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Ali Taleb, IRAQ, 1992

Modern Middle Eastern Literature


Challenges + Ideas + Resources



Teachable Texts


The Day the Leader was Killed, a novel by Naguib Mahfouz, gives us a breathtakingly compact novel told by three different narrators. He ventures into the generational gaps during Sadat's economic policy known as Infitah. Mahfouz brilliantly combines political and social devices with passion and romance. High school students will enjoy this piece. by Peter VanGorp

Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi. This book details the experience of Mernissi and that of her relatives living in a harem in French Morocco. The book is detailed and very visual; there is much Mernissi reflects upon during the course of the book regarding the concepts of freedom and feminism. Dreams of Trespass is quite absorbing and would be appropriate for students in high school on up.
Mandy Browning

Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye is the story of Liyana and Rafik Abboud and their parents, Dr. Kamal and Susan Abboud. Dr. Abboud decides to move his family to Jerusalem where he grew up. Liyana and Rafik both face culture-shock, and Liyana is especially horrified to learn that it is inappropriate to spend time with young men. In spite of her father's warnings, she does become friends with a young Jewish boy, Omer. She invites him to spend time with her Palestinian family, and their friendship becomes an opportunity to talk about peace and friendship between Jews and Palestinians.by Christy Yingling

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
by Lindsay Steenbergen

Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani is a collection of short stories by Kanafani, a Palestinian activist who was killed with his niece in 1972 as a result of a car bomb. Kanafani's writing is elegant, complex, and gritty. While the meaning behind his work is many layered and study of the politics and history of Palestine is necessary in order to foment understanding of the text the length itself and division of stories allows for accessibility during a semester long class. This text would be appropriate for advanced high school and college courses.
Mandy Browning

Persepolis I and II are graphic novels that chronical the life of author Marjane Satrapi. Starting as a young girl in Iran and ending with Satrapi's return to Iran, the novels recount amazing tales of regimes, dictators, and the colorful and historical Iranian culture. This article discusses the issues that arise when teaching these books in the classroom, such as understanding the regimes, history, and perceived oppression of Iran, as well as the possible solutions to these issues. by Kyle Krol

Persepolis 2 and Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi detail stories in the lives of Iranian women through graphic novels. In Persepolis 2, Satrapi illustrates her life at boarding school in France. The book follows her through her education and coming of age, and finally her return to Iran and subsequent marriage. Embroideries tells the stories of generations of Iranian women in Satrapi's family, and gives depth to their many and varied experiences. Both books demonstrate a wry humor portrayed by witty, expressive illustrations. These books would be highly appropriate for study by high school and college students.
Mandy Browning

Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples follows the lives of Najmah, a young Afghan girl affected by the post 9/11 war, and Nusrat, an American awaiting her Pakistani husband's safe return from his medical assistance in war torn areas of Afghanistan. Their paths cross at the school that Nusrat runs for refugee children under the persimmon tree in her yard.
Appropriate for grades 9 through college students. by Michelle Ringle-Barrett

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni is a powerful tale of a young woman's search for identity. -- Jeff Patterson

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi is the story of Firdaus, an Egyptian woman sentenced to death for killing a man in the street. Upon further inspection, readers learn this wasn't just any man; it was Firdaus' pimp. In a prison interview with Saadawi, Firdaus tells all, beginning with her life as a child in a small village, to her education funded by her uncle and her arranged marriage, to her life walking the streets of Cairo. Because of the explicit descriptions and overall troubling content, this text is most likely not appropriate for the high school classroom and does pose several challenges for the post-secondary level. Yet, Woman at Point Zero is relevant for several disciplines at the college level -- Women’s Studies, Anthropology, English, and/or Religion -- and with careful consideration of how to approach the challenges in the classroom, students will benefit in several ways. by Nicole Ziegler

Additional Possibilities

Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani
The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk
Memed, My Hawk, by Yashar Kemali
Dreams of Tresspass, by Fatima Merissi
Cities of Salt, by Abdelrahman Munif