The Middle East: Wrap-up!

I think I’ve started almost every monthly wrap up post with “Can you believe it’s already ___?!” but doing a once a month blog post like this has been keeping me more aware of passing time than I think I ever have been. Of course, the state of the world has been confusing the timeline too a little — I keep catching myself thinking it’s March, back when time seemed to stop for COVID-19. Here, we are anyway, September behind us and the start of fall ahead.

In September, I read for the Middle East, another area I’ve read nothing in before this year. Overall, I enjoyed the two novels I read this month (even though I planned to get to three!). Here’s my wrap-up!

What I Read

The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa (Kuwait/Palestine): I love a good magical-realism novel, especially centered around the experience of women, especially with women who embrace all their strangeness and use it to really make their mark on the world. In this moving and beautiful tale, our matriarch Nazmiyeh fills up every page with vibrancy, strength, and magic. Abulhawa weaves the tales of four generations of Palestinian women as they navigate all the troubles and triumphs of womanhood while war rages around them. There are a lot of triggers in this book, as expected from a novel set against the Israel-Palestine conflict, but overall the magic and beauty of life in this novel is enthralling. I didn’t really know anything about Palestine coming into this novel, so I got a great chance to do a little research and learn more about her people and their experiences in the past hundred or so years.

The Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea (Saudi Arabia): As I’ve said before, I really wanted to find some light-hearted reads in this challenge. I didn’t want every novel to be full of suffering, trauma, and triggers. The Girls of Riyadh was a perfect place to land after the harrowing journey in The Blue. It was praised as a Saudi Sex in the City, and I think it lived up to that hype! This novel follows the trials of love and life that four young Saudi women face as they come of age in a country that is bound by tradition and religion. While some of the plotting felt redundant (in love, out of love, repeat), I enjoyed this novel a lot.

Further Reading

  • On Translations: Obviously, I’ve read a few books in translation this year for this challenge, but this month was the first time I stopped to really think about that. I ran into an interesting sentence on a Wikipedia article about The Girls of Riyadh which sent me into a tail spin of research, which eventually led me to write a blog post about what I learned. I also read an article from The Guardian that talks to a few translators about their work, what draws them to it, and what they see their ultimate mission as — very interesting read! Also, made me more interested in learning a new language!
  • Women in Saudi Arabia today: Americans are constantly inundated with stereotypes about the Middle East, especially with how women are treated, so I liked getting an insiders perspective about what it’s really like to live in Saudi Arabia as a woman from The Girls of Riyadh. This article catches us up a little from 2007 when The Girls was published. I particularly liked the last bit of the article about the two friends clashing on women’s standing in Saudi Arabia — it reminded me of Michelle and her friends in the novel.
  • Israel and Palestine: I have to admit I knew little to nothing about the on-going conflict in Israel and Palestine before starting The Blue Between Sky and Water, so I was in for a bit of a wake-up call. I read up on what was going on, to compare the fiction to the reality, and I found this site from Human Rights Watch to be useful in doing so. Obviously, there’s a lot to get a grasp of here, with nearly half a century of occupation, and centuries of conflict (both internal and funded/supported/caused by colonizers from the West) to contend with and consider, so I’m still learning about this. If you have any recommendations about reading, viewing, or other resources, please put them in the comments!

Next month, we’re moving along into Southeast Asia. I’ve been looking forward to this one all year — I have a lot of great books on my shelf that have been sitting there all year waiting for October!

I’m wishing you all health, safety, and lots of books. Until next time, dear reader!

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