10 books like Arabian Love Poems

By Nizar Qabbani, Bassam K. Frangieh, Clementina R. Brown

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

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Origins

By Amin Maalouf,

Book cover of Origins: A Memoir

I read Maalouf's book many years ago and it remains one of the best books I have ever read about identity. It helps that he is a gifted writer and that Maalouf's story is so compelling.

Origins

By Amin Maalouf,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Origins, by the world-renowned writer Amin Maalouf, is a sprawling, hemisphere-spanning intergenerational saga.

Set during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth, in the mountains of Lebanon and in Havana, Cuba, Origins recounts the family history of the generation of Maalouf's paternal grandfather, Boutros. Why did Boutros, a poet and educator in Lebanon, travel across the globe to rescue his younger brother, Gebrayel, who had settled in Havana?

Maalouf is an energetic and amiable narrator, illuminating the more obscure corners of late Ottoman nationalism, the psychology of Lebanese sectarianism, and the dynamics of…


The Shell

By Moustafa Khalifa, Paul Starkey,

Book cover of The Shell: Memoirs of a Hidden Observer

The Shell is a peek into both the horrors and absurdities of totalitarian regimes told in the form of a prison diary kept by the author. Khalifa, a Christian by birth and an atheist, was mistaken (or perhaps not, given what I learned about the Assad regime in the course of my work) for a radical Islamist, arrested and locked up in the notorious Tadmor desert prison, more accurately a death camp. The book reveals the horrific consequences of the logic and methods of the Assad family and other dictators in the Middle East and beyond: Anyone suspected of harboring a hint of opposition to the ruler will be labeled a terrorist and traitor, crushed and turned into an example to instill fear in the wider population.

The Shell

By Moustafa Khalifa, Paul Starkey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The work of a moder-day Sozhenitsyn that exposes acts of violence and brutality committed by the Syrian regime. This compelling first novel is the astonishing story of a Syrian political prisoner of conscience—an atheist mistaken for a radical Islamist—who was locked up for 13 years without trial in one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East. The novel takes the form of a diary which Musa keeps in his head and then writes down upon his release. In Tadmur prison, the mood is naturally bleak and yet often very beautifully captured. The narrator, a young graduate, is defiant…


We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled

By Wendy Pearlman,

Book cover of We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria

Pearlman expertly, delicately and lovingly assembles elements from the stories and journeys of close to 90 Syrians into a mosaic “mapped onto Syria’s historical trajectory from authoritarianism to revolution, war, and exile” as she explains in the introduction. For me there are echoes of Maalouf’s Origins in this book: More than a hundred years later and Syrians and Levantines are still having to flee their homelands because of tyranny, conflict and political and social upheaval. Pearlman is an accomplished professor at Northwestern University who speaks Arabic and has spent more than 20 years studying and living in the Middle East. Her expertise and empathy shine through in a book that gives us a chance “to listen to actual Syrians, as human beings,” as she says.

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled

By Wendy Pearlman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LONG-LISTED FOR THE CARNEGIE MEDAL

Reminiscent of the work of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, an astonishing collection of intimate wartime testimonies and poetic fragments from a cross-section of Syrians whose lives have been transformed by revolution, war, and flight.

Against the backdrop of the wave of demonstrations known as the Arab Spring, in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. The government's ferocious response, and the refusal of the demonstrators to back down, sparked a brutal civil war that over the past five years has escalated into the worst humanitarian…


A Woman Is No Man

By Etaf Rum,

Book cover of A Woman Is No Man

In a 2019 interview with NPR, Etaf Rum—the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York—said one of her struggles in writing the book was the fear that she was in a way confirming stereotypes about Arabs and Middle Easterners, including “oppression, domestic abuse, and terrorism.” Thankfully Rum overcame these struggles to deliver a courageous, beautiful, and incredibly authentic debut novel that follows the lives of three generations of Palestinian-American women trying to find their voices and identities within the confines of patriarchal and conservative milieus. In a way, the struggles of Rum and her characters mirror the battles that young people throughout the Middle East have been waging against tyranny and oppression since the start of the Arab Spring in 2010.

A Woman Is No Man

By Etaf Rum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Woman Is No Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A The Millions Most Anticipated Book of 2019

"Sometimes heroism is loud and dramatic. Other times, it is daring to listen to that quiet voice within and having the courage to follow it. In this story, we see inside the lives of three generations of Palestinian women living in America, struggling and suffering to hear that voice. Etaf Rum has done a great service by sharing these voices with us." -Shilpi Somaya Gowda, New York Times Bestselling Author of SECRET DAUGHTER and THE GOLDEN SON

Three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn are torn between individual desire and the…


The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070-1309

By Jonathan Riley-Smith,

Book cover of The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070-1309

Jonathan Riley-Smith researched the Hospitaller order for many decades and his work is rightly regarded as a crucial point of reference for the order’s history. This book is amongst his finest achievements—a truly outstanding history of the Knights Hospitaller and their activities in the Levant from the eleventh to the early fourteenth century. It provides a lucid and succinct survey of the order’s hierarchies, vocations and actions.  

The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070-1309

By Jonathan Riley-Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant, c.1070-1309 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As one of the greatest of the military orders that were generated in the Church, the Order of the Hospital of St John was a major landowner and a significant political presence in most European states. It was also a leading player in the settlements established in the Levant in the wake of the crusades. It survives today. In this source-based and up-to-date account of its activities and internal history in the first two centuries of its existence, attention is particularly paid to the lives of the brothers and sisters who made up its membership and were professed religious. Themes…


A History of the Arab Peoples

By Albert Hourani,

Book cover of A History of the Arab Peoples

The Arabs, as the most widespread and influential ethnic group in the Middle East, challenge historians to tell their stories in a way that is coherent, consistent, and engaging. This book accomplishes this task well, weaving together a disparate history, that reaches from the Atlantic to South Asia, across multiple kingdoms, dynasties, nations, republics, and political movements. At times rulers, and at times subjects of foreign empires, the Arabs nonetheless maintained a consistency of culture and civilization, in the midst of wildly divergent political systems and geographic locations.  Hourani manages to tell a single story, but while still doing justice to this dispersed people. 

A History of the Arab Peoples

By Albert Hourani,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of the Arab Peoples as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Upon its publication in 1991, Albert Hourani's masterwork was hailed as the definitive story of Arab civilization, and became both a bestseller and an instant classic. In a panoramic view encompassing twelve centuries of Arab history and culture, Hourani brilliantly illuminated the people and events that have fundamentally shaped the Arab world. Now this seminal book is available in an expanded second edition. Noted Islamic scholar Malise Ruthven brings the story up to date from the mid-1980s, including such events as the Gulf War; civil unrest in Algeria; the change of leadership in Syria, Morocco, and Jordan; and the aftermath…


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…


The Pickup

By Nadine Gordimer,

Book cover of The Pickup

South African writer Nadine Gordimer, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, commands enormous power with her words. While they have a deceptively poetic lilting beauty, they also deal incisively with epic issues. The Pickup is one of my favourites, an ultimately lifting tale about a white woman and an illegal Arab immigrant, which portrays the power of love and understanding to cross great divides in class and wealth and outlook.

The Pickup

By Nadine Gordimer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Julie Summers' car breaks down in a sleazy street, a young Arab garage mechanic comes to her rescue. Out of this meeting develops a friendship that turns to love. But soon, despite his attempts to make the most of Julie's wealthy connections, Abdu is deported from South Africa and Julie insists on going too - but the couple must marry to make the relationship legitimate in the traditional village which is to be their home. Here, whilst Abdu is dedicated to escaping back to the life he has discovered, Julie finds herself slowly drawn in by the charm of…


Mirror to Damascus

By Colin Thubron,

Book cover of Mirror to Damascus

I found this book in a bookstore in Damascus in 1977 during a two-year Fulbright teaching post at the University of Damascus. Far more than a travel writer’s account of the city – the first in maybe 100 years it was a ‘love note’ to a city that had enchanted the young traveler. Reading it opened my eyes to the immense charm of the city and many of its secrets. Colin Thurbon returned to Damascus 50 years later in 2017 and found the city empty of tourists again. The first time, because it had not yet been ‘discovered’  by European tourists, and the second time because all the tourists had left. But the old city was much unchanged by the Syrian civil war with only limited damage to the Tomb of Salaheddin next to the monumental and breathtakingly beautiful Umayyad mosque.  

Mirror to Damascus

By Colin Thubron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A 50th anniversary edition of Colin Thubron's celebrated first book, a portrait of Syria's capital city, with a new introduction by the author.

Described by the author as simply 'a work of love', Mirror to Damascus provides a rich and fascinating history of Damascus from the Amorites of the Bible to the revolution of 1966, and is also a charming and witty personal record of an extraordinary city.

In explaining how modern Damascus is rooted in immemorial layers of culture and tradition, Colin Thubron explores the historical, artistic, social and religious inheritance of its people. Along the way, he shares…


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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Levant, Arabs, and the Arab world?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Levant, Arabs, and the Arab world.

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