5 Powerful, Magical Books by Contemporary Female Arab Writers

In honor of Hanan Al-Shakyh's latest novel, a retelling of the classic "A Thousand and One Nights," we put together a list of five captivating novels by contemporary female Arab authors who are making a voice for themselves in the literary world.

'One Thousand and One Nights, a Retelling' by Hanan Al-Shaykh

One Thousand and One Nights, a Retelling captures a lot of what we love about Arabic literature: It’s evocative, illuminating, and humorous. The 19 tales, all with a female at the heart of the narrative, are strung together by a young women literally telling stories to save her life. Keep reading, ladies. You never know when you’ll encounter bloodthirsty king.

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'At Brooklyn Heights' by Miral al-Tahawy

At Brooklyn Heights brings Egyptian culture to Brooklyn, following single mother, Hind, as she arrives with lots of dreams of becoming a writer but little knowledge of the English language. As Hind explores Brooklyn, she discovers parallels to her childhood in a small Bedouin village. The novel was the winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, and was shortlisted for the 2011 Arabic Booker prize.

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'Girls of Riyadh' by Rajaa Alsanea

Girls of Riyadh is, in ways, Sex and the City meets Saudi Arabia. The novel chronicles four upper-class women as they navigate college and boyfriends while under the societal restrictions and family pressures that are distinctly Saudi Arabian. While it raises serious themes of social conventions and expectations, it is at its heart a a fun, easy read about four friends.

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'Woman at Point Zero' by Nawal El Saadawi

Although she hasn’t published a book in several years, no list of novels by powerful, female Arab writers would be complete without one by champion feminist Nawal El Saadawi. The quickest read of all the novels here, Women at Point zero provides a somber yet beautiful depiction of the realities of life for impoverished Arab women. Have a couple hours and you want to understand what life is like for Arab women living in an oppressive society? Behold, your read.

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'Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow' by Faiza Guene

Written by one of by one of the most dynamic literary talents coming out of central Europe toda, Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow describes the life of an Algerian immigrant in Paris. Guene uses humor combined with a blunt honesty to depict the struggles of an Arab girl coming of age in a society that discriminates based on color. Even more inspiring? She wrote the novel when just 19.

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