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I'm proud to announce the re-opening of the remodeled al-Qhira f Amrk Bookstore, where I've assembled a selection of books about Cairo, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general. I will be adding more of my favorite books as time goes on.

By clicking one one of the links below, you will be transported to Barnes & Noble.com's listing for the book, and you can complete your order from there. By using the al-Qhira f Amrk Bookstore, you receive the same outstanding savings and secure online-ordering that Barnes & Noble.com provides as you do when visiting Barnes & Noble.com itself. (What happened to the old bookstore?)

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Egypt | Sudan | Lebanon | Syria | Middle East | Films | Search


Egypt

For works about Egypt, there is no better author than Egypt's own Nobel Laureate in Literature, Naguib Mahfouz. His works are world-famous, readily available in English (as well as several other languages), a delightful read, and insightful as well. I have read several of his books and have enjoyed every one. Therefore, my first recommended books include some of his finest.




Palace Walk



Palace of Desire



Sugar Street
Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy follows the life of one Egyptian family from World War to World War, capturing a snapshot of Egyptian life in that time of change. Mahfouz's masterful storytelling makes you feel like you are in Cairo, and though novels, the three provide insight into the many forces, social, political, and historical, that are at work in Egypt even today. The Trilogy is a great read, though each book is also excellent in its own right. Palace Walk, the first of the three, was required reading before my trip to Egypt several years ago and served as my introduction to Egyptian society. I highly recommend these three as an introduction to Mahfouz and to Egypt as well.
 



Children of the Alley



Children of Gebelaawi
Often considered Mahfouz's "stepchild," Children of our Alley (my own translation of Mahfouz's Arabic title; see below for more) is an allegorical novel he wrote in the late 1950s, amidst disillusionment over the failures of the 1952 Revolution to root out corruption and improve the lives of the Egyptian people. Following several generations of the descendants of one man in one timeless alley, Mahfouz examines man's attempts to come to term with his world through religions and science. Because of its nature as a religious allegory, the book is banned in some Muslim countries. Mahfouz chose not to publish it in book form in Egypt, though it did appear first in serial form, like most of his works.

The book about which controversy will never cease! It appears that there are two English translations of Mahfouz's Awld Hratin, one (Children of Gebelaawi) by Philip Stewart and the other (Children of the Alley) by Peter Theroux, and a dispute over publication rights in the middle of it all! I recently received an email from Mr. Stewart presenting his position and asking that I list his translation, which was "made with unparalleled help from Mahfouz and the only version in any language based on comparison of the two Arabic texts. It also has a lengthy introduction which gives a great deal of background detail unpublished anywhere else." So there you have it; the book is causing controversy even for me!

 



Arabian Nights and Days
Set within the frame of the famed Arabian Nights (lf layla wa layla), this short book is somewhat of a medieval thriller. Each chapter can stand on its own, but together they weave a tale of mystery and pursuit of justice in the medieval Islamic world. As a shorter book and set in the medieval Islamic era, it is different from other Mahfouz novels, but the descriptions and action are still what you come to expect from Mahfouz.
 



Midaq Alley
In this novel, Mahfouz describes one small alley in the Gamaliya section of Cairo and the attempts of several residents to escape the alley and move up in status. Like many of his novels, Midaq Alley ends with dreams broken and unfulfilled, but captures another great slice of life in the Cairo of the first half of this century. It is a great read, if a bit on the depressing side.
 



The Harafish
My latest Mahfouz read, The Harafish, is another of the author's multi-generational masterpieces, tracing the lives of a family in one short alley from harafish (roughly "rabble" or "alley-dwellers") to riches, from justice to thuggery. From an abandoned child cared for by an old shaykh to a man bearing his legendary ancestor's name restoring both the family and the alley, Mahfouz paints a thrilling picture of alley life and politics in a timeless Cairo alley. Unlike in many of his other novels, The Harafish ends leaving the reader with a hopeful, uplifting feeling about the future—so if Mahfouz's realism-pessimism has kept you away, this is the book to read!
 



Islamic Monuments in Cairo:
A Practical Guide
Caroline Williams and her predecessors have put together a marvelous guide to more or less everything Islamic in Cairo. The book is divided by sections of the city and Williams suggests several "tours" visitors can give themeselves. With detailed information about the history and finer architectural points of some two hundred monuments, as well as tips for getting around Cairo, this book (or its paperback twin, ISBN 977-424-316-2) is a must-have for every Cairo-bound traveller!
 
Sudan



Season of Migration to the North
I read this Tayib Salih novel in Arabic last spring; it is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Considered the "most significant novel written in the Arabic language," this masterwork of the Sudanese author tells the story of a Sudanese student on scholarship in London in the last century and his eventual return home. Salih's novel is an amazing exploration of identity and the mangling of west and east, and unlike many works I've read that treat the east and west (sharq wa gharb) theme, Season didn't do it in a trite, stereotypical manner. It was beautiful and powerful and captured some amazing images and ideas.
 
Lebanon



Come With Me From Lebanon:
An American Family Odyssey


(or paperback edition)
In this moving book, Ann Zwicker Kerr tells of Lebanon of days past, of her late husband, Dr. Malcolm H. Kerr, their lives together, and of her hopes for the future. Kerr lovingly tells the story of the American involvement in Lebanon through families like the Kerrs, beginning with the founding of the American University of Beirut and continuing until her husband's assassination while serving as President of AUB during the Lebanese civil war. Such a tragic loss might deter some, but Kerr's love of Lebanon and the Middle East is undiminished and flows strongly throughout the book. An excellent read for anyone wishing to get a human glimpse of the tumultuous 1980s in Lebanon, Come With Me From Lebanon is also a testament to the love and hope that will guide AUB, Lebanon, and America into a peaceful and successful future.
 



Painting the Middle East
The companion book to Come With Me From Lebanon, Painting the Middle Eastis a collection of Ann Kerr's watercolors and memories of nearly a half-century of living and working in the Middle East. She captures the Middle East on the cusp of great change in "hours snatched away from the business of everyday life," yet the paintings reflect everyday life, or moments of it, rather than the local and international political events that would cause such destruction and heartache in the region. We see the busy streets of Beirut, the soaring domes and minarets of Cairo, the solitude of seaside villages of North Africa, and the family vacation-spots across the region, impression-snapshots which show a love for the Middle East that has never wavered. For those of us who have travelled or lived in the region, the watercolors make it seem not quite so far away, or so long since we have been there; for those who have not, Kerr's paintings introduce a region that has welcomed and captivated so many and invite us to experience its wonders ourselves, if only from our favorite reading chairs.
 
Syria



Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East
Patrick Seale, a recognized expert on Syria, details the rise to power of President Hafiz al-Asad. This book provides a great insight into Asad the man, his motivations, and his ability to hold on to power for almost 30 years in a country where previous governments were fortunate to last one year. Although President Asad gave Seale several interviews while writing the biography, it is not authorized and is prohibited in Syria. It is, however, an excellent and frank presentation of Asad and a must-read for anyone wanting to truly understand the issues in the Middle East peace process.
 
General Middle East Books




The Venture of Islam:
The Classical Age of Islam



The Venture of Islam:
The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods



The Venture of Islam:
The Gunpowder Empires and Modern Times
The late Marshall G S Hodgson's The Venture of Islam is the likely the best "general" history of the Middle East and the rest of the world of Islam. The renowned University of Chicago historian's masterpiece is known for the breadth and depth of its coverage. Hodgson's attention to detail is legendary. As one of the first scholars working in world history, Hodgson also made clear the connections that linked the great world civilizations. Given this work's depth, comprehensiveness, and Hodgson's intellectual rigor, The Venture of Islam can be difficult to read; if you want the best history of the Middle East and are up for the challenge, buy it; otherwise, check out Ira Lapidus's A History of Islamic Societies or Albert Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples below.
 



A History of the Arab Peoples
The late Albert Hourani of St Anthony's College, Oxford, was one of the most renouned British scholars on the Middle East and a prolific author. His A History of the Arab Peoples is one of the most commonly-used books for giving students a more readable and more general introduction to the history of Middle East. While Hourani's history has less depth than Hodgson's The Venture of Islam, it is eminently readable. A History of the Arab Peoples is especially strong on Nineteenth- and early Twentieth-Century intellectual and political movements, one of Hourani's specialties. If you want to learn the basics about Arab history, this is the book for you.
 



A History of Islamic Societies
Ira Lapidus's A History of Islamic Societies is an expansive one volume survey of the whole of Islamic history, from the rise of Islam in 7th-Century Arabia to the present, across all of the areas of the world in which Islam came to dominate. His guiding theme is the transformations brought about by Islam in these areas and their cultures and institutions. More detailed than Hourani and more readable than Hodgson (though about as long), Lapidus strikes a good balance with his work. In addition, he covers regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia that Hourani does not discuss and that Hodgson touches on only briefly. If you're looking for a global history of Islam, A History of Islamic Societies is a good choice, just as it is if you're looking for an alternative to A History of the Arab Peoples and The Venture of Islam.
 
Films




The Message
(VHS)


Al-Risla
(VHS)



The Message
(DVD)
The only biography authorized and approved by both al-Azhar and the High Shi'a Council of Lebanon, this movie has the support of both of Islam's most authoritative bodies. It is an excellent portrayal of the key events in Muhammad's life and prophethood, though, in keeping with standard practice, you will see neither Muhammad nor his first five successors. The movie, which stars Anthony Quinn as Muhammad's uncle Hamza, is a great way to gain an understanding and appreciation for the birth of Islam, one of the world's great monotheistic faiths.
 


The Battle of Algiers
Filmed in 1965, this was the first movie done in the newly-independent Algeria. Starring actual FLN fighters, The Battle of Algiers is the story of one of the most terrorizing moments of Algeria's long independence struggle, the two year campaign of attack and reprisal by Algeria's independence movement determined to capture world attention and frighten the French, and crack French troops equally determined to put and end to bombings and assassinations and crush the FLN. A very thought-provoking film, I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Algeria or in decolonization in general. (Arabic and French with English subtitles)
 



West Beirut
West Beirut is the acclaimed story of two young friends and their lives as the Lebanese Civil War begins in 1975 and does not soon pass, as the father of one of the boys says Lebanese violence always does. Their fun-filled youthful days soon fade in the face of sectarian violence and the partition of Beirut into two cities, East and West, and the Lebanon in the mind unravells before their—and our—eyes. The directoral debut of Ziad Doueiri, West Beirut is an autobiographical film in Arabic and French (with English subtitles) and an insightful look at growing up and the collapse of Lebanon. [Info from US Distributor]
     


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