One book always leads to another. Or with me...another few. I picked up Penelope Lively's Oleander, Jacaranda because I like memoirs and due to my interest in the 1930s and 40s generally. I finished the book with a curiosity about that particular part of the world, but not just as experienced or seen through British or American eyes. I loved reading about Lively's childhood, but what about the region and the people who live there who are the native population. I can't think of a book I've read recently by an author who actually is Egyptian or Lebanese or Turkish, for example. So I've been cobbling together a list of books to explore and have slowly been acquiring some of these either by ordering online or borrowing.
I've been unsure where to start being unfamiliar with Middle Eastern literature, but I have come across a couple of good resources. Arabic Literature (in English) is an excellent place to find out what's new and of merit in the publishing world when it comes to books translated into English from Arabic. And it was there that I discovered a forum at Goodreads that is geared towards readers interested in literature from the Middle East and North Africa. That group has over 400 members and I expect I'll be able to find plenty of reading ideas. I've even joined in (or will be joining in soon) on a couple of group reads. And I am always open to ideas from readers here. I'm looking specifically for books in translation from authors of that region but don't mind books by others writing about the Middle East, too. Here are a few that I've already jotted down.
Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, which is made up of Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. Mahfouz's work is probably the most recognizable to me, and this trilogy is classic reading material. The novels are about several generations of a Cairo family.
Border Passage: From Cairo to America--A Woman's Journey by Leila Ahmed. This is another memoir I've owned for many years. As a matter of fact it sat next to the Lively book on the shelf, and was in part inspiration for this new reading path.
Story of Zahra by Hanan al-Shaykh. Al-Shaykh is a Lebanese author whose works seem well known and respected. I've acquired several of her novels but will start with this one about the coming of age of a young woman in war-torn Beirut.
Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif. This is set in an unnamed Gulf country in the 1930s when oil exploration in the region was just beginning. Probably a very enlightening read. I think this is one of several connected stories.
Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan. This sounds interesting--about two families who live/lived in the same house, first an Arab family but was acquired by a Jewish family in 1948.
Reading Lolita in Teheran by Azar Nafisi. This is probably one of the more famous books on my list, which I started reading years ago but set aside. I think I would do better with it now. It's a nonfiction book about a book club comprised of women and the impact of the Islamic Revolution on them.
Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany. A contemporary novel set in Cairo about the various people who live in the same apartment building.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. I mentioned this graphic novel not too long ago. I read it several years ago and am hoping to read the sequel soon. Another book set during the Islamic Revolution in Iran--a coming of age story.
Blue Aubergine by Miral al-Tahawy. I have this one on my reading pile right now and need to start it soon as it is a library book. Another novel about a young woman born in 1967 and coming of age in modern Egypt.
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. This is about a Palestinian family uprooted in 1948 when Israel became a state.
Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif. Soueif actually writes in English, though I believe she was born in Egypt. This was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This is a family saga and a love story between a British woman and Egyptian man.
Dancing Arabs by Sayed Kashua. I'm curious about this novel, which is about a coming of age story of an Arab-Israeli boy.
Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Another book I tried to read years ago but set aside and again I think I would do better with it now. Pamuk is Turkish and won the Nobel in 2006.
At the moment I'm finishing Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsenea. The author is a young Saudi Arabian woman who caused quite a stir with this book about a group of upper class friends and their trials and tribulations as they try and sort out their romantic lives. I've got In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story by Ghada Karmi lined up next to read along with a group at Goodreads. I think it's going to be interesting exploring Middle Eastern literature and will certainly open up a wide new world to me.