English-language BookGroup

 TMR’s bookgroup, moderated by Jordanian bookworm (and editor/translator) Rana Asfour, meets online every last Sunday of the month.


Sept 2022 Book­Group Selec­tion is 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.


Oct 2022 BookGroup Selection is The Last White Man, by Mohsin Hamid


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

Mohsin Hamid’s last nov­el was Exit West.


“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 ter­rorise 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.



August 2022 BookGroup 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 BookGroup 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 BookGroup 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 Bookgroup 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 Bookgroup 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 BookGroup 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 BookGroup 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

    To join the Book­Group (free, all wel­come), send your name to
    books@themarkaz.org today. The group is cap­tained by Rana Asfour, TMR’s Book Editor.