The best books about Kurds

The Books I Picked & Why

A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

By Christiane Bird

A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

Why this book?

History, culture, politics, plus the zing of real personalities. This book has it all, presented by a gutsy but sensitive journalist. Bird traveled through the four nations that are home to Kurds -- Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey -- in 2003. Although a lot has changed since then, her book remains the gold standard for nonfiction about these fascinating and little-understood people. You’ll wish you could have stowed away in her backpack.


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No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

By Behrouz Boochani

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

Why this book?

Boochani fled his native Iran due to political persecution against Kurds, and ended up stuck in refugee hell, namely Australia’s notorious Manus Island. Not for the faint of heart, his memoir details nearly dying at sea, and then spending years in unimaginably wretched prison conditions. Most remarkable of all is that he wrote his book on a cell phone, smuggling poems on WhatsApp to the world at large. How can “civilized” nations treat persecuted populations so dismally? A mix of prose and poetry, the book is a haunting examination of ethnic dignity in the face of global indifference.


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The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State

By Nadia Murad

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State

Why this book?

I read newspaper reports about ISIS capturing and enslaving Yazidi women in Iraq, but had a hard time imagining day-to-day life within the Caliphate. Murad gives us an insider’s view. She was just 21 when ISIS overran her village. She survived repeated beatings, rapes, and other forms of degradation until risking a dare-devil escape. Although Yazidis are ethnically distinct from Kurds, they have lived surrounded and protected by Kurds for centuries. Murad’s story helps us understand why Kurds fought so valiantly against ISIS, and illustrates the tolerance for diversity in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan.


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Daughters of Smoke and Fire

By Ava Homa

Daughters of Smoke and Fire

Why this book?

I have immense admiration for Ava Homa, the first female Iranian Kurd to publish in English. Her novel is part political expose, part history, and part feminist coming-of-age story, all wrapped up in a nail-biter of an adventure. The narrator is a woman, adding unexpected plot twists. Given the repression faced by Kurds in Iran, and the wall of silence maintained by the regime, Homa’s book is an important and courageous plea to the world for empathy and action -- plus it’s a downright riveting read.


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Take What You Can Carry

By Gian Sardar

Take What You Can Carry

Why this book?

A Californian woman travels to Iraq to visit her Kurdish boyfriend’s family. It’s during Saddam Hussein’s regime, when just being a Kurd can get you tortured or imprisoned. The author perfectly captures the smells, sounds and cultural details that fascinate a Western newcomer to Kurdistan -- including markets, weddings, dancing, and foods. All is not what it appears, however, and murky secrets lurk beneath the smiling faces. Like most books about Kurds, this one is disturbing in parts. But the romantic subplot keeps you turning pages. It also has great insights into the complexity of cross-cultural relationships, both pros and cons.


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