Summary: a black comedic classic by one of Egypt’s greatest writers, a brilliant new analysis of Yemen, a breath taking generational novel from Kuwait, a deep dive into security in the Gulf monarchies, essays from Arab LGBTQ+ writers and how MbZ built himself and his closest family members into a regional powerhouse.
Arab Digest is delighted to bring you this summer’s suggested reads, with most of the books, we are pleased to say, written or edited by our newsletter and podcast contributors. (A few are so good we just had to give them repeat recommendations from last summer’s list.) From deep dive geopolitical analyses, to powerful personal essays and memoirs, from generational fiction to re-released classics, we present a MENA festival of summer reads. Enjoy!
Diary of a Country Prosecutor by Tawfik al-Hakim (SAQI ) A good decision this to republish a classic from an author who worked as a public prosecutor in a provincial Egyptian town before becoming the Arab world’s leading dramatist, as well as a major short-story writer and man of letters. Al-Hakim died in 1987. Diary of a Country Prosecutor was first published in 1937 when the author was in his late thirties. It is described as a savage satire of Egypt’s legal system. P.H Newby noted in his introduction to an earlier English language edition “The theme of the book is that justice is of no importance at all to the powers-that-be.” Diary of a Country Prosecutor is a book with clear resonance for what is going on in Egypt today under the Sisi dictatorship.
Yemen: Poverty and Conflict by Helen Lackner (Routledge) Helen is a regular contributor to the AD newsletter and podcasts. Her latest book is a must read for anyone interested in the story of Yemen and its people. Yemen: Poverty and Conflict builds on her deep understanding and profound knowledge of a country where she lived for many years and which she has written about and analysed over several decades. As Marieke Brandt notes Yemen: Poverty and Conflict is “a well-informed, sober and insightful account based on facts and experience,” a book that brings fresh insights to a country and a conflict too frequently and too easily overlooked.
An unlasting home by Mai al-Nakib (SAQI) is a tour de force by a Kuwaiti writer. The novel spans the story of five women across generations and continents while exploring and interrogating Kuwait’s present and past history. The American author A. Manette Ansay was one of many to give an unlasting home a rave review: “Deftly written, structurally brilliant, Mai Al-Nakib’s novel splits open time, leaps across continents, and creates the sort of characters we carry forward into our hearts and lives. I absolutely loved this book.” We here at Arab Digest heartily concur with Ms Ansay. And here is our podcast with Mai al-Nakib where she talks about how and why she wrote an unlasting home and provides an enticing and intriguing sneak preview of her next novel.
Security Politics in the Gulf Monarchies by David Roberts (Columbia University Press) is a book by one of the leading experts on Gulf geopolitics. He skilfully navigates his analysis through the prisms of five securities: political, societal, economic, military and environmental. Concerning the last mentioned the book draws attention to the fact that the Gulf is on the front lines of climate change and posits whether governance structures are sufficiently adept to deal with it. Arab Digest contributor Kristian Coates Ulrichsen describes Security Politics in the Gulf Monarchies as “a richly detailed and innovative new account of the Gulf Arab states.” Our upcoming 26 July podcast features a conversation with David about his book.
This Arab is Queer edited by Elias Jahshan (SAQI) A collection of essays by LGBTQ+ Arab writers that presents with clarity and great courage the stories of 18 Arab writers who are breaking the silence about their sexuality. Of his book Time had this to say: “In a region where at least 15 nations criminalize homosexuality and in those that don’t, there’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell culture,’ queer Arab communities may have been forced into the shadows but they undeniably exist. That’s why This Arab is Queer is so groundbreaking.” It is a book so good we could not resist giving it a repeat recommendation!
Reinventing the Sheikhdom by Matthew Hedges (Hurst) Another book we are happy to give a repeat recommendation to. Matthew is a contributor to the AD newsletter and podcasts. His book analyses the power dynamics within Abu Dhabi’s ruling family and the way in which Mohammed bin Zayed has built an unrivalled power base. The Middle East Journal called Reinventing the Sheikhdom “A timely and innovative account of the reconfiguration of political authority in the UAE of Muhammad bin Zayid” and the LSE’s Madawi al-Rasheed praised it as “a theoretically nuanced and empirically rich book.”
We will continue our summer reading recommendations next week.