New Library-recommendation Project: 10 from Melanie Magidow

Following a brief hiatus, we’re back with the seventh in a list of 10 for public libraries. This one is from Melanie Magidow, translator, editor, educator, and one of the co-hosts of the Goodreads MENA book group:

For these lists-of-ten, ArabLit is asking scholars, critics, authors, translators, and other bibliocentrics about the Arabic Literature in translation they would recommend for US’s public libraries. Eventually, this will build to a list of 100 book-buying recommendations. Having searched a number of public-library systems, we’ve decided there is no particular need to recommend Arabic’s only Nobel literature laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Anything else is fair game.

By Melanie Magidow

I’ve been pondering what my “10 for Libraries” list would look like ever since M. Lynx Qualey and Ursula discussed “Where to Start” (reading Arabic literature) on the Bulaq podcast, and as I’ve been seeing the various “10 for Libraries” lists posted on (first in the series here).

1. Novel: The Open Door by Latifa al-Zayyat – The classic feminist novel in Arabic. Set in 1940s-50s Egypt during anti-colonial struggles. A highly developed main character, showing her shifting relationships to family members, romantic partners, and her nation

2. Historical Novel: Granada by Radwa Ashour (or her short novel, Siraaj, or non-fiction The Journey, recently translated by Michelle Hartman). This is probably my all-time favorite author in Arabic because she pays attention to narrative plots and developing characters, as well as describing the scene and exploring concepts. Characters tend to range in ages from children to the elderly, and tend to be diverse in many other ways as well.

3. Novella: Returning to Haifa by Ghassan Kanafani – This is a short novel on the human experience of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I recommend it because Kanafani represents the humanity of all those affected by this conflict.

4. Romance: Girls of Riyadh or Mortal Designs. Both focus on girls and women navigating society (the former is young Saudi women and the latter is an Egyptian widow).

5. YA: The Green Bicycle (or The Hedgehog by Zakariya Tamer, The Servant by Fatima Sharafeddine, Always Coca-Cola by Alexandra Chreiteh or I Want to Get Married by Ghada Abdel Aal)

6. Graphic Novel: I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached, translated from French, (also consider The Illustrator’s Notebook, a beautiful and brilliant by Mohieddine Ellabbad)

7. Children’s: The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan

8. Pre-Modern Classics and Folklore: Arabian Nights translated by Husain Haddawy (available in 2 volumes, depending on the edition) if you don’t already have a good version in your library system. If you do, consider The Story of Layla and Majnun by Nizami Ganjavi (admittedly Persian literature, but from a time and space when Arab and Persian societies were mixed). Folklore options: Abu Jmeel’s Daughter, Arab Folktales or Pearls on a Branch, the latter both translated by Inea Bushnaq. As an American who grew up in a monolingual English-speaking household, and who has been reading and studying Arabic almost twenty years, these classics and folklore selections are old favorites that I recommend as accessible for all those interested in the subject.

9. History: The Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Ross E. Dunn. Most Americans have never heard of Ibn Battuta, but have some interest in travel. Read this book and learn about the travels of perhaps the most-traveled person in history!

10. Anthologies: Modern Arabic Fiction by Salma Khadra Jayussi or pre-modern Arabic literary anthology Night & Horses & the Desert by Robert Irwin.

More about Magidow and her Marhaba Language Expertise at

The previous lists:

6) 10 from Youssef Rakha

5) 10 from Hosam Aboul-Ela