Literary Fiction

3 Novels by Middle Eastern Writers You Need to Read in 2019

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While Western readers are now familiar with a few Middle Eastern writers, from Elif Shafak to Ahmed Saadawi, in general there remains a dearth of Middle Eastern writers in mainstream fiction.

Last month, Celestial Bodies became the first Arabic book to win the coveted Man Booker International Prize. Let’s hope this promising development means the influx of more writers from diverse backgrounds in global publishing.

Here are three outstanding and singularly inventive books by writers from Middle Eastern origins that have come out this year.

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, this book from an Omani novelist features characters that will stay with you long after you have finished it.

A brilliantly imagined, immersive story that charts the evolution of Oman from post colonial era through the lives of three sisters.

Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

Abdel Latif, an old man, dies peacefully in a hospital bed in Damascus. Before he dies, he tells his youngest son Bolbol that his final wish is to be buried in the family plot in their ancestral village of Anabiya in the Aleppo region.

This road trip novel is a macabre, darkly humorous portrayal of day to day life in a war ravaged Syria. Reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, this compelling story captures the paranoia and hardship of living in a war zone with unflinching honesty.

Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Frustrated, lonely 17-year-old Nofar has spent an uneventful summer serving ice-cream to indifferent customers when all she wants is to have some excitement in her dreary life. When an opportunity that would make her the center of attention presents itself for the first time in her life, Nofar grabs it with both hands.

Liar is a deliciously observant story about morality, deception and human craving for attention. Ayelet is an Israeli clinical psychologist and has written a deeply insightful story about human foibles.