Must-Read Palestinian Literature

This list is probably not for those looking to “understand” Palestine (or today’s aggression against a humanitarian-aid flotilla), but for those who want to celebrate or appreciate Palestinian arts, or for those who just love good books.

After all, Palestinians are—among other things—book-writers, book-readers, poetry-lovers, party-goers.

On the other hand, perhaps these are books you should buy for your mom, your boss, your pharmacist.

Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness: Recommended by acclaimed poet and novelist Sinan Antoon and journalist Ursula Lindsay.

Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun: Recommended by author and teacher Laila Lalami, professor and critic Nouri Gana, and professor/translator Hosam Aboul-Ela.

Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah: Recommended by author and teacher Laila Lalami, translator Maia Tabet, AUC editor Neil Hewison.

Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun: Not by a Palestinian, but written about Palestine by the Lebanese author Elias Khoury. Recommended by translator Humphrey Davies and Read Kutub coordinator Katrina Weber.

Emile Habibi’s Said the Pessoptimist, recommended by translator and professor Aida Bamia, translator Maia Tabet, Katrina Weber.

Sahar Khalifeh’s The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant, recommended by Dr. Bamia

Also, on the topic of “books about Palestine you can get for your mom,” Katrina Weber’s mom likes Matt Rees’s crime novels, which are set in Palestine.

Additional recommendations from ArabLit:

The First Well: A Bethlehem Boyhood, by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, who was born in Palestine and moved to Iraq after the 1948 Nakba.

Touch, by Adania Shibli, just out from Interlink. A gorgeous novella from a young Palestinian author Ahdaf Soueif says is the “most talked about” writer on the West Bank.

Nothing to Lose But Your Life, out last month from the madwoman memoirist Suad Amiry. This is more reportage than literature, but it’s crazy and eye-opening and often amusing.

Feel free to add your own.


  1. Great list of books, I’ve added them to my wishlist.

  2. I love Sahar Khalifeh is fantastic. A teacher of mine said he saw her speak, and she jokingly referred to herself as “the most famous female Palestinian author no one seems to have heard of.” My interested was piqued after that. I read Image for a literature class, and loved it. I also have a copy of Al-Meeraath on bookcase. It is very difficult because my Arabic stamina is nowhere near what it used to be: I have tried on and off to read the original twice. Nonetheless, Image was very good and disturbing. I am glad you recognized Sahar’s brilliance. سحر ساحراني!

  3. Wow, apologies for amazing writing abilities. I should check for typos before submitting.

  4. Al Haraka: That is unfortunately a good description: “the most famous Palestinian female author no one seems to have heard of.” I’ll have to use that some time.

    Typos: That’s what blogs are for!

  5. Just finished “I saw Ramallah” and “Born there, born here” for Mourid El Bargouti, and I must say – they are superb. They were also a reason to realize how much I love novels with historical backgrounds.. However, “Gate of the sun” was an exception. I couldn’t get further than the first chapter! Too much blood, too much pain and agony I couldn’t bear!

    I will still try to read the rest of your recommended books above. I really need to know more about Palestine lately.

  6. Yes, Elias Khoury is painful to read. /Yalo/, I’m afraid, is even more difficult than /Gate of the Sun./ Definitely don’t put yourself through that, if /Gate/ was too much.

    Read Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s memoirs, if you like memoir. And Adania Shibli’s /Touch/ also takes place “during” Sabra and Shatila (like /Gate of the Sun/), but it’s told by a very young girl (eight?) as she gropes her way around the world, and so it’s not that sort of violence. More like a coming-to-understand.

    It’s more poetic writing, also a bit like Barghouti.

    And like I said, Suad Amiry’s work isn’t really “literary,” but it’s readable and manic and necessary.

    Sorry if I sound blabbery today; I’m still so thrown apart by yesterday’s incident and everything it points to and from.

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