100 books like A Bedouin Boyhood

By Isaak Diqs,

Here are 100 books that A Bedouin Boyhood fans have personally recommended if you like A Bedouin Boyhood. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Season of Migration to the North

Kim Barnes Author Of In the Kingdom of Men

From my list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization.

Why am I passionate about this?

In the 1950s, my mother and father left the red dirt of Oklahoma for the forests of Idaho to escape their families’ poverty. Instead of sharecropping, my father became a logger, but my aunt and her husband, a drilling rig roughneck, moved to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco and live in the American compound of Abqaiq. I remember the gifts they brought me: camel hide purses, Aladdin slippers. The Saudis, too, were experiencing rapid modernization and expanding wealth. I became fascinated by the conflict inherent in the sudden enmeshing of cultures and meteoric shift in power and privilege.

Kim's book list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization

Kim Barnes Why did Kim love this book?

I planned to read this book for research but ended up so immersed in the story that I kept forgetting to take notes. The narrative, a “clever inversion of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” follows the travels and travails of a young protagonist tangled in the contradictions of his African childhood, his formal education in England, and his return home with what he sees as the boon of modern thought. Part mystery, part romance, part history, part monomyth, part psychological thriller, the novel is set in an “unsettled and violent no-man’s-land between…tradition and innovation, holiness and defilement...” This book fascinated and haunted me even as it informed me about the complexities, dichotomies, and dissonance of colonization. Shot through with “allusions to Arabic and European fiction, Islamic history, Shakespeare, Freud, and classical Arabic poetry,” Salih’s novel should first be read for what it is: a brilliant work of art.

By Tayeb Salih, Denys Johnson-Davies,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Season of Migration to the North as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After years of study in Europe, the young narrator of Season of Migration to the North returns to his village along the Nile in the Sudan. It is the 1960s, and he is eager to make a contribution to the new postcolonial life of his country. Back home, he discovers a stranger among the familiar faces of childhood—the enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed. Mustafa takes the young man into his confidence, telling him the story of his own years in London, of his brilliant career as an economist, and of the series of fraught and deadly relationships with European women that led…


Book cover of Cities of Salt

Kim Barnes Author Of In the Kingdom of Men

From my list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization.

Why am I passionate about this?

In the 1950s, my mother and father left the red dirt of Oklahoma for the forests of Idaho to escape their families’ poverty. Instead of sharecropping, my father became a logger, but my aunt and her husband, a drilling rig roughneck, moved to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco and live in the American compound of Abqaiq. I remember the gifts they brought me: camel hide purses, Aladdin slippers. The Saudis, too, were experiencing rapid modernization and expanding wealth. I became fascinated by the conflict inherent in the sudden enmeshing of cultures and meteoric shift in power and privilege.

Kim's book list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization

Kim Barnes Why did Kim love this book?

Translated into English by Peter Theroux, this gorgeously written and emotionally stunning novel is told from the perspective of the Bedouin inhabitants during a time when Americans were arriving by the shipload to develop the oilfields they had discovered. The story is both epic and intimate (and, at points, wittily ironic) and opened my eyes to the vast destruction not only of the land and its people but the very core of their culture. Banned in several Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, this is the first volume of a trilogy (and I recommend them all). 

By Abdelrahman Munif,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cities of Salt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first English translation of a major Arab writer's novel that reveals the lifestyle and beliefs of a Bedouin tribe in the 1930s. Set in an unnamed Persian Gulf kingdom, the story tells of the cultural confrontation between American oilmen and a poor oasis community.


Book cover of The Belt

Kim Barnes Author Of In the Kingdom of Men

From my list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization.

Why am I passionate about this?

In the 1950s, my mother and father left the red dirt of Oklahoma for the forests of Idaho to escape their families’ poverty. Instead of sharecropping, my father became a logger, but my aunt and her husband, a drilling rig roughneck, moved to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco and live in the American compound of Abqaiq. I remember the gifts they brought me: camel hide purses, Aladdin slippers. The Saudis, too, were experiencing rapid modernization and expanding wealth. I became fascinated by the conflict inherent in the sudden enmeshing of cultures and meteoric shift in power and privilege.

Kim's book list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization

Kim Barnes Why did Kim love this book?

Of all the histories, journals, diaries, novels, and memoirs I read while doing research for ITKOM, Ahmed Abodehman’s slim book has lodged itself deepest in my heart. Sometimes referred to as a memoir and at other times as an autobiographical novel, The Belt is less about the changes brought on by the petroleum industry in particular than it is about the dislocation brought on by modernization (much of it driven by the quest for control of the vast oil reserves). The story begins with a tribal elder “examining young Ahmed's knife to determine the boy's masculinity.” With the coming of a government school to the village, such ancient tribal customs are challenged by more urban ideologies and orthodox Islam as the speaker struggles to retain the tribal songs he carries inside himself “like an inexhaustive fire.” With a poet’s sense of image and language, Ahmed Abodehman weaves a gorgeous coming-of-age…

By Ahmed Abodehman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ahmed grows up in a small Saudi village steeped in traditional tribal culture, local legends, family ties, history, and tribal songs. As he becomes a man, the cataclysmic changes of modernity spring up around him. Islam is imposing itself more and more strongly on tribal beliefs; moreover, the city begins to seem strangely attractive to his young mind. Ahmed struggles to come to terms with this newly unfolding world without forsaking his village, family or Hizam, the old man who comes to epitomise the traditional life itself.


Book cover of Brownies and Kalashnikovs: A Saudi Woman's Memoir of American Arabia and Wartime Beirut

Kim Barnes Author Of In the Kingdom of Men

From my list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization.

Why am I passionate about this?

In the 1950s, my mother and father left the red dirt of Oklahoma for the forests of Idaho to escape their families’ poverty. Instead of sharecropping, my father became a logger, but my aunt and her husband, a drilling rig roughneck, moved to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco and live in the American compound of Abqaiq. I remember the gifts they brought me: camel hide purses, Aladdin slippers. The Saudis, too, were experiencing rapid modernization and expanding wealth. I became fascinated by the conflict inherent in the sudden enmeshing of cultures and meteoric shift in power and privilege.

Kim's book list on Arabic writers on the destruction of colonization

Kim Barnes Why did Kim love this book?

Because 20th Century Aramco was a closed company inside a closed culture inside a closed country, and because the laws of Sharia and strict corporate guidelines silenced the stories of women, I found it frustrating if not impossible to uncover narratives written by female Arab authors. Then I discovered Basrawi’s fascinating memoir about growing up in Dhahran. It provided riveting insight into the life of a teenage girl whose father was one of the first Saudi Muslim employees allowed to live inside the gated community. Basrawi vividly details coming of age in the middle of a white community and her eventual move to Beirut, where she endures the strife of the country’s civil war. Her account is rare, invaluable, and poignantly told—a reminder that it is literature that offers the greatest understanding of the immediate and lasting effects of colonial imperialism.

By Fadia Basrawi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brownies and Kalashnikovs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fadia, a Saudi Arab, grew up in the strictly circumscribed and tailor-made 'desert Disneyland' of Aramco (the Arabian American Oil Company). This slice of modern, suburban, middle America was located in Dhahran, Aramco's administrative headquarters in Saudi Arabia, a theocratic Muslim kingdom run according to strict Wahabbi Shari'a law. Eventually, after only brief holidays abroad visiting relatives in colourful Arab cities like Medina, Damascus and Alexandria, Fadia moved to Beirut, the glitzy 'Paris of the Middle East', to attend high school. In Beirut she fell in love with a passionate and idealistic Lebanese journalist with whom she eloped against her…


Book cover of Across the Empty Quarter

Clemens P. Suter Author Of Rebound

From my list on people with guts.

Why am I passionate about this?

Clemens P. Suter is an author of adventure novels. His books deal with people that overcome impossible, life-changing situations. These are entertaining adventure books, with dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and Scifi elements.

Clemens' book list on people with guts

Clemens P. Suter Why did Clemens love this book?

Thesiger was a British military officer, explorer, and writer, who, in the second half of the 20th century, traveled on foot, horse, and by camel across Arabia, the Middle East, and Africa. Rub' al Khali, the Empty Quarter, is the largest sand desert in the world, a desolate, dangerous plane of rolling dunes, with a very limited number of waterholes. At the time of Thesiger’s travels in the late 1940s, this desert had been traveled exclusively by the local Bedu. What makes this book intriguing is the description of the harsh landscape and the people that live in it. Thesiger traveled the desert with a purpose (he wanted to find out more about a locust with some ecological relevance), so he and his guides voyaged huge distances. As the reader turns the pages, the overwhelming sense of adventure and Thesiger’s lust for the unknown become contagious. Many books have…

By Wilfrid Thesiger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Across the Empty Quarter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Restless, gripped by an overwhelming wish to make a name for himself in a world ever more hemmed in by progress and 'civilization', Thesiger (1910-2003) embarked on his amazing journeys across Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter to test himself and to show what could still be done. The result was a monument both to his resilience and to the Bedu who guided him and who emerge as the book's real heroes. "Great Journeys" allows readers to travel both around the planet and back through the centuries - but also back into ideas and worlds frightening, ruthless and cruel in different ways…


Book cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Jere Van Dyk Author Of Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban

From my list on courage, camaraderie, and survival in the face of danger.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Washington State. My father and my uncles fought in WWII; one was captured in Africa, and one was the first to fly over the Himalayas. My father wanted me to be a missionary, but I was drawn to the world. I became a runner and loved the camaraderie in track and field, but I was uncomfortable in college and didn't like my coach. I wanted to go far away. I began my career as an aide in the U.S. Senate but left and became a journalist in Afghanistan. Each of these books is a story of courage, camaraderie, and survival. I hope you enjoy them.

Jere's book list on courage, camaraderie, and survival in the face of danger

Jere Van Dyk Why did Jere love this book?

The mystery of the first paragraph drew me in, what he called "the evil of his tale," leading a guerrilla war in the Arabian desert in World War I.

I knew about the burning heat and the wind, of letting a camel find the water and the bitter cold at night, and I am in awe of his strength in fighting the Ottoman Turks. I love his descriptive writing of the wind, and the silence of a Crusader castle. He wrote at Shepherds Hotel in Cairo, left his manuscript on a train in a London station, and had to start over.

"At the bottom, we crossed the flat Gaa, matching our camels in a burst over its velvet surface until we overtook the main body and scattered them with the excitement of our gallop." It was romantic., but... "Round the bend, whistling its loudest, came the train...I touched off the…

By T. E. Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Seven Pillars of Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an Introduction by Angus Calder.

As Angus Calder states in his introduction to this edition, 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom is one of the major statements about the fighting experience of the First World War'. Lawrence's younger brothers, Frank and Will, had been killed on the Western Front in 1915. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, written between 1919 and 1926, tells of the vastly different campaign against the Turks in the Middle East - one which encompasses gross acts of cruelty and revenge and ends in a welter of stink and corpses in the disgusting 'hospital' in Damascus.

Seven Pillars of…


Book cover of Tents and Pyramids: Games and Ideology in Arab Culture from Backgammon to Autocratic Rule

Andrea Rugh Author Of Egyptian Advice Columnists: Envisioning the Good Life in an Era of Extremism

From my list on how culture influences Middle Eastern history.

Why am I passionate about this?

From over three decades of work on development projects in countries of the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa, I am convinced that when efforts fail, it is invariably because we lack the cultural understanding of what people want or how we provide it. These books all reinforce my point by either underlining the way culture shapes the way people see the world or by showing how when we neglect culture, we do so at our own peril. Culture can be discovered through multiple entry points with these books offering a good start. Even something as mundane as advice columns in newspapers offer political insights when plumbed for the meanings below the surface.

Andrea's book list on how culture influences Middle Eastern history

Andrea Rugh Why did Andrea love this book?

In Tents and Pyramids, Khuri describes how Arabs’ ways of seeing and dealing with reality have implications for power in the Middle East. He juxtaposes tents—the low horizontal Bedouin ones—against vertical hierarchical pyramids. Khuri argues that authority is not built into the tent approach—rather the strategy is to act as equal groups with leaders who are only “first among equals” and isolated individuals are the vulnerable ones. The second group, imagined as hierarchical pyramids, has no standardized rules for succession and ends up being the ones who conquer the rest. To stay in power these autocrats need strong militaries to keep the public from holding them accountable. Although Khuri’s framework doesn’t always hold up, it offers a useful way of imaging the region’s power structures.    

By Fuad I. Khuri,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tents and Pyramids as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This study deals with an unusual and absorbing topic: how the Arabs see and deal with reality and the implications this has for the nature of power in the Arab world. "Tents" and "pyramids" are, metaphorically, opposed mental images; the first signifies the absence of hierarchy and graded authority, the second the presence of both, Khuri argues that the Arabs perceive both social and physical reality as a series of discrete, non-pyramidal structures that are inherently equal in value - much like a Bedouin encampment composed of tents scattered haphazardly on a flat desert surface with no visible hierarchy. Authority…


Book cover of A Scandalous Life: The Biography of Jane Digby

Leslie K. Simmons Author Of Red Clay, Running Waters

From my list on little known people in history.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up in Philadelphia, History was in the air I breathed. Reading about my surroundings led me to want to understand the times and the ways people lived in the past. The Classics inspired a love for the cadence of language (especially 19th C lit). Visiting local museums and historic places added fuel to my passion for Historical Fiction. I believe we learn best from history and the human experience through empathy and putting ourselves in other’s shoes, which Historical Fiction is able to do by introducing us to a fascinating array of characters, places and times—real and imagined.

Leslie's book list on little known people in history

Leslie K. Simmons Why did Leslie love this book?

How Jane Digby escaped public notoriety in the present day is miraculous and certainly no reflection of the reputation she garnered in her own time.

If Gertrude Bell pushed the Edwardians into the post-colonial future, Digby forged the path for her. I have to wonder if Bell well knew of Digby’s life in the Middle East after she blithely married and liaised across Europe on her way. Gobsmackingly independent, she cared little for public opinion in making her choices. 

By Mary S. Lovell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Scandalous Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The biography of Jane Digby, an 'enthralling tale of a nineteenth-century beauty whose heart - and hormones - ruled her head.' Harpers and Queen

A celebrated aristocratic beauty, Jane Digby married Lord Ellenborough at seventeen. Their divorce a few years later was one of England s most scandalous at that time. In her quest for passionate fulfilment she had lovers which included an Austrian prince, King Ludvig I of Bavaria, and a Greek count whose infidelities drove her to the Orient. In Syria, she found the love of her life, a Bedouin nobleman, Sheikh Medjuel el Mezrab who was twenty…


Book cover of The Men Who Swallowed the Sun

Gretchen McCullough Author Of Confessions of a Knight Errant: Drifters, Thieves, and Ali Baba's Treasure

From my list on rambunctious adventure tales.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love humorous tales with quirky characters who find themselves in bizarre situations, especially in foreign countries. This mirrors my own experience of the world! After Brown University, I found myself teaching rowdy Egyptian girls; I resided in a converted classroom in Istanbul; and I was tamed by an eighty-year-old Spanish nun at a girls’ school in Tokyo. In my late thirties, I dropped my anchor in Lattakia, Syria, only to be tailed by the Syrian secret police. Like the character in my novel, Confessions of a Knight Errant, I returned to Cairo from Almeria, Spain where I was on a writers’ residency on January 28th, the Friday of Rage, of the Egyptian uprising, 2011. 

Gretchen's book list on rambunctious adventure tales

Gretchen McCullough Why did Gretchen love this book?

I reviewed this novel, and I really loved it. Many folks think they know what migrants experience from the news, but this novel tells the story with a different spin: an Egyptian Bedouin who tries to get to Italy via Libya.

Living in Libya is as absurd as it is dangerous. The narrator is a hassler, but you still feel sorry for him when he almost gets killed by a customer for using cheap spray paint in a body shop in Libya. Besides the body shop, he works as a bootlegger, cook, and a concrete-block maker before he makes a harrowing crossing on a flimsy boat across the Mediterranean.

Once in Italy, he gets a few jobs in construction but then falls into a gang of drug dealers. He is Egyptian but pretends to be an Iraqi named “Baffo.” One crazy thing happens after another until he needs to make…

By Hamdi Abu Golayyel, Humphrey Davies (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Men Who Swallowed the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Abu Golayyel’s gritty tale of two men’s ill-conceived quest for a better life via the deserts of the Middle East and the cities of Europe is pure storytelling

Two Bedouin men from Egypt’s Western Desert seek to escape poverty through different routes. One—the intellectual, terminally self-doubting, and avowedly autobiographical Hamdi—gets no further than southern Libya’s fly-blown oasis of Sabha, while his cousin—the dashing, irrepressible Phantom Raider—makes it to the fleshpots of Milan.

The backdrop of this darkly comic and unsentimental story of illegal immigration is a brutal Europe and Muammar Gaddafi’s rickety, rhetoric-propped Great State of the Masses, where “the…


Book cover of Syria: The Desert and the Sown

Dawn Chatty Author Of Syria: The Making and Unmaking of a Refuge State

From my list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a social anthropologist who has lived, dreamed, and worked in Syria most of her life. Having spent my childhood in Damascus I always yearned to return. After completing my PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the economy of modern Bedouin Tribes, I won a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Damascus. Since then, Damascus has been at the centre of my academic and social life. I met my husband there, a British helicopter pilot, sent there to learn Arabic. I'm an emeritus professor of anthropology and forced migration at the University of Oxford and my research has been on the forced migrant communities who make up Syria’s cosmopolitan society.

Dawn's book list on capturing the essence of Syria and its people

Dawn Chatty Why did Dawn love this book?

The Desert and the Sown is perhaps the most personal of all Gertrude Bell’s travel books revealing a deeply affectionate engagement with the people and places of Syria. It is the first of her books that I read while researching the subject of Bedouin tribes in early 20th century Syria. I wanted to know what connection the Bedouin tribal elites had to the major trading cities such as Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. There, in her description of Damascus, she revealed the evidence I had been looking for: “In Damascus the sheikhs of the richer tribes have their townhouses; you may meet Muhammad of the Hasene or Bassan of the Beni Rashid peacocking down the bazaars on a fine Friday; in embroidered cloaks and purple and silver kerchiefs fastened about their brows with camel’s hair ropes bound with gold…” I can just see those tribal leaders now in my mind’s…

By Gertrude Bell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'You may rely upon one thing - I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great a strain.'

Gertrude Bell - traveller, scholar, archaeologist, spy - was one of the most powerful figures in the Middle East in the 20th century. With T.E. Lawrence, she was a significant force behind the Arab Revolt and was responsible for creating the boundaries of the modern state of Iraq, as well as installing the Hashemite dynasty, with Faisal I as king, in Iraq and Transjordan. Her knowledge of the Arab world was forged through decades of travel and the relationships she built…


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