Arts & Culture The Summer Issue

The summer reads: 4 great works of Arabic literature

Summer is the time to catch up with the reading we had wanted to do all year long.

For many, summer is synonymous with travel and global exploration. But for bookworms worldwide, summer is the time to catch up with the reading we had wanted to do all year long. In this issue, one of our international readers, Bella Ozdemir, shares her top four works of Arabic literature for us to indulge in during the longest holiday of the year:

1. One Thousand and One Nights

One Thousand and One Nights – typically translated in English as ‘The Arabian Nights’-  is a collection of primarily Asian folk tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age. Many of us have heard of the story of Aladdin and Ali Baba or even the song by Oum Kalthoum of the same name, but the book has so much more to offer. The book has a frame story whereby Scheherazade tells the ruler Shahryar (and us, the readers) tales every night that she leaves at a cliff-hanger in order for him to spare her life and continue the story the next day. The tales are not only romantic, as one would expect, but also tragic, comedic, and burlesque. They feature all sorts of characters like jinn, magicians, and even poet Abu Nuwas.

2. Balthasar’s Odyssey

This book contains a story that is perfect for those who enjoy travelling. Balthasar, a Genoese-Levantine man from Jbeil, Lebanon, seeks to find the sacred book containing the unknown name of God. His travels through places such as the Ottoman Empire, Italy and England, will have you feeling like you have experienced an around-the-world trip…but in the past. Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese-French author behind Balthasar’s Odyssey, uses a fantastical plot that will have you absorbed in his quest. I strongly recommend this book for those who like adventure.

3. The Cairo Trilogy

Naguib Mahfouz, the author of The Cairo Trilogy, won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature- this is how you know these books are going to be good! The story is set in Cairo, where Mahfouz grew up, over three generations. Each book represents an era in the socio-political landscape of Egypt, particularly Cairo. The story elegantly portrays social progress and includes such detailed descriptions of colonial Cairo, you feel as if you are there. We as the reader witnesses the characters grow over the trilogy, which creates a great sense of attachment to them. The duration of the trilogy certainly makes you feel a part of the human experience, and if you are a reader that enjoys a series, this is the one for you.

4. The Muqaddimah

The Muqaddimah, or, ‘The Introduction’ is a book by scholar Ibn Khaldun – a 14th C Tunis born Andalusian Arab of Yemenite origin. In this remarkable book, which later became the foundation of several fields of knowledge, Ibn Khaldun writes of matters such as economics, philosophy, politics and civilisations of the world and their histories. As a history and anthropology student, this is right up my street. It is definitely not fictional, but it is nonetheless incredibly interesting in a way that does not make you feel as though you are stuck in a history lesson you really do not want to be in.

Bella Ozdemir is an avid reader, storyteller, and student  based in the UK.