5 Books by Arab American Authors to Add to Your Reading List

published Apr 23, 2021
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Black woman wearing hijab reading a book.
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To contextualize life into narrative is an art form, especially when writing stories that merge dual identities together. However, Arab American writers have mastered this craft while offering insight into contemporary American life with a distinct historical and cultural perspective.

Experienced writers such as Edward Said, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Susan Abulhawa have changed the literary landscape by challenging colonial-era narratives and opening doors for underrepresented voices. And the next generation of writers such as Sahar Mustafah, Rajia Hassib, and Laila Lalami continue to bring forth powerful stories by tackling stereotypes and writing inclusive, contemporary narratives.

Here are five books by Arab American authors you need to add to your reading list:

Among The New York TimesNotable Books of 2020, “The Beauty of Your Face” is Sahar Mustafa’s impressive debut. It begins with Principal Afaf Rahman taking cover when a radicalized shooter opens fire inside the Nurrideen School for Girls in the Chicago suburbs. While Afaf awaits her fate, memories of a troubled childhood, of losing a sister, and of finding herself, arise. Mustafah dives deep into the heart of a Palestinian-American family’s struggles while paying homage to her diverse home of Chicago.

In “A Pure Heart,” Rajia Hassib masterfully correlates ancient Egypt to the present day along with the Arab Spring to her life in New York. Rose, an Egyptologist, and Gameela are sisters whose lives move in opposite directions until Gameela is killed in a terrorist attack in Cairo. Rose discovers that while she has been working on an ancient Egypt exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gameela has been partaking in a revolution. In order to find out what happened to her sister, Rose must do what she knows best — collect and piece together stories of the lost.

In “Him, Me, Muhammad Ali,” a collection of short stories, award-winning writer and translator Randa Jarrar takes readers across the United States and the Arab world with an array of diverse characters, all dealing with the trials of life in their own unique way. The collection tackles generational upheavals, overcoming misogyny, divorce, and the impossible. Jarrar never shies from any topic and unapologetically conquers stereotypes.

A finalist for the National Book Award 2019 is “The Other Americans” by Laila Lalami. The thought-provoking narrative is about a Moroccan-American family, the Guerrarouis, who flee Casablanca for the Mojave Desert for a better life. But when a hit-and-run leaves Driss Guerraoui dead, his wife and daughters must deal with the aftermath and the secrets that Driss was keeping from them.

“The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria” is a powerful journey into Syria’s civil war and history by Alia Malek, a civil rights lawyer and award-winning journalist. As a first-generation American of Syrian immigrants, Malek travels to Damascus in 2011 as the humanitarian situation deteriorates. She quickly understands the fragility of the situation and stays to witness the destruction of a home and country.