The 5 best books read in 2020 (and 5 honorable mentions)

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The 5 most beautiful and significant titles read this year and 5 honorable mentions


The list is not in order of pleasantness but in chronological order, except for the last book, which had to contend with a long list of suitors; for this reason, in addition to the list you will also find 5 honorable mentions.

“Il libro delle soste” by Sheikh Abd el-Kader

For Algeria, Emir Abd el-Kader is the father of the nation, the hero who surrendered only to preserve the Algerians from an unequal and lost war at the start. For us, the book of stops is the sum of his thought, the masterpiece of this man: in these pages Islamic mysticism certainly reaches one of its highest expressions. To an external glance it might seem the work of a late nineteenth-century guerrilla who dedicated his life to defending his country: in reality the spiritual writings of Abd el-Kader are of such depth that they immediately reveal a piece of Islam unknown to the Western world, a very pure religious feeling. We let the Emir speak directly and we hear in these words the echo of something else: “Know that the becoming of everything brings it back to God and that it returns to Him. The return of creatures to Him occurs after the Resurrection, and the latter follows the extinction of the creatures. “

books ramadan

An extraordinary book of which I have not yet spoken only as it is necessary to have a good knowledge of the Holy Quran to be able to fully appreciate its meaning. In general Abd el-Kader attests himself as one of the greatest disciples of Ibn ‘Arabi, going here above all to re-propose his conception of soul and his bond with God. The great emir will show here an Islam that is both extremely personal and extremely cosmic, freeing universes of spirituality rarely savored before. I don’t know if the title might interest you, in case let me know; understanding this, I will gladly bring it to you.

“Scheherazade Goes West” by Fatema Mernissi

Wherever they live, men, whether Eastern or Western, fantasize about the harem. If you pause to contemplate the many works painted by the artists on this theme, you will find yourself faced with an enigma: while the Westerners have portrayed harem beauties as harmless and static creatures, the Orientals have shown them as female fighters. What is hidden behind the different representations of these ephemeral beauties, creatures of the male dream? What do they tell us about the mysterious connections that link sex and fear? Fatima Mernissi has proposed to solve the problem, even if her curiosity, rather than the answers, has given her new intriguing questions.


Truly extraordinary book that combines narrative taste with real discoveries in the cultural and artistic field, able to overturn every possible conception of the Arab / Oriental woman. I must say, without fear of denial, that in my mind there was a real “before and after” reading this work, impossible, then, not to insert it here.

“”Javid Nama” by Muhammad Iqbal

“This is the work of one of the greatest poets of the modern East, Muhammad Iqbâl, to be numbered among the major spirits of Asia, in which the ferment of political movements is accompanied, preparing them and infusing them with impetus and vigor of ideas , a troubled spiritual awakening. In the Celestial Poem, the mysticism of Jalâl-ud-dìn Rûmì has been transformed, due to the urgency of the times, into active participation in human pains and disappointments; the meeting of East and West, more generally of faith and intellect, had aroused new anxieties in Iqbâl’s soul, which reflected in his work interpreted the hopes and expectations of his people and of our age and re-evaluated that action that too often Asia had sacrificed for thought. “


A very difficult book to describe, able to transport the reader to spiritual and poetic heights that are truly rare in the world. In his extraordinary journey, Iqbal will enchant us one verse after another, dragging us planet by planet in search of God and his prophets. A truly sublime work from every point of view, it is impossible not to be bewitched by it.

“Il “pazzo sacro” nell’Islam” by Alessandro Bausani

“In my Islamic works … I have always had before my eyes the living personality of homo islamicus (a variant for some colleagues perhaps” inferior “of homo sapiens) whose experiences I shared passionately, even without accepting them all”. Thus Alessandro Bausani, one of the greatest Italian orientalists of our century, characterized his activity as a scholar in 1971. From his vast scientific production, which also extended to linguistics, anthropology and sciences (astronomy, mathematics), nineteen studies are presented here (including one unpublished in our language) all dedicated to Islamic civilization and written between 1957 and 1985. Islam is in Bausani’s vision a fundamentally unitary universe, within which complex “variations of style” can be distinguished and investigated in the philosophical, artistic, literary fields, and which above all is capable of offering extraordinary experiences – with its great mystical tradition, with the lyric, with the novel – to the spirituality and sensitivity of modern man.


One of the most complete, best written and fascinating essays I have had the honor of reading. In this collection of pearls, Bausani shows us his astounding culture, analyzing in depth many traits of literature and culture, allowing us a total and deep immersion in the Islamic world.

Honorable mentions

“Eskandar-Nâmeh ” by Nezami

Alexander the Great was a legendary figure not only in the West, but also in the Eastern world where his exploits spread thanks to Hellenistic literature and the popular identification between the Macedonian hero and a legendary warrior celebrated in the Koran. Part of a group of three poems dedicated to Alexander, the Book of Fortune, composed between the 12th and 13th centuries by the great Persian poet Nezami, is both an adventure novel, with the narration of Alexander’s great journeys, and a collection of examples addressed to the powerful of the earth, according to the moralistic and wisdom tradition.


Surely, together with Iqbal’s “Javid nameh”, it is the most important real work that I have read, with an essay of absolute importance and depth about Alexander and his myth. This incredible book could not fail to be mentioned for its importance and the new information it brings; Unfortunately, however, it is not very smooth and I struggled to finish it.

“Gli adoratori del pavone” by Giuseppe Furlani

“He who existed before all creatures is the Peacock Angel. It was he who sent Abta’us into this world to separate and instruct his own people and save them from error and imagination. And this happened first through transmission. of verbal discourse, then through the medium of this book called Gilwath. This is the book that those outside the country must not read. ” Thus opens the Book of Revelation which, together with the Black Book, in Kurdish language, constitutes the main sacred text of the Yezidis. Wrongly considered “DevilWorshipers” on the basis of Christian demonology, all negative, and not on the basis of the internal parameters of their ideology, according to which the devil (Peacock or Iblis) is not evil, but an angel who after having sinned and having repented has obtained divine forgiveness, the Yezidis are an esoteric religious sect of Anterior Asia of ancient origins, exposed to persecutions during the nineteenth century, to bloody repression by the Ottoman authorities and, today, threatened by the barbaric fury of the Isis. This book by Giuseppe Furlani constitutes an analytical study of their religion, offering, in addition to a memorial of the sect and some prayers, the Italian translation of the two sacred texts.


Objectively an absolute pearl for any study on the Yezidis, thus representing one of the rare cases in which with a book you really have a 360 ° understanding of a given people and / or creed. It was not included only because, compared to the top 5 it is “only” an extraordinary essay, moreover of a very particular cult. It would have been a shame, however, not to mention something so beautiful and incredible.

“Beirut 75” by Ghada Samman

In a collective taxi taken in Damascus, the adventures of a group of occasional travel companions begin arriving in Beirut where the signs of the civil war are now clear. In the sea of daily worries, a man and a woman roam the Lebanese capital, each prey to their own phobias, aspirations and frustrations too long repressed. In the sea of daily worries, a man and a woman roam the Lebanese capital, each prey to their own phobias, aspirations and frustrations that have been repressed for too long.

Beirut 75

One of the books that I read more quickly, able to captivate with a unique story and setting, locking the reader in his chair until the last page. My opinion in this case is exactly the same as that of the previous book: unfortunately it is “only” an extraordinary novel. Even in this case, however, the honorable mentions are a godsend as it was strictly mentioned.

“Cronache dalla polvere” by Zoya Barontini

In 1936 the Italian army conquered the capital of the Ethiopian empire, Addis Ababa. For those populations a new beginning: Roman peace, as Benito Mussolini defined it. Cronache dalla polvere tells this page of history of Italy that has been forgotten and for too long unspoken: the occupation of the territories of Abyssinia by the fascist troops. The regime aimed to make it the flagship of the Italian Empire but found itself repressing the resistance of the proud Arbegnuoc guerrillas with atrocious violence. The Italian troops together with the black shirts became the protagonists of roundups, destruction and massacres of men, women and children, abandoning humanity and piety, lost forever in those lands far from Rome. Local populations have never forgotten that past of unprecedented violence.

Cronache dalla polvere

For me this was undoubtedly the year of the “discovery” of Italian colonialism and among the books I read in 2020 this is without a shadow of a doubt a perfect representation of it. It does not finish in the top 5 just because it is a work that has not yet “made history”.

“Utopia” by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik

A sad futurist account of Egyptian society in the year 2023, Utopia takes readers on a chilling journey beyond the gated communities of the north coast, where the rich are isolated from the desolation of life outside the walls. When a young man and a girl escape this bubble of well-being in order to see for themselves the lives of their poor Egyptians, they are faced with a world they never imagined possible.


Probably among the honorable mentions it is the title that really went closest to the top for quality, style, themes and greatness of the writer; even in this case, however, it stops short of the summit due to the fact that it is not yet a book “that made history”. At this point, however, you may be wondering what this amazing work is then: here it is.

The last piece

Secret history of the Mongols

Temüjin, later called Cinggis, was the invincible warrior leader whom we now call Genghis Khan; his nation, which gradually emerged against the tumultuous background of the migrations of the “Peoples of the Moon” who for centuries passed the empty expanses of Central Asia, conquered hegemony over an immense territory in a few years, subjecting nomadic shepherds as the mandarins of China. “The Secret History of the Mongols” is the story of this formidable rise, composed by an anonymous writer in the 13th century: a monument to an era in which Central Asia, as Fosco Maraini writes in his introduction, is an “ocean of lands in which they navigate, almost mysterious sargasso, memories, shadows, mirages of the civilizations that make up their shores: Rome, China, Byzantium, Persia ”. “The Secret History of the Mongols” is the first of the known Mongolian historical and literary monuments. The original has not come down to us, but in the second half of the fourteenth century it was transcribed into ideograms and translated into Chinese. This publication refers to the 1941 translation into Russian by the distinguished Mongolist and sinologist Sergej Kozin(1879-1956), who devoted twenty years of study to the work.


I must admit that compared to the first 5, to my taste, this is a little behind, but we are still talking about small distances. “Secret History of the Mongols” is a real legendary book, able to tell this people and their legendary leader like no other. Reading it, you will fully enjoy the legendary land of Mongolia with its cold and its violence, fully understanding the extraordinary nature of Genghis Khan, the greatest conqueror of all time.

A painful decision but more than ever correct, emblem of a 2020 which, although not happy in absolute terms, has brought an extraordinary depth of texts and authors resulting, in terms of reading, among the best ever. And you? What were your favorite books this year?

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