10 books like A Bedouin Boyhood

By Isaak Diqs,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like A Bedouin Boyhood. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Season of Migration to the North

By Tayeb Salih, Denys Johnson-Davies,

Book cover of Season of Migration to the North

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.

Season of Migration to the North

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…


Cities of Salt

By Abdelrahman Munif,

Book cover of Cities of Salt

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). 

Cities of Salt

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.


The Belt

By Ahmed Abodehman,

Book cover of The Belt

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…

The Belt

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.


Brownies and Kalashnikovs

By Fadia Basrawi,

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

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.

Brownies and Kalashnikovs

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…


Across the Empty Quarter

By Wilfrid Thesiger,

Book cover of Across the Empty Quarter

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…

Across the Empty Quarter

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…


Seven Pillars of Wisdom

By T.E. Shaw,

Book cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

This is a brilliant autobiographical account of the astonishing experiences of British Army Colonel T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") as he served as a military advisor to Bedouin forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks, 1916-1918. With the support of Emir Faisal and his tribesmen in Wadi Rum, he helped carry out attacks on the Ottoman forces from Aqaba in the south to Damascus in the north. Many sites inside the Wadi Rum area have been named after Lawrence, including the rock formations near the entrance now known as "The Seven Pillars."

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

By T.E. Shaw,

Why should I read it?

3 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…


Tents and Pyramids

By Fuad I. Khuri,

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

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.    

Tents and Pyramids

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…


Syria

By Gertrude Bell,

Book cover of Syria: The Desert and the Sown

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…

Syria

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…


Wind, Sand and Stars

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

Book cover of Wind, Sand and Stars

Saint-Exupery’s descriptions of what he sees and feels during enthralling activities amid stunning landscapes left me enchanted. The feelings he captures extend beyond the mere act of flying and into human relationships and our quest for meaning, written in beautiful, often philosophical prose. He approached flying as a metaphor for life and the human condition. Even if I will never fly, he made me care. 

Wind, Sand and Stars

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Wind, Sand and Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The National Book Award-winning autobiographical book about the wonder of flying from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the beloved children's classic The Little Prince.

A National Geographic Top Ten Adventure Book of All Time

Recipient of the Grand Prix of the Académie Française, Wind, Sand and Stars captures the grandeur, danger, and isolation of flight. Its exciting account of air adventure, combined with lyrical prose and the spirit of a philosopher, makes it one of the most popular works ever written about flying.

Translated by Lewis Galantière.

"There are certain rare individuals...who by the mere fact of their existence put…


Once Upon a Country

By Sari Nusseibeh, Anthony David,

Book cover of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

I was blown away by this narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the Palestinian perspective. Sari Nusseibeh is the scion of one of the oldest and most distinguished Palestinian families. So important are they that the Nusseibehs hold the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and are charged with opening the Church each day. Despite the fact that Sari and his family lost so much when Israel declared statehood in 1948, I was moved by the absence of malice in what I found to be a balanced account of “the Nakbah.” After reading the book, I was eager to meet Sari, who was at the time president of Al Quds University. My husband and I did get to spend a day with him on campus, where we learned even more about the Palestinian side of the conflict.

Once Upon a Country

By Sari Nusseibeh, Anthony David,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Once Upon a Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These extraordinary memoirs give us a rare view into what the Arab-Israeli conflict has meant for one Palestinian family over the generations. Nusseibeh also interweaves his own story with that of the Palestinians as a people, always speaking his mind, and apportioning blame where he feels it due. Hated by extremists on both sides, his is a rare voice.

"This autobiography? carries the passion that might embolden ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to bypass the politicians and establish the peace that all but the armoured men desperately want." The Independent

"Nusseibeh's formidable achievement? leaves a drop of despair, because of how…


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