Sunday, January 19, 2014

Five Great Books from the Middle East

These days when we hear about the Middle East it is always bad news. I am not going to mention terrorism, Islam, women's rights, genocide or any of the other hot topics. Instead, I simply wish to list off a few great book's about the region has produced or inspired that might help us shed some of that negativity towards a beautiful and unique part of the world.

5. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence is an account of the author's experiences as a British military officer during the Arab Revolt of 1917/18. Emir Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, King of Syria led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire to liberate what is now Jordan, Syria and parts of several other Middle Eastern countries. The British took advantage of the revolt and used Lawrence, who was already in the region to do research, to communicate with the rebels to coordinate their attacks with Allied battle plans in WWI. (The book was also made into a pretty decent movie!)

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is another biography that tells the story of a boy who can predict where a kite will land and his friendship with a rich kid during the 1970s in Afghanistan.  While it may sound a little silly, the story is actually pretty good.  It gives some good insights into Afghani culture over the last 40ish years and tugs at your heart strings a little too. (Also a movie!)

3. The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk (not a movie) is over 1000 pages on the last 100 years of Middle Eastern history and well worth the time it takes to read for anybody who finds themselves asking "Why?" about the region. A word of caution, the author does not paint the western world in a very pretty light.

2. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz consists of the books Palace Walk,
Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street. While Egypt may not technically be in the Middle East it identifies more with that region than it does with Africa. In this series we follow the lives of Cairene and his family from Egyptian independence in 1919 through the end of WWII. The series details the symbolic family struggle between tradition and change at a time when Egypt was torn between east and west. (A great black and white movie... if you don't mind subtitles)

1. Who hasn't heard of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, Aladdin's lamp or Sinbad the Sailor (all movies)? The Arabian Nights, at least according to the full title, brings us these along with 998 more traditional stories and folk tales from India, Western Asia and the Middle East.  First compiled in Arabic during the 1200s at the height of the Islamic Golden Age the stories are presented as part of a frame story about a Perisan king who marries and then kills a new woman every night because his true love had been unfaithful.  When his kingdom runs out of virgins he marries his Vizier's daughter who, after the nookie, tells him the first half of a great story.  Wanting to hear the end, the king puts off the execution for a day to be told the end of the story AND the first half of another great story.  He stays the execution again and this pattern continues for 1001 nights.  Depending on which version you read she either gets killed when she runs out of stories, or the king falls in love and they live happily ever after.  There are several "greatest hits" versions telling just the most popular tales as well as multi-volume versions with all 1001 stories.  We at Oddfellow's are happy to keep a selection of both kinds available at all times.

Thanks for reading!

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