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Middle East : Must-have books to pack for the holidays

The holidays are here! So whether you’re a lover of romance, prefer spine-chilling thrillers or never miss an opportunity to laugh out loud, there’s bound to be a book for you! Today, Kawa helps you choose the book you should not forget for your summer break.

Midnight in Cairo, Raphael Cormack

It is 1920 in a town south of Cairo, singers pressing hit records, new theaters and dramatic troupes springing up, and cabarets packed. This is in these years that Cairo’s biggest actress has just left the stage after doing a play with her group. She returns to perform a solo encore of her songs in front of a passionate audience. This woman was the exceptional Mounira Al-Mahdiyya. And she had to do all this while dressed as a man.

It is these women, who knew both the opportunities and prejudices that this world offered, who best reveal this cosmopolitan and raucous city’s secrets.

She started very early in the 20th century as an early music singer, then worked her way into these musicals, eventually headlining her own shows and then moving into theatre. She staged the first Arab opera, then recorded lighter popular songs in the 1920s. She also moved into film” explains Raphael Cormack, a British academic, editor and translator who tells the intriguing story of Al-Mahdiyy

A novel that traces Egyptian history and reveals a world of revolutionary ideas and provocative art, to be read and reread 

Origins, Amin Maalouf

Until now, Amin Maalouf had only touched on the true story of his own family; from Léon l’Africain to Le Périple de Baldassare, via Le Rocher de Tanios or Les Echelles du Levant, this or that episode, more or less transfigured, of his family’s adventure was explored, or “romanticized”. But he had never decided to write an exact and meticulous account.

But if his last book won the 2004 Mediterranean Prize, it is not for nothing! Written by the Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, it tells the story of two brothers, Gebrayel and Botros, born in Lebanon at the end of the 19th century, still part of the Ottoman Empire. 

The first dreams of conquering the world and leaving his native East to set up shop in Cuba. The second, a man of thought and books, stayed at home. Thus begins the saga of the Maalouf family, sedentary or nomadic, carried along by history in a family diaspora, and linked, from Brazil to Australia and from the United States to France, by the rustle of a name and the awareness of a common origin.

A magnificent tribute of love and loyalty, this novel is inspired by the life of its writer, himself in exile, a meeting of words where anecdote, history and novel mingle in their common substance: emotion.

The Spartan Court, Abdelouahab Aissaoui

Abdelouahab Aissaoui is an Algerian novelist, born in Djelfa, Algeria, in 1985.

The Spartan Court follows the interconnected lives of five characters in Algiers from 1815 to 1833. The first, Dupond, is a French journalist covering the colonial campaign against Algeria, the second, Caviard, is a former soldier in Napoleon’s army who finds himself a prisoner in the city and later becomes a planner for the campaign. The other three Algerian characters have different attitudes to the Ottoman and French colonial powers. Ibn Mayyar thinks that politics is a means of building relationships with the Ottomans and even the French, whilst Hamma al-Sallaoui believes that revolution is the only means of achieving change. The fifth character, Douja, is suspended somewhere between all these: she witnesses the transformation of Algiers helplessly and is forced to become a part of it, for one must live according to the city’s rules, or leave.

With all these ideas, we promise you won’t be bored ! 

See also

5 books on the Arab World that will get you through quarantine

Published on 19 July 2021