I discovered a new passion this week. Don’t you love when that happens? I discovered I am completely enamored with authors from the Middle East. Honestly, other than news stories and prejudicial diatribe, the Middle East isn’t an area where I have much knowledge or experience. While it isn’t likely I will travel there anytime soon, I can certainly broaden my horizons by learning from those who have lived there and feel a deep love for their country.
This week I plowed through two books by Middle Eastern authors. I also reread a classic from high school. Although I remember the overall theme, very few specifics, not even the ending, stayed with me. Reading it was practically a brand new experience.
I’m also working my through two non-fiction books, one quickly and one much more slowly as it is a huge tome. Though these won’t count as part of the 100 story summer, I’ll still share them as I finish them in case they interest someone else as well.
What I Read this Week
This novel is a both a dreamy love story and a timely commentary on the experience of being a refugee in an unwelcoming world. While some would call it sci-fi, to me it seems more along the realm of magical realism. The opening sentence reads,
“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace or at least not openly at war a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.”
We never learn the location of the first setting by name, but it’s obviously a Middle Eastern city. When war moves too close, people relocate by moving through a series of magical doors which open to new cities in new and distant countries.
This story is an exploration of survival, isolation. Exploring the idea dislocation even in a crowd, this book is a beautiful way depiction of a harsh reality for thousands of people every day.
I really enjoyed this book which seems to evoke mixed emotions from reviewers. It was widely banned in Arab nations for its commentary on upper class Arab women. In America it’s been described as shallow and un-inventive. However, I don’t think its shallow by accident. Instead shallow materialism serves as a foil for women who are complex, repressed and intelligent. Told as a series of subscription group emails and narrated by an omniscient and provocative narrator, the story follows four women through love, marriage, school, growing up and finding themselves. Fortunately I didn’t read the sharper reviews before reading this one, and I do recommend it.
Obviously a departure from my Middle East theme, I’ve been wanting to reread this book for awhile. This week I read it as a catharsis and escape from political events. This dystopian story is set in post-was America. Theocratic authoritarianism replaces the democracy in a merciless way. Fertility is a premium and women who are able to conceive become property of the rich and infertile. Following the story of one woman through her nightmare reality, we receive a glimpse of the darker side of power, religion and misogyny.