By Shaniah Shields, Jia Wen Ho, Christina Moore and Leanne Francis
In the fourth instalment of our Writing the World series, we are highlighting literature across the Middle East. From folktales in Lebanon, to poetry in Yemen, this issue features the work of some of the Middle East’s most prominent and upcoming writers, unearthing vibrant stories that are slowly making their way overseas.
Pearls on a Branch: Oral Tales by Najla Jraissaty Khoury
Pearls on a Branch: Oral Tales is a collection of thirty traditional Lebanese and Syrian folktales. The tales are culturally intriguing and atmospheric. The collection gives a strong sense of the women who passed down these culturally rich stories through generations and
acknowledges the unique voices of women, both past and present.
Louder Than Hearts: Poems by Zeina Hashem Beck
Winner of the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize, Louder Than Hearts: Poems is a compelling poetry collection which provides a lens through which to see life in the Middle East. The writing is a powerful and passionate exploration of love and loss, which mixes Arabic with English.
An Unsafe Haven by Nada Awar Jarrar
This captivating tale set against the modern-day backdrop of Beirut, showcases humanity that is trapped in the shadow of war. This powerful story is amalgamated in the carefully chosen title, as questions of home and belonging are deeply explored throughout love, loss and hope.
Istanbul: Memories and the City (İstanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir) by Orhan Pamuk
This is a largely autobiographical novel by Pamuk, detailing a childhood filled with eccentric family members and the changing landscape of Turkey. The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner writes of Istanbul’s historical monuments, shops and markets, and Istanbul’s history with The Bosporus.
Sleeping in the Forest: Stories and Poems, by Sait Faik Abasiyanik,
Translated into English by several of Turkey’s most well-known translators, this collection features twenty-two short stories, fifteen poems and a novella. These stories capture the essence of Istanbul, the disillusioned and disenfranchised and characters including Arminian fishermen and Orthodox Greek priests.
Human Landscapes from My Country by Nazim Hikmet
Written whilst he was in prison and published in 2002 after his death, this epic poem shows portraits, that vary in length, of ordinary Turkish people. We are taken from battlefields to hospitals to prisons, and everywhere in between. Although, everyday life remains at the centre, noted as being a challenging read, the picture it paints is worth it.
The Wild Fox of Yemen by Threa Almontaser
Threa Almontaser’s 2021 debut poetry collection, published by Graywolf Press, is ‘a love letter to the country and people of Yemen.’ A recipient of the Walt Whitman Award, this collection is both bold and tender, paying homage to Almontaser’s upbringing as a Muslim Yemeni-American woman. The Wild Fox of Yemen speaks to ideas of home, identity and survival.
I Am Not From Here by Amerah Saleh
Published by Verve Poetry Press in 2018, Amerah Saleh’s collection focuses on issues of womanhood, religion and belonging, tackling the complexities of being ‘Birmingham born but of Yemeni descent and culture.’ I Am Not From Here is a collection woven with wisdom and emotion, finding strength and solace within a fractured identity.
A Letter to my Mother by Amina Atiq
Amina Atiq is a Yemeni-scouse poet and activist. Described as ‘one of the most essential voices in Liverpool’, Atiq’s work extends beyond the page, taking the form of spoken word and documentaries. Her writing is due to be published in Sutton Manor, Speaking Volumes and Cordite Poetry Review. Her spoken word poem, A Letter to my Mother, can be found here.
United Arab Emirates
That Other Girl by Maha Gargash
That Other Girl centres around three individuals: a wealthy businessman, Majed, who achieved his position by killing his older brother; a rebellious daughter, Dalal, pursuing a music career; and an exiled niece, Mariam, using education as a key to escape. As these women challenge social norms and Majed tries to control them, disastrous consequences are bound to follow.
My Own Special Way by Maitha Al-Khayat, illustrated by Maya Fidawi
The book follows Hamda who wants to wear a hijab like her four sisters and it is up to her to figure out what wearing a hijab is like. As one of the pioneering children’s authors in the Emirates, Maitha Al-Khayat has written over 170 works (from children’s books to TV scripts) in Arabic and English.
The Wink of Mona Lisa and other stories from the Gulf by Mohammad Al Murr
Mohammad Al Murr has written fifteen volumes of short stories and in this English translation there are two volumes. With twenty-four fascinating short stories, it features varied and interesting characters, revealing different facets of life in the Gulf countries.