The best books about the Kurds and their world

Why am I passionate about this?

Like the main character in my book, I went to Kurdish Iraq as a well-meaning (but admittedly naive) teacher, and fell in love with the Kurdish people and their culture. To be more specific, it was village women I really bonded with. Listening to their stories, and watching them try to cope with so many practical restrictions, tore at my heart. Part of me wanted to “liberate” them from the seemingly outdated traditions that held them back. Simultaneously, I couldn’t help but envy them for the solaces their tight community offered them -- and which Western society denied me. Rather than claiming to be an expert on Kurds, I am now someone who studies them with the greatest respect. The humble Kurdish villagers gave me moral examples that I wish every Westerner could be fortunate enough to have.

I wrote...

The Kurdish Bike

By Alesa Lightbourne,

Book cover of The Kurdish Bike

What is my book about?

With her marriage over and life gone flat, Theresa Turner responds to an online ad and lands at a school in Kurdish Iraq. Befriended by a widow in a nearby village, she is embroiled in the joys and agonies of traditional life. Her greatest challenge will be balancing respect for cultural values while trying to introduce more enlightened attitudes toward women -- and seeking new spiritual dimensions within herself.

"The Kurdish Bike has such strong characters and story that the reader feels like a member of the family. If you are interested in learning about the lives, culture, and hardships faced by people in the Middle East, this book is a must-read. Five stars." Manhattan Book Review

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

Alesa Lightbourne Why did I love 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.

By Christiane Bird,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Though the Kurds played a major military and tactical role in the United States’ recent war with Iraq, most of us know little about this fiercely independent, long-marginalized people. Now acclaimed journalist Christiane Bird, who riveted readers with her tour of Islamic Iran in Neither East Nor West, travels through this volatile part of the world to tell the Kurds’ story, using personal observations and in-depth research to illuminate an astonishing history and vibrant culture.

For the twenty-five to thirty million Kurds, Kurdistan is both an actual and a mythical place: an isolated, largely mountainous homeland that has historically offered…

Book cover of No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

Alesa Lightbourne Why did I love 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.

By Behrouz Boochani,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked No Friend but the Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Award-winning International Bestselling Story of One Man's Six Year Detention in Australia

'A powerfully vivid account of the experiences of a refugee: desperation, brutality, suffering, and all observed with an eye that seems to see everything and told in a voice that's equal to the task.' - Phillip Pullman

In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani sought asylum in Australia but was instead illegally imprisoned in the country's most notorious detention centre on Manus Island. This book is the result.

Boochani spent nearly five years typing passages of this book one text at a time from a secret mobile phone…

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

Alesa Lightbourne Why did I love 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.

By Nadia Murad,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

`Telling my story of first, surviving genocide and then, as a captive of ISIS is not easy, but people must know.' The remarkable and courageous story of Nadia Murad, a twenty-three-year-old Yazidi woman who is working with Amal Clooney to challenge the world to fight ISIS on behalf on her people.

With a foreword by Amal Clooney

A Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the first Goodwill Ambassador the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations and winner of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, Nadia Murad is a courageous young woman who has endured unimaginable tragedy (losing…

Book cover of Daughters of Smoke and Fire

Alesa Lightbourne Why did I love 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.

By Ava Homa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daughters of Smoke and Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The unforgettable, haunting story of a young woman's perilous fight for freedom and justice for her brother, the first novel published in English by a female Kurdish writer

Set primarily in Iran, this extraordinary debut novel weaves 50 years of modern Kurdish history through a story of a family facing oppression and injustices all too familiar to the Kurds. Leila dreams of making films to bring the suppressed stories of her people onto the global stage, but obstacles keep piling up. Her younger brother, Chia, influenced by their father's past torture, imprisonment, and his deep-seated desire for justice, begins to…

Book cover of Take What You Can Carry

Alesa Lightbourne Why did I love 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.

By Gian Sardar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Take What You Can Carry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An aspiring photographer follows her dreams and faces her fears in a poignant novel about finding beauty, promise, and love amid the chaos of war-torn Kurdistan.

It's 1979. Olivia Murray, a secretary at a Los Angeles newspaper, is determined to become a photojournalist and make a difference with her work. When opportunity arrives, she seizes it, accompanying her Kurdish boyfriend, Delan, to northern Iraq for a family wedding, hoping to capture an image that lands her a job in the photo department. More important, though, the trip is a chance to understand Delan's childhood and bridge the differences of their…

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Book cover of Dulcinea

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

What is my book about?

Dolça Llull Prat, a wealthy Barcelona woman, is only 15 when she falls in love with an impoverished poet-solder. Theirs is a forbidden relationship, one that overcomes many obstacles until the fledgling writer renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his bestseller.

By doing so, he unwittingly exposes his muse to gossip. But when Dolça receives his deathbed note asking to see her, she races across Spain with the intention of unburdening herself of an old secret.

On the journey, she encounters bandits, the Inquisition, illness, and the choices she's made. At its heart, Dulcinea is about how we betray the people we love, what happens when we succumb to convention, and why we squander the few chances we get to change our lives.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Kurds, undocumented immigrants, and Iraq?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Kurds, undocumented immigrants, and Iraq.

The Kurds Explore 21 books about the Kurds
Undocumented Immigrants Explore 25 books about undocumented immigrants
Iraq Explore 85 books about Iraq