I want to read books by women from the Middle East
November 6, 2017 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm really curious about what daily life is like in say, Saudi Arabia, and fiction is the best teacher. Please have at it, Metafilter. What would I like?

There are no limits on the question. It can be ancient, it can be modern. It can be any genre: fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Secondary sources are interesting too - history, sociology, political analysis, but it'd be better if those were available online.

posted by karmachameleon to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I can't recommend An Unnecessary Woman highly enough. Absolutely wonderful.

(Sorry I read too fast -- the main character is a woman; the author is a man. I still highly recommend!)
posted by Threeve at 4:16 PM on November 6, 2017

Try Zoe Ferraris--Finding Nouf is the first one in the series, and there are 3 (I think). Set in Saudi Arabia, very interesting, and definitely gives you a sense of place.
posted by msbubbaclees at 4:25 PM on November 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

Hilary Mantel's Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is a fictional account of a British woman who moves to Saudi Arabia after her husband takes an engineering job. It is based on the author's experience of living in Saudi Arabia for four years.

From NY Times review: "Soon the unease occasioned by Frances' physical surroundings pales beside her horror at the smarmy racism of the European community and her growing alarm over the severity with which her sex is curtailing her human rights. The front door of their gloomy apartment has been walled shut to keep a former female occupant from accidentally encountering a male neighbor; newspapers carry cautionary tales of adulterous wives stoned to death; Frances can't even walk alongside the dusty road without attracting the obscene romantic attentions of cruising motorists. As she becomes reluctantly acculturated, the onion that the narrative peels apart is not the flimsily built new city but the private dramas of oppression, absurdity and desperation taking place behind its sleek facades."
posted by AnnaRat at 4:50 PM on November 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Persepolis is a graphic novel memoir by a woman who grew up in Iran during the Islamic revolution.

Passionate Uprisings is a nonfiction work (but highly readable and story based) by an Iranian American anthropologist about the youth culture and sexual revolution in Iran in the early 2000s.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 4:52 PM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Three recommendations spouse pulled right from the bookshelf when I shared this question:
  • A Small Key Can Open a Large Door: The Rojava Revolution (nonfiction accounts and documents compiled into book form
  • The Other Voice: Armenian Women's Poetry Through the Ages
  • A Crack in the Wall: New Arab Poetry (not exclusively women but women poets are definitely represented)

posted by shelbaroo at 4:52 PM on November 6, 2017

Saudi Arabia--The Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea (like Sex and the City set in KSA)

Iran--seconding Persepolis; Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (about the author's experiences with a book club she set up for the young feminist women she taught at university in Tehran)

West Bank, Palestine--Sharon and My Mother-In-Law by Suad Amiri (memoir based on diaries, letters and daily life in Ramallah between 1981 and 2004).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:59 PM on November 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Covers Muslim women's experience in many countries, not all in the Middle East, but including Saudi Arabia.)
posted by John Cohen at 5:09 PM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

City of Lies by Ramita Navai is not only about women, but the author brings her own perspective to life in Tehran.
posted by rpfields at 5:54 PM on November 6, 2017

Anything by Ahdaf Souif, but particularly A Map of Love.

Also, Drinking the Sea at Gaza, by Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist who lived in and reported on Palestine
posted by janey47 at 6:06 PM on November 6, 2017

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a beautiful novel that includes sections set in modern day Lagos, Nigeria.

As an authenticity data point, I know a lot of Muslim people who really really hate Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali- they see her as an anti-Muslim propagandist.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:06 PM on November 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

With the caveat that all three of the following recs are by Western women who have lived in the Middle East, not women born there:
The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson, describing her move to Cairo in her early twenties, where she became a practicing Muslim, learned Arabic, married an Egyptian, and started working as a writer. It's a lovely book.
Also second the Zoe Ferraris mysteries set in Saudi Arabia, for lots and lots of street-level social detail and amazing characterization.
Also Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo, about working as a journalist in Iraq and Lebanon, living with her Lebanese mother-in-law, and doing LOTS AND LOTS of cooking and eating. Don't read it when hungry. Gorgeous engaging writing.
posted by huimangm at 5:33 AM on November 7, 2017

As an authenticity data point, I know a lot of Muslim people who really really hate Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali- they see her as an anti-Muslim propagandist.

I don't think we should ignore Ayaan Hirsi Ali's story as a woman who was raised Muslim in Africa just because she now criticizes Islamic oppression of women. That would be like saying a gay person who was raised Christian can't authentically call out homophobia in Christianity.
posted by John Cohen at 9:01 AM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

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