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Our Favorite Middle Eastern Authors

In honor of the paperback publication of Hanan al-Shaykh’s The Occasional Virgin, here is a roundup of our favorite Middle Eastern authors! Spanning award-winning books from nearly twenty years ago to brand-new books published this year, these stories represent a range of voices as wonderfully rich and diverse as the region from which these authors hail. From literary fiction to memoir to poetic essays, there’s something here for everyone. Be sure to find out more information or read an excerpt of the books that catch your eye.

Hanan al-Shaykh | The Occasional Virgin

Hanan al-Shaykh, an award-winning journalist, novelist, and playwright, is the author of the short-story collections I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops and One Thousand and One Nights; the novels The Story of Zahra, Women of Sand and Myrrh, Beirut Blues, and Only in London; and a memoir about her mother, The Locust and the Bird. She was raised in Beirut, educated in Cairo, and lives in London.

Her newest book, The Occasional Virgin, is now available in paperback! If you’re a fan of literary women’s fiction, this book is for you. On a sunny beach on the Italian Riviera, two thirtysomething women, Yvonne and Huda, relax by the sparkling sea. But despite the setting, as their vacation unfolds, their complicated pasts seep through to the idyllic present. Both women spent their childhoods in Lebanon—Yvonne raised in a Christian family, Huda in a Muslim one—and they now find themselves torn between the traditional worlds they were born into and the successful professional identities they’ve created.

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Naguib Mahfouz | The Cairo Trilogy

Naguib Mahfouz was born in Cairo in 1911 and began writing when he was seventeen. His nearly forty novels and hundreds of short stories range from reimaginings of ancient myths to subtle commentaries on contemporary Egyptian politics and culture. Of his many works, most famous is The Cairo Trilogy, consisting of Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957), which focuses on a Cairo family through three generations, from 1917 until 1952. In 1988, he was the first writer in Arabic to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in August 2006.

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Rabih Alameddine | The Hakawati

Rabih Alameddine was born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese parents, and grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon. He was educated in England and America, and has an engineering degree from UCLA and an MBA from the University of San Francisco. He is also the author of the novel Koolaids: The Art of War, the story collection, The Perv: Stories, and, most recently, I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters. His pieces have appeared in Zoetrope, The Evening Standard, and Al-Hayat, among others. Mr. Alameddine, a painter as well as an author, has had solo gallery exhibitions in cities throughout the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. He has lectured at numerous universities including MIT and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Mr. Alameddine was the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2002. He divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut.

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Kahlil Gibran | The Prophet

Kahlil Gibran was born in 1883 in Lebanon and died in New York in 1931. His family emigrated to the United States in 1895. In his early teens, the artistry of Gibran’s drawings caught the eye of his teachers and he was introduced to the avant-garde Boston artist, photographer, and publisher Fred Holland Day, who encouraged and supported Gibran in his creative endeavors. A publisher used some of Gibran’s drawings for book covers in 1898, and Gibran held his first art exhibition in 1904 in Boston. In 1908, Gibran went to study art with Auguste Rodin in Paris for two years, and he later studied art in Boston. While most of Gibran’s early writing was in Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. Gibran’s best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of 28 poetic essays.

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Kamin Mohammadi | Bella Figura

Kamin Mohammadi was born in Iran in 1969 and was exiled to the United Kingdom in 1979. She is a journalist, travel writer, and broadcaster whose work has appeared in the British and international press, including The Times, Financial Times, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and The Guardian. She lives outside Florence and in London. Her most recent book, Bella Figura, is a memoir of her year in Italy and a mantra for savoring the beauty and color of every day that Italians have followed for generations.

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Marjane Satrapi | Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran. She grew up in Tehran, where she studied at the Lycée Français de Vienne in Vienna before going to Strasbourg to study illustration. Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. Marjane has also written several children’s books, and her illustrations appear in newspapers and magazines throughout the world, including The New Yorker and The New York Times. She currently lives in Paris.

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Orhan Pamuk | The Red-Haired Woman

Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, and his novel My Name Is Red won the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has been translated into more than sixty languages. A tale of family and romance, of youth and old age, of tradition and modernity, The Red-Haired Woman is a beguiling mystery from one of the great storytellers of our time. On the outskirts of a town thirty miles from Istanbul, a well digger and his young apprentice—a boy fleeing the confines of his middle-class home—are hired to find water on a barren plain. As they struggle in the summer heat, excavating without luck meter by meter, they develop a filial bond neither has known before.

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Ahdaf Soueif | The Map of Love

Ahdaf Soueif is the author of a story collection, I Think of You; an essay collection, Mezzaterra: Fragments from the Common Ground; and two novels, In the Eye of the Sun and The Map of Love. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999, The Map of Love is an extraordinary cross-cultural love story that unfurls across Egypt, England, and the United States over the course of a century. Ahdaf lives in Cairo, where she was born.

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