6 Books to Read by Game-changing Female Arab Writers

These female tastemakers have taken the Arab literary world by storm – here are our favorite reads by them

This quarantine, we have time on our hands now more than ever, making it the perfect time to pick up a good book and get lost in the art of storytelling. Below, find Social Unseen’s pick.

Image: @Pinterest by Alshynbay Aruzhan

Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading

by Asma Lamrabet

Asma Lamrabet is a Moroccan doctor, Islamic feminist and author. In her book, she discusses the issue of Muslim women, held hostage between two perceptions: a conservative Islamic approach and a liberal Western approach. At the heart of this debate Muslim women are calling for the equality and liberation that is at the heart of the Qur’an. However, with few female commentators on the meaning of the Qur’an, Asma Lamrabet demands a rereading of the Qur’an by women that focuses on its spiritual and humanistic messages in order to alter the lived reality on the ground.


by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French graphic novelist, cartoonist, illustrator, and film director. Her graphic novel Persepolis, adapted into an award-winning film of the same name, has become a classic of the graphic novel genre. It is lauded for its honest and witty insight into life in post-revolution Iran. As part of the first generation to experience their youth and adolescence during the new, oppressive regime, Satrapi’s novel portrays the tension between the youthful culture of freedom and rebellion and the regime’s strict moral codes and censorship. It also demonstrates the wider implications of these laws for groups such as women, political activists and artists.

The Forty Rules of Love

By Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak is a Turkish-British writer, storyteller, essayist, academic, public speaker, and women’s rights activist. In her novel within a novel, The Forty Rules of Love tells two parallel stories that mirror each other across two very different cultures and seven intervening centuries.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail

by Malika Oufkir

Malika Oufkir is a Moroccan Berber writer and former “disappeared”. A gripping memoir that reads like a political thriller, her book recounts the story of Malika Oufkir’s turbulent and remarkable life. Born in 1953, Malika Oufkir was the eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco’s closest aide. A heartrending account in the face of extreme deprivation and the courage with which one family faced its fate, Stolen Lives is an unforgettable story of one woman’s journey to freedom.

The Queue

by Basma Abdel Aziz

Basma Abdel Aziz is an Egyptian writer, psychiatrist, visual artist and human rights activist. Her book has drawn comparisons to Western classics like George Orwell’s 1984 and The Trial by Franz Kafka. It represents a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring.

Girls of Riyadh

by Rajaa al-Sanea

Rajaa al-Sanea is a Saudi writer and doctor whose debut novel made a sensation. Originally published in Arabic in Lebanon in 2005 and now translated into English, Alsanea’s debut novel exposes the private world of Saudi Arabia’s most cloistered citizens to uncover young women who ultimately share the same hopes and dreams as their Western counterparts. Her honest portrayal of controversial subject matter made Alsanea a literary sensation and a public enemy, sparking fierce debate in the media and online discussion groups. Addictively readable yet deeply political, Girls of Riyadh has been called the first modern Arab novel and its comic but poignant accounts of contemporary Saudi life make it an instant classic.

By Helena Devincenti

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