Arab Digest 2023 summer reads part 2

Summary: our second instalment of great summer reads offers an indepth analysis of the weaponisation of the information space, a powerful personal memoir, an insightful study of how a decade of violence has scarred Libya, a delightful children’s book, a new edition of Helen Lackner’s seminal study of the Yemen war and the republished Sahar Khalifeh classic Wild Thorns.

Arab Digest is pleased to bring you part 2 of our summer 2023 suggested reads with most of the books, we are proud 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 a re-issued Arab classic, from a beautifully illustrated children’s story  to a powerful personal story that is also the history of a generation, we present a MENA festival of great summer reads. Enjoy! 

Subversion: the strategic weaponization of narratives by Andreas Krieg (Georgetown University Press)  Subversion examines how malicious state and non-state actors take advantage of the information space to sow political chaos. Krieg reveals the coordinated use of weaponised narratives to secure non-kinetic warfare victories. He closely analyses recent subversion campaigns by two states in particular, focusing on Russia’s interference in Western public and political discourse and the United Arab Emirates’ demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. In our podcast about the book Andreas noted “these operations take place constantly. There is no beginning and no end. They take place in the grey zone between war and peace, a domain of constant un-peace.” Subversion is an original and disturbing exploration of a landscape that has hitherto remained largely uncharted.

This Arab Life: a Generation’s Journey into Silence by Amal Ghandour (Bold Story Press) In our 6 January podcast Amal Ghandour described her book as a conversation, one that “I was having with myself for a very long time, indeed, with my circle of life. You know, these were issues and problems and challenges that were already quite apparent to us. The writing had come really at the end of this process, a process that had started long before.” This Arab Life is a powerfully evocative and brutally honest history of her generation of young privileged Arabs, the generation of the 80s. Lisa Anderson writing in Foreign Affairs called it “an unusually candid glimpse into the rueful bewilderment of Arab elites who have been unable to provide for their children what they had hoped….In taking readers into her confidence, Ghandour reveals the pain of a generation thwarted by avarice and autocracy.”

Violence and Social Transformation in Libya edited by Virginie Collombier and Wolfram Lacher (Hurst) A timely book featuring contributions from experts both foreign and Libyan that does much to untangle and explain the many strands at play in the Libya theatre and how they interact and engage with each other. Violence and Social Transformation in Libya  is usefully divided into two halves. The first “Identity, Community and Social Relations” begins with a powerful analysis  by Emadeddin Badi of the impact of ten years of violence on Libya’s youth; the second half “Power, Resources and Institutions” starts with a chapter by Frederic Wehrey on the 2014-2018 battle for Benghazi. The International Crisis Group’s Claudia Gazzini calls this collection of essays “a must read for anybody interested in understanding how wars can lacerate a country’s identity.”

Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers by Uma Mishra-Newbery and Lina al-Hathloul (Penguin Random House) is a wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated (by Rebecca Green)  children’s story which we felt deserves a repeat appearance. The book was inspired by the Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al Hathloul. In our podcast last year her sister Lina said: “It’s difficult to explain to a child what Loujain is fighting for. So we decided to make it magical, clear and simple. The story is about a little girl named Loujain who lives in a place where only men can fly to a colourful world. She keeps asking her father why he can fly and she and her classmates cannot, until the day when he accepts and she wears her wings and goes to see the colourful world…. A book is something that will last generations and I wanted to make sure that Loujain is not forgotten, and that her story lives throughout different generations.”  Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers was named the 2022 winner, Picture Book category by Middle East Outreach.

Yemen In Crisis: Devastating Conflict, Fragile Hope by Helen Lackner (SAQI)  Saqi Books has published the paperback edition with new material of her Yemen In Crisis, now subtitled Devastating Conflict, Fragile Hope. This new edition includes a preface updating events and an added chapter on the issues  and challenges of delivering humanitarian aid to the millions of Yemenis caught up in this long-running conflict. Yemen In Crisis, written by one of the world’s foremost Yemen experts, is a seminal and incisive study of the war and what lies behind it, exploring the social and political fragmentation, the economic damage done and the geopolitical reverberations it continues to cause.

Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh (SAQI) It was a sad day in January this year when the Saqi bookstore was forced to close but the leading publisher of Arab authors continues to excel with brilliant reprints of classics such as this one. Wild Thorns is Khalifeh’s gripping depiction of the humiliation, bitter resignation and determined resistance of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation. Originally published in Jerusalem in 1976, Wild Thorns was the first Arab novel to offer a glimpse of social and personal relations under the occupation. Featuring unsentimental portrayals of everyday life, its deep sincerity, uncompromising honesty and rich emotional core plead elegantly for the cause of survival in the face of oppression. It is a story that with the most extremist government in Israel’s history in power is as essential and relevant today as it was when it was published nearly fifty years ago. Khalifeh, born in 1941, is the author of eleven novels which have been translated into fifteen languages. She is the recipient of numerous international prizes, and founded the Women and Family Affairs Centres in Nablus, Gaza City and Amman.

You can find Part 1 of Arab Digest Summer 2023 reads here.

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