terror of the empty mirror, the man resorts to the treatment of a psychiatrist, Doctor B., who declares him affected by the “cancellation syndrome”, a very rare disorder, little studied but of great symbolic suggestion and In fact, it seems to affect “mostly Algerian male individuals born after Independence”, just like the protagonist, the son of a valiant and respected former FLN fighter, whose figure continues to weigh like a boulder on his life.


Discovered thanks to the Oriental Bookclub page; What can I say, the book seems a wonderful metaphor for today’s Algeria, but combined with a comic verve that, we are sure, will create very special situations. On the nose it reminds “The tribulations of the last Sijilmassi“, but it would be a good thing since it was one of our best books of last year.

“La Traversée” by Mouloud Mammeri

The volume collects six stories by the Algerian writer Mouloud Mammeri, an author of great narrative power who had never been translated into Italian. His stories show us scenes of everyday life: some encounters, suspended between reality and fantasy, with common characters who transform themselves and acquire a new depth. Oscillating between realism and mythical transfiguration of life, they outline the picture of a simple and bitter world, in a lyrical and authentic style.


Those who frequent the site will have noticed: we have a soft spot for Kabylia, so how can we renounce the work of one of its top experts?

“Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Tale” by Ibn Tufyal (Andalusia-Morocco)

The Arabic philosophical fable Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is a classic of medieval Islamic philosophy. Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185), the Andalusian philosopher, tells of a child raised by a doe on an equatorial island who grows up to discover the truth about the world and his own place in it, unaided—but also unimpeded—by society, language, or tradition. Hayy’s discoveries about God, nature, and man challenge the values of the culture in which the tale was written as well as those of every contemporary society.


Discovered in “The Tribulations of the Last Sijilmassi“, the book immediately fascinated us for its premise, very similar to what was the experience of the writer himself. Like the protagonist of the work, I too must have my knowledge almost exclusively independently and for this reason I would be curious to see how the two stories coincide and differ. Also, Ibn Tufyal’s book promises great things right away, we hope to get our hands on it. Very rare in Italian but in English there is also in a kindle format.

“Muqaddima” by Ibn Khaldun (Tunisia)

The Muqaddimah, often translated as “Introduction” or “Prolegomenon,” is the most important Islamic history of the premodern world. Written by the great fourteenth-century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldûn (d. 1406), this monumental work established the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including the philosophy of history, sociology, ethnography, and economics


A classic, simply impossible not to own a copy.

“The Forgotten Queens of Islam ” by Fatema Mernissi (Morocco)

When Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988, there were some who claimed that is was a blasphemous assault on Islamic tradition, since no Muslim state, they alleged, had ever been governed by a woman. In this extraordinary book, now available in paperback, Fatima Mernissi shows that those self-proclaimed defenders of Islamic tradition were not only misguided but wrong. She looks back through fifteen centuries of Islam and uncovers a hidden history of women who have held the reins of power, but whose lives and stories, achievements and failures, have largely been forgotten. Who were the Queens of Islam? How did they accede to the throne and how did their rule come to an end? What kinds of states did they govern and how did they exercise their power? Pursuing these and other questions, Mernissi recounts the stories of fifteen queens, including Sultana Radiyya who reigned in Delhi from 1250 until her violent death at the hand of a peasant; the Island Queens who ruled in the Maldives and Indonesia; and the Arab Queens of Egypt and of the Shi’ite Dynasty of Yemen. It was the Yemenis who bestowed upon queens a title that was theirs alone – balgis al-sughra, or ‘Young Queen of Sheeba’.


We loved every book by this immense writer, this is the next dream. Available only a copy at 62 € but in English and other languages it is found in greater quantities and also at a lower price.

“Let It Come Down” by Paul Bowles (Usa-Morocco)

In Let It Come Down, Paul Bowles plots the doomed trajectory of Nelson Dyar, a New York bank teller who comes to Tangier in search of a different life and ends up giving in to his darkest impulses. Rich in descriptions of the corruption and decadence of the International Zone in the last days before Moroccan independence, Bowles’s second novel is an alternately comic and horrific account of a descent into nihilism.


In reality, when this book was inserted, one simply thought of the story of an American who lived in Morocco, after the recent protests against Indro Montanelli, however, it could be useful to remember “how the” westerners “spent their days in Morocco”. Reading a bit of Bowles’ biography, we discovered how he made extensive use of the “hospitality of the Moroccan boys” and, given the country’s recent problems on LGBT issues, it could be an excellent starting point to open Pandora’s box.

“By Fire: Writings on the Arab Spring ” by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Morocco)

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s By Fire, the first fictional account published on the Arab Spring, reimagines the true-life self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, an event that has been credited with setting off the Tunisian revolt. The novella depicts the days leading up to Bouazizi’s self-immolation. Ben Jelloun’s deliberate ambiguity about the location of the story, set in an unnamed Islamic country, allows the reader to imagine the experiences and frustrations of other young men who have endured physical violence and persecution in places beyond Tunisia. The tale begins and ends in fire, and the imagery of burning frames the political accounts in The Spark, Ben Jelloun’s nonfiction writings on the Tunisian events that provide insight into the despotic regimes that drove Bouazizi to such despair.


For now he and Mernissi are our favorite Moroccan writers, every time we talk about the literature of Morocco it is almost necessary to mention a title. This in particular inspires me a lot because I lived with particular empathy the whole process of the Arab Springs and I am very curious about what Ben Jelloun wrote about it.

Bonus: “Arabpop: Arte e letteratura in rivolta dai paesi arabi” by Silvia Moresi and Chiara Comito (Italy)

In Italy the so-called Arab Springs of 2011 have often been analyzed by commentators and journalists only as unexpected outbursts of violence or as the result of power games between western states. The short-sightedness of a flattened thought on Islamophobic positions has prevented us from really knowing who was going down in the squares of Tunis, Cairo or Damascus: a young generation who asked for freedom, calling into question political, religious and gender belonging. This spirit of freedom has been collected and elaborated by Arab intellectuals, artists and writers who in the cinema, on the walls of their cities, in novels, poems and songs have told the genesis and the consequences of the protest movements. The contributions of this volume are intended to give credit to this incredible cultural season, and to make the Italian public aware of the literature, music, films, artistic and theatrical works born from this period of revolt.


We interviewed both authors and Chiara Comito with her Editoriaraba was the first point of reference for this site, I don’t say that the list was created to put this book in it but almost. Click here for the list.

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