Christmas letters 2020 themed books

This post is also available in: Italiano

The annual appointment with the books we would most like to receive under the tree is back. This year 3 lists of 5 books: one of fiction, one of poetry and one of non-fiction

Annual appointment

Those who know us will have understood it, books are one of our greatest passions and, as the Christmas period approaches, they become one of the most interesting and fascinating gifts to give. In a world where disposable information is a constant, the book represents a way to stop time, enjoy unavailable information and finally find peace. For us in the Medio Oriente e Dintorni, it is also a great opportunity to give you an overview of some of our potential items for 2020.

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3 of the poetry texts

We then propose 3 lists (one of fiction, one of poetry and one of non-fiction), each consisting of 5 books; you will find both the plot of the book / back cover and why we are so curious about the work. Enjoy the reading.

Fiction

“Labyrinth” by Burhan Sönmez (Turkey)

One day Boratin, a blues musician who lives in Istanbul, wakes up in the hospital having completely lost his memory: he no longer knows who he is, where he comes from, what his past is and what the direction of his present is, he no longer remembers his affections. dear ones or the closest friendships, and above all he struggles around an obsessive and unanswered question: why did he attempt suicide by jumping from the Bosphorus Bridge? Around this constellation of questions he tries to come back to life, regaining familiarity with faces, voices, spaces, stories, mirrors, and in the first place with himself … With a fast pace and crystalline analysis, the novel by Burhan Sönmez gives us back the wanderings of Boratin in the mysteries of identity, up to the extreme question: is it more liberating for a man – and for a society – to know his past or forget it?

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We saw this book from the stories of Silvia Moresi and we were immediately enchanted. The plot intrigues us more than ever and we can’t wait to expand our knowledge of Turkish fiction with one of the most successful writers of the last decade.

“Dictionary of the Khazars” by Milorad Pavić (Serbia)

In 1689, on the Danubian scene of the Russo-Turkish war, three men meet: Avram Branković, who collects old writings, the Turkish lute teacher Jusuf Masudi and the Jew Samuel Coen. They have seen each other in dreams, they have long sought each other and, when they are found, they lose their lives. Three hundred years later, three scholars gathered in Istanbul: an Egyptian, a Yugoslav and a Polish Jew. The three, like their predecessors, have to do with the Chazari, a people of uncertain origin who settled on the Caspian Sea between the 7th and 10th centuries. Legend has it that their ruler, the kagan, had summoned the representatives of the three great religions to persuade him to convert … Anthology of dreams, kabbalistic manual, labyrinth, game of mirrors, adventure novel: the Dictionary of the Chazari is all this and so on. And just like a dictionary it contains 47 headwords in alphabetical order, with related references, sources and appendices. Consisting of a Christian (red), an Islamic (green) and a Hebrew (yellow) book, it can be read from start to finish. But you can also get lost in its pages and look for your own path.

I probably got there really looking for the Khazars, the fact is that just reading the back I was kidnapped. In fact, Pavić’s book is almost like a game more like a book, starting from a story that already seems to reserve surprises in its own right. Furthermore, this work allows us to set foot in the Balkans for the first time, a lack that now necessarily had to be filled.

“The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree” by Shokoofeh Azar (Iran)

Iran 1979. The Bahar family, an eccentric dynasty of mystics, poets and philosophers, flee Tehran at the outbreak of the Revolution. Marked by a terrible mourning – to tell the story is the ghost of Bahar herself, burned alive in a stake in a riot – she takes refuge in the woods of Mazandaran, away from men and roads. The remote village of Razan, immaculate and wild, welcomes them in the shadow of its millenary forests, populated by ghosts and wonders, old legends, the ruins of an ancient Zoroastrian temple. Within a decade, however, the tentacles of the new Islamic Republic reach them, bringing death and destruction, war and fanaticism, and forever breaking the balance between the world of the living and the beings of the forest. Bahar’s family will also be overwhelmed and divided, and each of its members will have to meet their extraordinary destiny alone.

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We wanted at all costs to take at least one book by a contemporary Iranian author and this seemed the most suitable choice. In addition to being one of the most celebrated books of the past few years, “The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree” will also give us the opportunity to explore the legendary Mazandaran region, one of the most historic and fascinating regions of Persia.

“Gun Island” by Amitav Ghosh (India)

Dealer of rare books and antiques, Deen Datta lives and works in Brooklyn, but was born in Bengal, the land of sailors and fishermen. There was therefore no time in his childhood when the legends that flourished on the shifting mudflats of his country, fascinating stories of merchants fleeing across the sea to escape terrible and avenging goddesses, were not part of the fantasy world. of him. On one of his returns to Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is called today, Deen has the good fortune to meet Kanai Dutt, a distant, talkative and vain relative who, to challenge him on the ground of his knowledge of Bengali folklore, tells him the story of Bonduki Sadagar , which in the Bengali or Bangla language means “gun dealer”. Bonduki Sadagar was, he tells him, a rich merchant who had infuriated Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes and every other poisonous creature, by refusing to become his devotee. Plagued by snakes and haunted by floods, famines, storms and other calamities, he fled, finding shelter across the sea in a land called Bonduk-dwip, “Gun Island.” Finally, hunted down again by Manasa Devi, to appease her anger, he had been forced to erect a dhaam, a temple in his honor in the Sundarban, in the mangrove forests infested with tigers and snakes. The legend of the rifle merchant would remain such for Deen, a simple story, that is, to be kept in the closet of childhood memories, if the vain Kanai did not add that his aunt Nilima Bose saw the temple and would be delighted if Deen l ‘went to see. Thus begins, for the Brooklyn rare book dealer, an extraordinary journey in the footsteps of Bonduki Sadagar who from Sundarban, the frontier where trade and wilderness look into each other’s eyes, the exact point where the war between profit and Nature, will take him from India to Los Angeles, to Venice. An amazing journey, which will cross centuries and lands, and in which ancient legends and myths acquire a new meaning in a world like ours, where the war between profit and Nature now seems to leave no way out beyond the seas.

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We always make the same speech: we wanted to discover this area and this book seemed more suitable. Amitav Ghosh is in fact one of the most well-known and appreciated authors of Bengali ethnicity in the world and, in this latest novel, he will fully immerse himself in his native culture. The strong presence of a local legend was the final touch that has definitely conquered our curiosity and our imagination.

“A Bend in the River ” by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad and Tobago)

Attracted by a fatal call in the heart of Africa, young Salim, an Indian of Muslim faith, leaves the east coast of the continent to take over from a family friend an eccentric bazaar on the banks of a river dotted with the “dark islands” of hyacinths and surrounded by a primeval landscape of forests, hidden and inaccessible streams, channels infested with mosquitoes and furrowed by barges, lush bougainvillea, cloud-covered sunsets along the rapids. Here he will try to contribute, with few associates, to the evolution of a society overwhelmed by recent turmoil. And at first the community of the “bend in the river” – as well as the whole country will appear to be heading for promising progress. But that innovative impulse, swallowed up by the Great Man (in which it is not difficult to recognize the dictator Mobutu), will soon become a grotesque futurism (the “radiant future”); and, coupled with the fierce anger accumulated in the colonial period and a dubious return to the ‘authentic nation’, it will elicit a paranoid control system and a chain of blind reprisals – delivering Salim to a fate of stateless person with no homeland and no true identity.

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I found out about the novel’s existence while doing articles on Tanzania and Somalia and I fell in love with it immediately. Naipaul manages to combine an extremely suggestive and little known place with a plot that seems more compelling than ever and full of stimuli about the present. Not only that, Naipaul himself is an extremely interesting character thanks to his Caribbean birthplace and his culture that combines the best of areas such as Africa and India. Author who, I can hardly believe, will soon gain a prominent position in our library.

Poetry

“Eighty ghazals” by Hafez (Persia)

Hafez is, together with Omar Khayyâm, the most famous, most loved and recited Persian poet: in Iran he is still very popular today, everyone knows how to recite long passages from memory, and it is said that in every house there must be his “Canzoniere” “and the” Quran “. Poet of an era when Persian was the lingua franca of Asia: Iran, Afghanistan, Muslim India, Mongolia and China. Hafez was celebrated in the West first by Goethe, who was inspired by his work for the composition of the “Western-Eastern Divan” (1819). Translations in the West have since multiplied. The complete collection of his work includes five hundred poems (or “ghazals”), of which a choice is offered here. In the heart of his verses carnal love coexists with the ideal and mystical one, the beloved and God continuously exchange parts. He wrote: “He who has nothing but love in his heart will never die.”

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I would say it is one of the rare cases where there is really no need for explanations. I had nothing of Hafez from Shiraz and this was definitely a good opportunity to make up for it. Plus the presence of the original text is of the highest level so that you can fully enjoy the melodic aspect and the many nuances that the Persian language offers.

“Quatrains” by Omar Khayyam (Persia)

This famous poetry collection has not ceased to seduce for almost a millennium with its sweetness, its joy and its sadness. The Persian Omar Khayyam has given his name, and his profound experience of life, to this handful of fleeting lyrical impressions, of notes of a pessimistic rationalism, as some want, or of an esoteric mysticism, as others claim. A song whose immediacy and very high lyricism are expressed in the obligatory brevity of the quatrain.

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After Hafez, Omar Khayyam could not really be missing.

“Al Bustan” by Sa’di (Persia)

A manual of moral and spiritual wisdom from Persia of the 13th century, a masterpiece of medieval Persian literature. First Italian translation of the work, with over a thousand notes to the text, scientific introduction and bibliography.

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There’s no two without three. A little thought that I wanted to do to complete one of the greatest trio of poets in all of history and among the most celebrated ever. This year you will see a lot of poetry and of the highest standard.

“The Emir and his Prophet” by Al Mutanabbi (Arab world)

The odes in honor of Emir Sayf ad-Dawla al-Hamdani, considered one of the best examples of classical Arabic poetry, occupy a large part of al-Mutanabbî’s Diwân (915-965). Composed in Aleppo between 948 and 957, they evoke the centuries-old conflict between Arabs and Byzantines, transfigured in an epic key. The personal story of Mutanabbî, inspirer in his youth of a failed religious revolt, insinuates a disenchanted and elegiac tone, in singular contrast with the material of the panegyric, while the supervised rhetorical research, of which the poet is recognized as a master, reaches rarely noticeable stylistic effects. This edition, enriched by the opposite text and accompanied by extensive notes and precious historical introductions, offers this classic of Arabic literature for the first time in a complete Italian translation.

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I have just read Al-Ma’arri’s “Risalat ul Ghufran” and I have the desire to delve into classical Arabic poetry, of which al Mutanabbi is the absolute protagonist. Having the text in front of me was the decisive plus to trigger my desire.

“Halat Hissar (State of siege)” by Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine)

State of Siege (Hàlat Hisàr) is a ‘text’, as the author himself defined it, drawn up in Ramallah in January 2002, in the weeks when the city was besieged by the Israeli troops of General Ariel Sharon.
Mahmud Darwish, who lived in Ramallah, therefore found himself in the hala, that is, in the ‘condition’ of being besieged. With this ‘text’ the Palestinian poet does not only want to describe the state of siege, he wants instead and above all to give substance to the words to express the hala when we find ourselves being besieged. The ‘state of the siege’ in Darwish’s verses goes beyond the condition of life in which the concrete multitudes of which the poet is the spokesman are found, expressing their feelings and thoughts. The result is that the ‘text’ is made up of fragments that sometimes resonate like ancient aphorisms, often laments of loneliness, all with the thought of death at the bottom which also runs through the entire work of Darwish.
They are objects of reflection: poetry in its making, history, the ‘place’, that is the space of thought, the strength that is impressed in the affirmation of one’s identity.

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A book of poetry that I have longed for from the moment I read “Palestinian Trilogy“, in which it was often quoted. “State of Siege” is a “gift to myself” that I have more than ever wanted to give myself these days, too scared to lose this great and unexpected possibility.

Non-fiction

“Sovietistan” by Erika Fatland (Norway)

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the five central Asian republics hitherto controlled by Moscow gained independence. Over the course of seventy years of Soviet rule, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the countries that, from the world’s highest mountain ranges to the desert, once marked the Silk Road route, have somehow passed directly from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. And after twenty-five years of autonomy, all five nations are still in search of their identity, squeezed between east and west and between old and new, in the center of Asia, surrounded by great powers like Russia and China, or by restless neighbors like Iran and Afghanistan. The contrasts unite them: decades of Soviet rule coexist with local administrations, the exorbitant wealth given by gas and oil with the most extreme poverty, the cult of personality with archaic customs still vital. E mentre le steppe si riempiono di edifici ultramoderni e ville sfarzose abitate dai nuovi despoti, continuano a sopravvivere la passione per i tappeti e i bazar, l’amore per i cavalli e i cammelli, e innumerevoli tradizioni che rendono una visita alla regione e ai suoi abitanti indimenticabile. Nel suo reportage sui paesi alla periferia dell’ex Unione Sovietica, Erika Fatland unisce un approfondito lavoro di ricerca e analisi geopolitica al gusto dell’avventura.

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One of the texts on this list that was recommended to me by Alice D’Alisera and that enchanted me from the first moment. Central Asia is in fact one of the most interesting and fascinating places we have been lucky enough to deal with in these times, however we have focused above all on its past, often neglecting its present. With this book I’m sure to deepen my knowledge on the subject and to find new and fascinating stimuli to bring to the site.

Texts of Siberian and Central Asian shamanism

Deeply rooted in ancient pre-agricultural cultures, shamanism, more than a religion, is a set of beliefs, an ideological system, a conception of the world. Although shamanic traditions and practices are widespread in a large part of the earth, its area of choice is Siberia: those cold and distant lands host the original core of a powerful spirituality, in which the shaman is the intermediary with the otherworldly world. His task is not to bring salvation to men, but rather to intercede for them with spirits and divinities, in order to solve the small and large problems of existence. Through a complex ritual of music and dance, the shaman plunges into a state of ecstasy and comes into direct contact with the magical, the religious, the sacred. With his drum he climbs the tree of the world or navigates the river of the universe, becoming both a doctor, diviner, psychopomp, minister of worship. This anthology, edited by Ugo Marazzi, historian and professor of Asian studies at the “L’Orientale” University of Naples, collects the testimonies of an ancient literature, handed down orally for centuries from shaman to shaman and composed of invocations, hymns and prayers. Texts capable of revealing the ancestral roots of man, his relationship with the divine and the underworld, and finally to bring us closer to nature in its deepest and most authentic form.

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The second book recommended to me by Alice D’Alisera, something that, I must tell the truth, it is strange I have not yet purchased. You will have understood it, I am bewitched by Central Asia, its peoples and its steppes, if we add religion to this, we really go to a wedding. I am curious, in particular, because some time ago I came across Tengrism, discovering many interesting details about this particular form of spirituality; moreover, this being the primeval religion of the Turks and Mongols, it greatly increases its value.

“Mythology & Folklore of the Hui, a Muslim Chinese People” by Shujiang Li (China)

“Not only does this amazing corpus contribute much to our understanding of the tremendous cultural and religious variety found within both Chinese and Islamic societies, but it challenges our conceptions and compartmentalizations of each.”– Dru C. Gladney, University of Southern California

“There is no comparable study of the Hui in a Western language. It will help break down the monolithic image we still have of China by bringing to light the vibrant cultural world of a minority people.” — Gary L. Ebersole, The University of Chicago

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First in a series of three texts on China and Islam, unfortunately only available in English. I wanted to start from this because it is the one less linked to the Sufi / spiritual world but more to the traditions of the Hui people, a minority too often underestimated but of extraordinary importance and complexity. The Hui are in fact the Muslims of Chinese ethnicity, able, over the centuries, to occupy ranks of incredible importance in Chinese history (to say, Hui Liangyu, deputy premier from 2003 to 2013 is a Hui), developing a unique culture that unites China with the Arab world and Persia.

“The Tao of Islam” by Sachiko Murata (Japan)

The Tao of Islam is a rich and diverse anthology of Islamic teachings on the nature of the relationships between God and the world, the world and the human being, and the human being and God. Focusing on gender symbolism, Sachiko Murata shows that Muslim authors frequently analyze the divine reality and its connections with the cosmic and human domains with a view toward a complementarity or polarity of principles that is analogous to the Chinese idea of yin/yang. Murata believes that the unity of Islamic thought is found, not so much in the ideas discussed, as in the types of relationships that are set up among realities. She pays particular attention to the views of various figures commonly known as “Sufis” and “philosophers,” since they approach these topics with a flexibility and subtlety not found in other schools of thought. She translates several hundred pages, most for the first time, from more than thirty important Muslims including the Ikhwan al-Safa’, Avicenna, and Ibn al-‘Arabi.

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Not everyone knows it, but before developing my love for the Middle East and the Islamic world I was literally bewitched by the Sino-Japanese one, so much so that I still have a large section of the library dedicated to China, Japan and their thought. As a Muslim, I continued to cultivate this passion, finding an amazing affinity between my faith and the Tao; with some research I discovered that this should be, together with “Taoism and Sufism” (which I already have), the text that best answers the questions I have always asked myself.

“The Sage Learning of Liu Zhi” (China)

Liu Zhi (ca. 1670-1724) was one of the most important scholars of Islam in traditional China. His Tianfang xingli (Nature and Principle in Islam), the Chinese-language text translated here, focuses on the roots or principles of Islam. It was heavily influenced by several classic texts in the Sufi tradition. Liu’s approach, however, is distinguished from that of other Muslim scholars in that he addressed the basic articles of Islamic thought with Neo-Confucian terminology and categories. Besides its innate metaphysical and philosophical value, the text is invaluable for understanding how the masters of Chinese Islam straddled religious and civilizational frontiers and created harmony between two different intellectual worlds.

The introductory chapters explore both the Chinese and the Islamic intellectual traditions behind Liu’s work and locate the arguments of Tianfang xingli within those systems of thought. The copious annotations to the translation explain Liu’s text and draw attention to parallels in Chinese-, Arabic-, and Persian-language works as well as differences.

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I saw the book on Gabriele Iungo’s wall and I couldn’t resist: I had to have it. The text is undoubtedly one of the most complete and interesting works regarding the relationship between Islam and China, adding precious details for a truly 360 ° understanding of the two cultures.

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