The Markaz Book Club

Welcome to the Markaz Review Book Club, moderated by Rana Asfour,
we meet online every month to discuss the latest title.

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The July novel is The Oud Player of Cairo by Jasmin Attia (Sunday, July 28th)

We will meet to discuss the book online on Sunday, July 28th at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

Vibrantly descriptive and evocative of the waning colonial world in Egypt during the mid-20th century, this debut historical novel by Jasmin Attia is the compelling story of a young Egyptian woman, Laila, who defies the restrictive traditional roles set for women of that time, and instead follows the path inspired by her musician father, a much-beloved oud player, to become a singer and performer In her own right.

After extricating herself from an abusive marriage, Laila struggles to maintain her independence as a singer in Cairo’s chic international nightclubs, and embarks on an affair that puts her in grave danger, forcing her to make a decision that will forever alter the course of her life.

Published by Schaffner Press, 360 pages.

The September novel is Stories from the Center of the World: New Middle East Fiction, edited by Jordan Elgrably

We will meet to discuss the book online on Sunday, September 29th at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

One of The Millions Most Anticipated Books for Spring!

Featured in Alta Magazine’s New Books for May!

Short stories from 25 emerging and established writers of Middle Eastern and North African origins, a unique collection of voices and viewpoints that illuminate life in the global Arab/Muslim world.

“Provocative and subtle, nuanced and surprising, these stories demonstrate how this complicated and rich region might best be approached–through the power of literature.”–Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Committed

Stories from the Center of the World gathers new writing from the greater Middle East (or SWANA), a vast region that stretches from Southwest Asia, through the Middle East and Turkey, and across Northern Africa. The 25 authors included here come from a wide range of cultures and countries, including Palestine, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, and Morocco, to name some.

In “Asha and Haaji,” Hanif Kureishi takes up the cause of outsiders who become uprooted when war or disaster strikes and they flee for safe haven. In Nektaria Anastasiadou‘s “The Location of the Soul According to Benyamin Alhadeff,” two students in Istanbul from different classes — and religions that have often been at odds with one another — believe they can overcome all obstacles. MK Harb‘s story, “Counter Strike,” is about queer love among Beiruti adolescents; and Salar Abdoh‘s “The Long Walk of the Martyrs” invites us into the world of former militants, fighters who fought ISIS or Daesh in Iraq and Syria, who are having a hard time readjusting to civilian life. In “Eleazar,” Karim Kattan tells an unexpected Palestinian story in which the usual antagonists — Israeli occupation forces — are mostly absent, while another malevolent force seems to overtake an unsuspecting family. Omar El Akkad‘s “The Icarist” is a coming-of-age story about the underworld in which illegal immigrants are forced to live, and what happens when one dares to break away.

Contributors include: Salar Abdoh, Leila Aboulela, Farah Ahamed, Omar El Akkad, Sarah AlKahly-Mills, Nektaria Anastasiadou, Amany Kamal Eldin, Jordan Elgrably, Omar Foda, May Haddad, Danial Haghighi, Malu Halasa, MK Harb, Alireza Iranmehr, Karim Kattan, Hanif Kureishi, Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi, Diary Marif, Tariq Mehmood, Sahar Mustafah, Mohammed Al-Naas, Ahmed Naji, Mai Al-Nakib, Abdellah Taia, and Natasha Tynes

Published by CityLights Books, 2024 (342 pages).

The October novel is The Jinn Daughter by Rania Hanna

We will meet to discuss the book online on Sunday, October 27th at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

Nadine is a jinn tasked with one job: telling the stories of the dead. She rises every morning to gather pomegranate seeds—the souls of the dead—that have fallen during the night. With her daughter Layala at her side, she eats the seeds and tells their stories. Only then can the departed pass through the final gate of death.

But when the seeds stop falling, Nadine knows something is terribly wrong. All her worst fears are confirmed when she is visited by Kamuna, Death herself and ruler of the underworld, who reveals her desire for someone to replace her: it is Layala she wants.

Nadine will do whatever it takes to keep her daughter safe, but Kamuna has little patience and a ruthless drive to get what she has come for. Layala’s fate, meanwhile, hangs in the balance.

Rooted in Middle Eastern mythology, Rania Hanna deftly weaves subtle, yet breathtaking, magic through this vivid and compelling story that has at its heart the universal human desire to, somehow, outmaneuver death.

Published by AUC Press (Hoopoe), 274 pages.

The November novel is Selamlik by Khaled Alesmael

We will meet to discuss the book online on Sunday, November 24th at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

An unflinching story about Arab masculinity and homoeroticism.

Furat, a Syrian in his early 20s, visits Sibki Park in Damascus, one of the city’s most popular cruising areas. There he learns about the hammams, secret meeting places for gay men located throughout the old city. Inside these public baths, the air is thick with the scent of bay laurel soap, and naked men hide in the steam. Furat faces sometimes violent disapproval from all levels of society, religion, and the man in the street–and yet he manages to find the love he’s been seeking just before his world collapses and he’s forced to flee. 

Selamlik is the story of Furat’s journey, along with that of other refugees. It’s a journey in which they face physical and economic hardship, draconian migration laws, and the unwelcome grief, shame, and hatred they’ve carried with them from their ever more distant pasts. Despite everything, Furat remains steadfast in his pursuit of passion, pleasure, and love.

Published by World Editions, translated by Leri Price, 2024 (pages 240).

Past Events :

The June 2024 novel is On the Isle of Antioch by Amin Maalouf, translated by Natasha Lehrer

In this dystopian novel about total collapse by internationally renowned author Amin Maalouf, a complete blackout hits a small island with only two solitary inhabitants, who suddenly have to depend on each other. 

Alec, a press artist with an impressive track record, settles on a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean. He has little contact with his neighbor, a solitary woman who wrote a cult book years ago, before withdrawing from public life. That is, until a gigantic power failure cuts them off from the rest of the world, and all of a sudden they find themselves dependent on each other. The world appears to be on the brink of nuclear war and the collapse of civilization seems imminent. Just who are the mysterious friends of Empedocles, the gang of otherworldly protectors who came swooping in to interfere with the US presidency and cure all illness? Should we trust them? On the Isle of Antioch is a suspenseful novel with mythological roots, written in the dreamy language of the classics, by internationally renowned scholar Amin Maalouf.

Published by World Editions. We meet to talk about the book online on Sunday, June 30th at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

About the author:

AMIN MAALOUF was born in Beirut and lived there until the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975. He settled in Paris in 1976 and published his first book, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, in 1983. In 1993, The Rock of Tanios, his fifth novel, won the Goncourt Prize, the most prestigious literary award in France. Maalouf is a member of the Académie Française and in 2010 was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature for his entire oeuvre. In 2021 he was voted one of 12 International Writers by the Royal Society of Literature, an initiative celebrating the power of literature to transcend borders and bring people together. He was awarded both the Terzani Prize and the Malaparte Prize for Adrift, also published in English by World Editions. His work has been translated into 50 languages and his most recent bestselling novel available in English is The Disoriented. 

About the translator:

NATASHA LEHRER is a prizewinning writer, translator, and editor. Her long-form journalism and book reviews have appeared in the Guardian, the Observer, the Times Literary Supplement, the Nation, Haaretz, and Fantastic Man, among others, and she is literary editor of the Jewish Quarterly. She has contributed to several books, including a chapter on France in Looking for an Enemy: 8 Essays on Antisemitism, edited by Jo Glanville. The writers she has translated include Nathalie Léger, Chantal Thomas, Vanessa Springora, Victor Segalen, Robert Desnos, and Georges Bataille.

See book club questions HERE.

The May 2024 novel was Where the Wind Calls Home by Samar Yazbek, translated by Leri Price

In this new novel by Syria’s most prominent writer of the National Book Award Finalist Planet of Clay, a wounded nineteen-year-old soldier in the Syrian Army remembers his life lived in the traditional Alawite way.

Ali, a nineteen-year-old soldier in the Syrian army, lies on the ground beneath a tree. He sees a body being lowered into a hole–is this his funeral? There was that sudden explosion, wasn’t there … While trying to understand the extend of the damage, Ali works his way closer to the tree. His ultimate desire is to fly up to one of its branches, to safety. Through rich vignettes of Ali’s memories, we uncover the hardships of his traditional Syrian Alawite village, but also the richness and beauty of its cultural and religious heritage. Yazbek here explores the secrets of the Alawite faith and its relationship to nature and the elements in a tight poetic novel dense with life and hope and love.

Published by World Editions. We met to discuss the book together online on Wednesday, May 29th at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

About the author:

Samar Yazbek is a Syrian writer, novelist, and journalist. She was born in Jableh in 1970 and studied literature before beginning her career as a journalist and a scriptwriter for Syrian television and film. Her novel Planet of Clay, also published by World Editions, was a finalist for the National Book Award and longlisted for the Warwick Women in Translation Prize. Her accounts of the Syrian conflict include A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution and The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria. Yazbek’s work has been translated into multiple languages and has been recognized with numerous awards—notably, the French Best Foreign Book Award and the PEN-Oxfam Novib, PEN Tucholsky, and PEN Pinter awards. She was recently selected to be part of the International Writers Program with the Royal Society of Literature.

About the translator:

Leri Price is an award-winning literary translator of contemporary Arabic fiction. She has twice been a Finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, in 2021 for her translations of Samar Yazbek’s Planet of Clay, and in 2019 for Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work. Her translation of Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work also won the 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.

See book club questions HERE.

Read an excerpt of the book HERE.

The April 2024 novel was A Nearby Country Called Love: A Novel by Salar Abdoh

A sweeping, propulsive novel about the families we are born into and the families we make for ourselves, in which a man struggles to find his place in an Iran on the brink of combusting

Amid the alleyways of the Zamzam neighborhood of Tehran, a woman lights herself on fire in a desperate act of defiance, setting off a chain reaction of violence and protest. Haunted by the woman’s death, Issa is forced to confront the contradictions of his own family history, throughout which his late brother Hashem, a prominent queer artist in Tehran’s underground, defied their father, a skilled martial artist bound to traditional notions of honor and masculinity. 

Issa soon finds himself thrown into a circle of people living on the margins of society, negotiating a razor-like code of conduct that rewards loyalty and encourages aggression and intolerance in equal measure. As the city explodes around him, Issa realizes that it is the little acts of kindness that matter most, the everyday humanity of individuals finding love and doing right by one another.

Vibrant and evocative, intimate and intelligent, A Nearby Country Called Love is both a captivating window into contemporary Iran and a portrait of the parallel fates of a man and his country—a man who acknowledges the sullen and rumbling baggage of history but then chooses to step past its violent inheritance.

Published by Viking. We met to talk about the book online on Wednesday, April 24th at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

About the author:

Salar Abdoh was born in Iran and splits his time between Tehran and New York City. He is the author of the novels Tehran at TwilightThe Poet GameOpium, and Out of Mesopotamia and the editor of Tehran Noir. He teaches in the MFA program at the City College of New York.

Listen to a sample of the book HERE.

Read an excerpt of the novel HERE.

The March 2024 novel was The Applicant by Nazli Koca

It’s 2017 and Leyla, a Turkish twenty-something living in Berlin is scrubbing toilets at an Alice in Wonderland-themed hostel after failing her thesis, losing her student visa, and suing her German university in a Kafkaesque attempt to reverse her failure.

Increasingly distant from what used to be at arm’s reach—writerly ambitions, tight knit friendships, a place to call home—Leyla attempts to find solace in the techno beats of Berlin’s nightlife, with little success. Right as the clock winds down on the hold on her visa, Leyla meets a conservative Swedish tourist and—against her political convictions and better judgment—begins to fall in love, or something like it. Will she accept an IKEA life with the Volvo salesman and relinquish her creative dreams, or return to Turkey to her mother and sister, codependent and enmeshed, her father’s ghost still haunting their lives?

While she waits for the German court’s verdict on her future, in the pages of her diary, Leyla begins to parse her unresolved past and untenable present. An indelible character at once precocious and imperiled, Leyla gives voice to the working-class and immigrant struggle to find safety, self-expression, and happiness. The Applicant is an extraordinary dissection of a liminal life between borders and identities, an original and darkly funny debut.

Published by Grove Atlantic. We met to discuss the book online on Sunday, Mar. 31st at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

About the author:

Nazlı Koca is a writer and poet from Turkey who now lives in the US. Her writing has appeared in the Threepenny ReviewBookforum, and Second Factory, among other outlets. The Applicant is her first novel.

Check out the reading group guide HERE.

The February ’24 book was Woman Life Freedom: Voices and Art from the Women’s Protest in Iran, edited by Malu Halasa

We are on the one-year anniversary of the women’s freedom marches in Iran.

Jina Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s Morality Police on 16th of September, 2022 sparked widespread protests across the country. Women took to the streets, uncovering their hair, burning headscarves and chanting “Woman Life Freedom’ — ‘Zan Zendegi Azadi” in Persian and “Jin Jîyan Azadî” in Kurdish — in mass demonstrations. An explosion of creative resistance followed as art and photography shared online went viral and people around the world saw what was really going on in Iran.

Woman Life Freedom captures this historic moment in artwork and first-person accounts. This striking collection goes behind the scenes at forbidden fashion shows; records the sound of dissent in Iran where it is illegal for women to sing unaccompanied in public; and walks the streets of Tehran with ‘The Smarties’ — Gen Z women who colour and show their hair in defiance of the authorities, despite the potentially devastating consequences. Extolling the power of art, writing and body politics — both female and queer — this collection is a universal rallying call and a celebration of the women the regime has tried and failed to silence.

Published by Saqi Books, London. We met the editor, Malu Halasa, to talk about the book online, on Sunday, Feb. 25 at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

The January ’24 book was Traces of Enayat, by Iman Mersal

Traces of Enayat is an extraordinary, beautiful book…
Selma Dabbagh, The Markaz Review

Traces of Enayat is published by And Other Stories.

Cairo, 1963: Enayat al-Zayyat’s suicide becomes a byword for talent tragically cut down, even as Love and Silence, her only novel, languishes unpublished. Four years after al-Zayyat’s death, the novel will be brought out, adapted for film and radio, praised, and then, cursorily, forgotten. For the next three decades it’s as if al-Zayyat never existed.

Yet when poet Iman Mersal stumbles across Love and Silence in the nineties, she is immediately hooked. Who was Enayat? Did the thought of her novel’s rejection really lead to her suicide? Where did this startling voice come from? And why did Love and Silence disappear from literary history? To answer these questions, Mersal traces Enayat’s life, interviews family members and friends, reconstructs the afterlife of Enayat in the media, and tracks down the flats, schools, archaeological institutes, and sanatoriums among which Enayat divided her days. Touching on everything from dubious antidepressants to domestic abuse and divorce law, from rubbish-strewn squats in the City of the Dead to the glamour of golden-age Egyptian cinema, this wide-ranging, unclassifiable masterpiece gives us a remarkable portrait of a woman artist striving to live on her own terms.

Published by And Other Stories in the UK. We met to discuss the book on Sunday, Jan. 28 at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

The November ’23 book was Palestine +100: stories from a century after the Nakba

palestine +100 short stories
Palestine + 100, a short story anthology, edited by Basma Ghalayini, a translator and scholar from Gaza.

Palestine + 100: stories from a century after the Nakba poses a question to 12 Palestinian writers: what might your country look like in the year 2048 — a century after the tragedies and trauma of what has come to be called the Nakba. How might this event — which, in 1948, saw the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes — reach across a century of occupation, oppression, and political isolation, to shape the country and its people? Will a lasting peace finally have been reached, or will future technology only amplify the suffering and mistreatment of Palestinians?

Covering a range of approaches — from sci-fi noir, to nightmarish dystopia, to high-tech farce — these stories use the blank canvas of the future to reimagine the Palestinian experience today. Along the way, we encounter drone swarms, digital uprisings, time-bending VR, peace treaties that span parallel universes, and even a Palestinian superhero, in probably the first anthology of science fiction from Palestine ever.

Translated from the Arabic by Raph Cormack, Mohamed Ghalaieny, Andrew Leber, Thoraya El-Rayyes, Yasmine Seale and Jonathan Wright. Published by Comma Press in the UK. We met to discuss the book with host Rana Asfour and special guest writers on Sunday, Nov. 26 at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

The Oct ’23 selection was the novel No One Prayed Over Their Graves by Khaled Khalifa


“Gorgeous . . . Lush, elegiac [and] Márquezian . . . A novel of abundance and generosity.” —Sarah Cypher, The Washington Post

“Richly embroidered . . . [Khalifa’s] galloping narration restores life and soul to a city that has become a byword for devastation.” —The Economist

From the National Book Award finalist Khaled Khalifa, the story of two friends whose lives are altered by a flood that devastates their Syrian village.

On a December morning in 1907, two close friends, Hanna and Zakariya, return to their village near Aleppo after a night of drunken carousing in the city, only to discover that there has been a massive flood. Their neighbors, families, children—nearly all of them are dead. Their homes, shops, and places of worship are leveled. Their lives will never be the same.

Hanna was once a wealthy libertine, a landowner who built a famed citadel devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and excess. But with the loss of his home, wife, and community, he transforms, becoming an ascetic mystic obsessed with death and the meaning of life. In No One Prayed Over Their Graves, we follow Hanna’s life before and after the flood, tracing friendships, loves and lusts, family and business, until he is just one thread in the rich tapestry of Aleppo.

Khaled Khalifa weaves a sweeping tale of life and death in the hubbub of Aleppine society at the turn of the twentieth century. No One Prayed Over Their Graves is a portrait of a people on the verge of great change—from provincial villages to the burgeoning modernity of the city, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews live and work together, united in their love for Aleppo and their dreams for the future.

Published by MacMillan in the US and Faber in the UK. We met to discuss the book on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 2 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

The September 2023 novel was River Spirit by Leila Aboulela

(from a rave review in the New York Times) “In 19th-century Sudan, with the Ottoman Empire fading and Britain gaining influence in the region, a religious leader proclaims himself the Mahdi, or the redeemer. He aims to correct the wrongs — excessive taxation, for one — of the foreign rulers. But as the revolution gains strength, and the Mahdi collects followers, his greed for power tarnishes the movement’s ideological purity. Leila Aboulela’s dazzling new novel, River Spirit, follows the course of that revolution as it turns into a new instrument of oppression.”

River Spirit is the unforgettable story of a people who, against the odds and for a brief time, gained independence from foreign rule. This is a powerful tale of corruption and unshakeable devotion — to a cause, to one’s faith and to the people who become family.

We met to talk about the book on the last Sunday in Sept., the 24th, at 1 pm Eastern/19:00 CET.

The August 2023 novel was A Stranger in Baghdad by Elizabeth Loudon

In beautifully rendered prose, a mother and a daughter struggle as outsiders in Baghdad and London in this intergenerational drama set against a background of political tension and intrigue

“Who would be charmed by tales of life in the beautiful old house on the banks of the Tigris—looted now no doubt, its shutters torn and the courtyard strewn with mattresses?”

One night in 2003, Anglo-Iraqi psychiatrist Mona Haddad has a surprise visitor to her London office, an old acquaintance Duncan Claybourne. But why has he come? Will his confession finally lay bare what happened to her family before they escaped Iraq?

Their stories begin in 1937, when Mona’s mother Diane, a lively Englishwoman newly married to Ibrahim, an ambitious Iraqi doctor, meets Duncan by chance. Diane is working as a nanny for the Iraqi royal family. Duncan is a young British Embassy officer in Baghdad. When the king dies in a mysterious accident, Ibrahim and his family suspect Diane of colluding with Duncan and the British.

Summoning up the vanished world of mid-twentieth-century Baghdad, Elizabeth Loudon’s richly evocative story of one family calls into question British attitudes and policies in Iraq and offers up a penetrating reflection on cross-cultural marriage and the lives of women caught between different worlds.

To read an excerpt, click here.

We met to talk about the book and discuss it with Elizabeth Louden on Sunday August 27th, 2023.

The July 2023 reading selection was Emissaries, short stories by Youssef Rakha

emissaries-and-other-short-stories cover by youssef rakha
Emissaries is published by Barakunan.

Emissaries is the new collection of short stories by renowned Egyptian author Youssef Rakha. Many of the stories have appeared previously in journals from the UK, US and the Middle East region. In these Cairo-focused stories written at the height of the Arab Spring, in its wake and its ruins, the reader is led by a colorful cast of characters through a hypnagogic urbanscape pulsating with the specters of post-political Islam and failed revolution.

Writes TMR reviewer Zein El-Amine, “I have not read many works by Arab American writers writing in English, but Rakha’s collection is original, irreverent, and provocative. What engages one most in reading his stories is the language he employs. Even though he is referencing Western pop culture and writers throughout the book, his voice is original. In wielding such prose, Rakha is a pied piper leading the reader into his rabbit holes. The consistency in that voice and the recurring motifs in the book make for a solid read.” Read the review. Get the audio book. Print.

We met to discuss these stories with Youssef Rakha on Sunday, July 2nd, 2023.

The June 2023 BookGroup Selection was Enter Ghost, a novel by Isabella Hammad

Enter Ghost follows actress Sonia as she returns to Palestine and takes a role in a West Bank production of Hamlet. After years away from her family’s homeland, and reeling from a disastrous love affair, Sonia Nasir returns to Haifa to visit her older sister Haneen. This is her first trip back since the second intifada and the deaths of their grandparents: while Haneen made a life here commuting to Tel Aviv to teach at the university, Sonia remained in London to focus on her acting career and now dissolute marriage. On her return, she finds her relationship to Palestine is fragile, both bone-deep and new.

At Haneen’s, Sonia meets the charismatic and candid Mariam, a local director, and finds herself roped into a production of Hamlet in the West Bank. Sonia is soon rehearsing Gertude’s lines in Classical Arabic and spending more time in Ramallah than Haifa, along with a dedicated group of men from all over historic Palestine who, in spite of competing egos and priorities, each want to bring Shakespeare to that side of the wall. As opening night draws closer it becomes clear just how many violent obstacles stand before a troupe of Palestinian actors. Amidst it all, the life Sonia once knew starts to give way to the daunting, exhilarating possibility of finding a new self in her ancestral home.

A stunning rendering of present-day Palestine, Enter Ghost is a story of diaspora, displacement, and the connection to be found in family and shared resistance. Timely, thoughtful, and passionate, Isabella Hammad’s highly anticipated second novel is an exquisite feat, an unforgettable story of artistry under occupation.

April 2023 Book Club Selection was Waiting for the Past, a novel by Hadiya Hussein, translated from the Arabic by Barbara Romaine

Hadiya Hussein’s poignant novel plunges readers into a haunting and powerful story of resilience. Set at the end of Saddam Hussein’s brutal reign, the novel follows Narjis, a young Iraqi woman, on her quest to discover what has become of the man she loves. Yusef, suspected by the regime of being a dissident, has disappeared–presumably either imprisoned or executed. On her journey, Narjis receives shelter from a Kurdish family who welcome her into their home where she meets Umm Hani, an older woman who is searching for her long-lost son. Together they form a bond, and Narjis comes to understand the depth of loss and grief of those around her. At the same time, she is introduced to the warm hospitality of the Kurdish community, settling into their everyday lives, and embracing their customs. Barbara Romaine’s translation skillfully renders this complex, layered story, giving readers a stark yet beautiful portrait of contemporary Iraq.

March 2023 Selection was The Girl Who Fell to Earth, a memoir by Sophia Al-Maria (discussing the book on Sunday, March 26, 12 ET/18:00 CET).

Award-winning filmmaker and writer Sophia Al-Maria’s The Girl Who Fell to Earth is a funny and wry coming-of-age memoir about growing up in between American and Gulf Arab cultures. Part family saga and part personal quest, The Girl Who Fell to Earth traces Al-Maria’s journey to make a place for herself in two different worlds.

When Sophia Al-Maria’s mother sends her away from rainy Washington State to stay with her husband’s desert-dwelling Bedouin family in Qatar, she intends it to be a sort of teenage cultural boot camp. What her mother doesn’t know is that there are some things about growing up that are universal. In Qatar, Sophia is faced with a new world she’d only imagined as a child. She sets out to find her freedom, even in the most unlikely of places.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth takes readers from the green valleys of the Pacific Northwest to the dunes of the Arabian Gulf and on to the sprawling chaos of Cairo. Struggling to adapt to her nomadic lifestyle, Sophia is haunted by the feeling that she is perpetually in exile: hovering somewhere between two families, two cultures, and two worlds. She must make a place for herself—a complex journey that includes finding young love in the Arabian Gulf, rebellion in Cairo, and, finally, self-discovery in the mountains of Sinai.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth heralds the arrival of an electric new talent and takes us on the most personal of quests: the voyage home.

February 2023 Selection was Disoriental, the novel by Négar Djavadi.

The story of a young girl and her family, at the core of an exploration of Iranian history.

Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five, with a new life and the prospect of a child, Kimiâ is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which reach her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. In the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic, generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, with his harem of fifty-two wives, and her parents, Darius and Sara, stalwart opponents of each regime that befalls them.

In this high-spirited, kaleidoscopic story, key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture punctuate stories of family drama and triumph. Yet it is Kimiâ herself—punk-rock aficionado, storyteller extraordinaire, a Scheherazade of our time, and above all a modern woman divided between family traditions and her own “disorientalization”—who forms the heart of this bestselling and beloved novel.

January 2023 Book Club Selection was the novel Out of Mesopotamia, by Salar Abdoh

“Imagine getting into Iraq and Syria as an observer of the war on ISIS, and yet very soon after you’ve been close enough to RPGs to smell the explosion and feel the ground shake, you find yourself back in your old life, giving literary readings at swank bookstores in cities at peace, or attending highbrow academic conferences where nobody’s dying, except perhaps bored audience members. Juxtaposing the two realities — one savage and ridiculous, the other sane and predictable — is what the author is after in Out of Mesopotamia.” —Jessica Proett, The Markaz Review


Nov 2022 Book Club Selection was I Will Never See the World Again, by Ahmet Altan

The destiny I put down in my novel has become mine. I am now under arrest like the hero I created years ago. I await the decision that will determine my future, just as he awaited his. I am unaware of my destiny, which has perhaps already been decided, just as he was unaware of his. I suffer the pathetic torment of profound helplessness, just as he did.

Like a cursed oracle, I foresaw my future years ago not knowing that it was my own.

Confined in a cell four meters long, imprisoned on absurd, Kafkaesque charges, novelist Ahmet Altan is one of many writers persecuted by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s oppressive regime. In this extraordinary memoir, written from his prison cell, Altan reflects upon his sentence, on a life whittled down to a courtyard covered by bars, and on the hope and solace a writer’s mind can provide, even in the darkest places. Turkey in the last several years has become one of the greatest oppressors of writers, academics and intellectuals, with the largest prison population of political detainees in continental Europe. Erdoğan, consolidating his power, has fired over 5,000 academics and 50,000 schoolteachers, whose progressive politics or Kurdish heritage he disliked, or who as journalists/editors/publishers have been too outspoken, such as widely translated novelist and newspaper editor Ahmet Altan, 72. The author of such internationally admired works as the novels in his Ottoman Quartet, Altan was sentenced to life in prison in 2016. He spent four years behind bars but was unexpectedly released last year. He said recently, “Prison didn’t extinguish my desire to write.”

Find it on Goodreads.

Sunday, Nov. 27th.

Oct 2022 Selection was The Last White Man, by Mohsin Hamid

Read our review.

Mohsin Hamid’s last novel was

The Guardian calls Mohsin Hamid’s new novel “a hypnotic race fable,” in which “as white people suddenly awake in brown skin, they are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about power and identity.”

“One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.” So begins Mohsin Hamid’s inventive new novel, The Last White Man. Anders, as it turns out, is not an isolated case. More people in an unnamed town begin to change, including Oona, a yoga instructor and a friend of Anders. Violence inevitably erupts around them. White vigilante gangs terrorize the transformed, while some doggedly refuse to accept an end to whiteness.

At its heart, this is a novel about seeing, being seen, loss and letting go. The loss of privilege that comes from being perceived as white, and no longer being able to view the world from within whiteness, are some of the anxieties examined here.

(From The Guardian review by Guy Gunaratne.)

Sunday, Oct. 30th.

Sept 2022 Book Club Selection was The Unlasting Home, by Mai Al-Nakib

When you live in a conservative society, you run the risk of censure. How far should a philosophy professor stick her neck out to make a point? Would you put it all on the line in the pursuit of truth or justice, or whatever informs your intent?

Available from Harper Collins/Mariner Books.

An Unlasting Home, by award-winning short story writer Mai Al-Nakib, opens in the summer of 2013. Sara Tarek Al-Ameed, a professor of philosophy at the Kuwait University for eleven years, is in the midst of preparing a paper arguing the importance of supplementing the religious curriculum with an early introduction to philosophy at the level of primary public school education in Kuwait. However, a phone recording by one of the munaqaba girls in her intro to philosophy class (in which she is heard arguing that “God is dead”) has been passed on to the most conservative member of the Kuwaiti Parliament — a Salafi, who has filed a complaint. Sara is arrested at her home and charged with blasphemy, a capital crime that comes with the threat of execution, under the newly amended Kuwaiti penal code. In the author’s note, Al-Nakib explains that although such an amendment did in fact come to pass by a wide majority of the elected parliament in 2013, the Emir of Kuwait, who holds authority over all amendments of laws, rejected it. This work of fiction, explains the author, imagines otherwise. (From the review by Rana Asfour.)

Sunday, Sept. 25, with novelist Mai Al-Nakib.

August 2022 Selection was The Handsome Jew, by Ali Al-Muqri, translated by Mbarek Sryfi

The Handsome Jew is available in print and Kindle.

The Handsome Jew is a challenging and provocative novel that urges/ invites Muslims and Jews to contemplate themselves and the way they see the other through a doomed love story. This powerful novel tells the tragic saga of two lovers, Salem, a Jew, and Fatima, a Muslim, who fall in a forbidden, intense, and passionate love against all circumstances designed to divide them in a society bound by religion. This boundary-crossing love story epitomises the doomed relationship between Jews and Muslims in Yemen, sheds light on how each community sees the other, interrogates religious and social barriers, and proves that, against all odds, love can conquer all – OR till death do the fated couple part. (Goodreads).

July 2022 Book Club selection was The Best Place on Earth, by Ayelet Tsabari

On Sunday, July 31st, we talked about the short stories of Ayelet Tsabari in The Best Place on Earth.

Confident, original and humane, the stories in The Best Place on Earth are peopled with characters at the crossroads of nationalities, religions and communities: expatriates, travellers, immigrants and locals.In the powerfully affecting opening story, “Tikkun,” a chance meeting between a man and his former lover carries them through near tragedy and into unexpected peace. In “Casualties,” Tsabari takes us into the military—a world every Israeli knows all too well—with a brusque, sexy young female soldier who forges medical leave forms to make ends meet. Poets, soldiers, siblings and dissenters, the protagonists here are mostly Israelis of Mizrahi background (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent), whose stories have rarely been told in literature. In illustrating the lives of those whose identities swing from fiercely patriotic to powerfully global, The Best Place on Earth explores Israeli history as it illuminates the tenuous connections—forged, frayed and occasionally destroyed—between cultures, between generations and across the gulf of transformation and loss. [Goodreads]

June 2022 Selection were the short stories in TMR 22

The Markaz Review runs an international book club that meets on Zoom every last Sunday of the month. Readers from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi share thoughts and insights on the month’s selection. Frequently, the author (and sometimes their translator) joins the group during the second half of the hour. Our bookgroup always meets the last Sunday at 1 pm Eastern.

On Sunday, June 26th, we talked about the short stories included in TMR 22 • STORIES, by such writers as Hanif Kureishi, Joumana Haddad, Karim Kattan, Ahmed Naji, Mai Al-Nakib, Nektaria Anastasiadou, Sarah Kahly-Mills and others.


The May 2022 Book Club selection was The Go-Between, a memoir by Osman Yousefzada

From Canongate in the UK.

“A beautifully observed and funny book” Guardian “Compelling and humane” Sathnam Sanghera

A coming-of-age story set in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s, The Go-Between opens a window into a closed migrant community living in a red-light district on the wrong side of the tracks.


The adult world is seen through Osman’s eyes as a child: his own devout Pashtun patriarchal community, with its divide between the world of men and women, living cheek-by-jowl with parallel migrant communities. The orthodox attend a mosque down the road from the prostitutes and pimps. Children balance Western school teachings with cultural traditions.

Book Review: “The Go-Between” by Osman Yousefzada


The April 2022 selection was The Monotonous Chaos of Existence, stories by Hisham Bustani

Published by Mason Jar Press.

The stories within Hisham Bustani’s The Monotonous Chaos of Existence explore the turbulent transformation in contemporary Arab societies. With a deft and poetic touch, Bustani examines the interpersonal with a global lens, connects the seemingly contradictory, and delves into the ways that international conflict can tear open the individuals that populate his world—all while pushing the narrative form into new and unexpected terrain.


“These stories recall the rhythms of poetry, offer up the intimacy of memoir, and often feel more like films than fiction. The Monotonous Chaos of Existence got me thinking about similarly semi-surreal and ecstatic truth tellers Denis Johnson and Chester Himes, a comparison that will have to do for now because I’m still dizzy and not exactly thinking straight after reading these interrogations of the cruelty and absurdity of occupation and so-called post-colonialism. Clear-eyed personal/political storytelling that is exciting, askew, and challenging.”

—Brandon Soderberg, coauthor, I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad

March 2022 Book Club selection was Something Strange, Like Hunger, Short Stories by Malika Moustadraf

Malika Moustadraf (1969—2006) is a feminist icon in contemporary Moroccan literature, celebrated for her stark interrogation of gender and sexuality in North Africa. Something Strange, Like Hunger* is the complete collection of Moustadraf’s published short fiction: haunting, visceral stories by a master of the genre. A teenage girl suffers through a dystopian rite of passage, a man with kidney disease makes desperate attempts to secure treatment, and a mother schemes to ensure her daughter passes a virginity test. Delighting in vibrant sensory detail and rich slang, Moustadraf takes an unflinching look at the gendered body, social class, illness, double standards, and desire, as lived by a diverse cast of characters. Blood Feast is a sharp provocation to patriarchal power and a celebration of the life and genius of one of Morocco’s preeminent writers.

* The U.S. title is Blood Feast.

February 2022 selection was The Fortune Men, by Nadifa Mohamed

A Booker Prize finalist, Nadifa Mohamed’s novel The Fortune Men is based on a true event, the story of a murder, a miscarriage of justice, and a man too innocent for his times — “a blues song cut straight from the heart … brought alive with subtle artistry and heartbreaking humanity” (Walter Mosley, best-selling author of Devil in a Blue Dress). In Cardiff, Wales in 1952, Mahmood Mattan, a young Somali sailor, is accused of a crime he did not commit: the brutal killing of Violet Volacki, a shopkeeper from Tiger Bay. At first, Mahmood believes he can ignore the fingers pointing his way; he may be a gambler and a petty thief, but he is no murderer. He is a father of three, secure in his innocence and his belief in British justice. But as the trial draws closer, his prospect for freedom dwindles. Now, Mahmood must stage a terrifying fight for his life, with all the chips stacked against him: a shoddy investigation, an inhumane legal system, and, most evidently, pervasive and deep-rooted racism at every step. Under the shadow of the hangman’s noose, Mahmood begins to realize that even the truth may not be enough to save him. A haunting tale of miscarried justice, this book offers a chilling look at the dark corners of our humanity.

Past Titles Read by TMR’s Bookgroup Include:

  • Ayad Akhtar’s novel Homeland Elegies
  • Malu Halasa’s novel Mother of All Pigs
  • Laila Lalami’s Conditional Citizens
  • Hassan Blasim’s short novel God 99
  • Dima Alzayat’s Alligator and Other Stories
  • Sahar Mustafah’s novel The Beauty in Your Face
  • Tobie Nathan’s A Land Like You (reviewed in TMR here)
  • Susan Abulhawa’s Against the Loveless World (reviewed in TMRhere)
  • Hoda Barakat’s Voices of the Lost (reviewed in TMR here)
  • Sinan Antoon’s I’jaam
  • Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise
  • Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise
    The group is captained by Rana Asfour, TMR’s Managing Editor.
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