I have a fascination with the Middle East. I’ve never been to an Arab country, but regardless, I find the culture incredibly intriguing and attempt to satisfy my interest through my book choices. In addition to Prisoner of Tehran, books with Middle Eastern influence that I have indulged in so far are some of the more popular:
Here’s what I’ve put on my Middle Eastern reading list:
- In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif (2000) , the story of a young, Egyptian woman’s pursuit of her PhD in English literature and the relationship with her husband (Since I’m interested in getting my PhD, I thought I could relate.)
- My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (2001), a crime novel set in the courts of the sultan in 16th century Istanbul (Nothing like a good mystery!)
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (1997), recounts and embellishes the Biblical story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah (I’ve seen this book at Barnes and Nobel for years but just never bought it.)
- Does my Head Look Big in This by Randa Abdel-Fattah (2007), a 16-year old girl embraces her faith by deciding to wear the hijab (Love the title and the modern-day perspective)
- One Thousand and One Nights by Anonymous, a collection of Middle Eastern folktales (A classic that I’ve wanted to read for a long time…and it’s free on Kindle!)
Looking for more internationally themed books? Check out my Asian Inspired Reading List. (I’m reading The Tapestries now and it is excellent!)
For more recommendations for Middle Eastern reads, check out these sites:
A few weeks ago I went to Kobey’s Swap Meet here in San Diego. (For my Southern readers, swap meet = flea market.) Kobey’s is a cultural experience in itself. Walking up and down the table-laden aisles, I heard Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin spoken by both the buyers and the sellers. That’s just proof that all nationalities like a good deal! For the most part, I go to Kobey’s to browse through junk and buy books at a $1 a piece. On my last visit, I got 6 for $5 and was thrilled. While not all of my book purchases were worthy of the $1 price tag, Prisoner of Tehran, A Memoir by Marina Nemat was worth $5 on its own.
Although born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Marina Nemat was not the typical Iranian child. Her father a dance instructor, her family of Russian decent, and herself a devout Christian, Marina’s way of life contradicted everything that was associated with the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But it was when she demands to be taught calculus, rather than Islamic political propaganda that she was marked as an enemy of the Iranian government and imprisoned at the age of 16 in Evin, an infamous political prison outside of Tehran. In Prisoner of Tehran, Nemat details her life in prison as well as her childhood leading up to that ominous day.
My interest in the experiences of Middle Eastern women has significantly increased over the past month. Between reading My Embassy Letters and watching Salaam Dunk and Beauty Academy of Kabul, I have learned pieces of the current situation in the Middle East but have lacked awareness of the historical background. Prisoner of Tehran provides significant insight into the timeline of women’s rights in Iran and helped my fill in some of my historical holes. Not only did Prison of Tehran inform me, but it was also well-written, honest, and redemptive. Nemat has excellent flow and I was able to finish the whole book in 4 days.
If you are looking for a good read that will challenge and enlighten you, I would highly recommend Prisoner of Tehran.
While flipping through Netflix, I came across the documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul. Having been thoroughly entertained by Salaam Dunk, I liked the idea of another documentary based on women in the Middle East and I was not disappointed. The documentary follows the opening of the first beauty school in Kabul, Afghanistan led by 6 American instructors (3 of which were Afghan refugees) and starting with 20 Afghan students. The film depicts the reactions of the refugees returning to Kabul, the hardships that the students go through to get the training, and the culture of beauty that is hidden due to the Taliban regime. The film is really well done and worth the download.
Last week the IRC here in San Diego did a showing of Salaam Dunk. I’ve never been much into documentaries but one of my students studied abroad in the Middle East and thought we could go together. I have to say that I was highly entertained and moved by their story. The film follows the season of the women’s basketball team at American University of Iraq. The team is in their second season and prior to coming to college, most of the girls had never ran, let alone played basketball. While their record and skills are somewhat dismal, they are redeemed by becoming a team and overcoming the barriers of ethnicity and religion. There were a few things that struck me about the film: 1) I was amazed at their English; most of the girls had perfect accents, 2) they were very honest about the war and the fear it invoked, which made me really think about what they went through, and 3) I thought it was amazing how a simple thing like basketball could be so controversial but also was a vehicle for reconciliation. Check out the trailer: