As part of my personal resistance and opposition to the recent executive order banning travelers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, and accompanying moratorium on all refugee admissions, I decided to develop a three-part series highlighting authors from the seven countries included in the ban. You can find the Introduction and Part 1 here. Part 2 is here. Below is Part 3.
Authors from the Seven Countries Affected by Trump’s Travel Ban: Iraq, Somalia and Libya.
Betool Khedairi. Born in Baghdad, Betool received her B.A. in French literature from the University of Mustansirya, and divides her time between Iraq, Jordan and the United Kingdom. She currently lives in Amman. I have one of her books on my bookshelf, so A Sky So Close will probably be one of the first books I read to #resist this year.
- A Sky So Close – “This haunting coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in wartime Iraq was the subject of heated controversy when it was published in the Middle East; now in English, it offers American readers a rare chance to experience an Iraqi childhood.”
Ahmad Ardalan. Born in Baghdad in 1979, he grew up in Vienna prior to returning to Iraq in 1989, graduating from the University of Dentistry. He moved to the UAE due to the unstable conditions in his home country. Returning for a visit in 2013, this formed the inspiration for his novel, The Gardener of Baghdad.
- The Gardener of Baghdad – “Adnan leads a weary existence as a bookshop owner in modern-day, war-torn Baghdad, where bombings, corruption and assault are everyday occurrences and the struggle to survive has suffocated the joy out of life for most. But when he begins to clean out his bookshop of forty years to leave his city in search of somewhere safer, he comes across the story of Ali, the Gardener of Baghdad, Adnan rediscovers through a memoir handwritten by the gardener decades ago that beauty, love and hope can still exist, even in the darkest corners of the world.”
- Baghdad: The Final Gathering – “With the drums of war just weeks away, Omar invites all those closest to his heart for lunch at his lavish villa overlooking the Tigris River of Baghdad. He can’t help but smile at the faces that have graced his eventful life that spans from an interesting childhood, the two Gulf Wars, and the inhumane embargo that crippled the nation. Loved ones come together, probably for the last time, in the city their ancestors called Baghdad or Baghdadu, ‘God’s Gift.’“
Nuruddin Farah. Farah is a prominent Somali novelist. He was awarded the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The only author I have already read on this list, I highly recommend his work.
- Knots – “A strong, self-reliant woman who was born in Somalia but brought up in North America, Cambara returns to Mogadiscio to escape a failed marriage and an overweening mother. Her journey back to her native home is a desperate attempt to find herself on her own terms-however ironically, in a country where women are expected to wear veils.”
- Links (Read in 2008, 4 out of 5 stars) – “Jeebleh is returning to Mogadiscio, Somalia, for the first time in twenty years. But this is not a nostalgia trip—his last residence there was a jail cell. And who could feel nostalgic for a city like this? U.S. troops have come and gone, and the decimated city is ruled by clan warlords and patrolled by qaat-chewing gangs who shoot civilians to relieve their adolescent boredom. Diverted in his pilgrimage to visit his mother’s grave, Jeebleh is asked to investigate the abduction of the young daughter of one of his closest friend’s family. But he learns quickly that any act in this city, particularly an act of justice, is much more complicated than he might have imagined.”
- Crossbones – “A dozen years after his last visit, Jeebleh returns to his beloved Mogadiscio to see old friends. He is accompanied by his son-in-law, Malik, a journalist intent on covering the region’s ongoing turmoil. What greets them at first is not the chaos Jeebleh remembers, however, but an eerie calm enforced by ubiquitous white-robed figures bearing whips.”
Ibrahim al-Koni. Al-Koni was born in the Fezzan region in 1948. He spent his childhood in the desert, and studied comparative literature at the Maxim Gorky LIterature Institute in Moscow. He has published more than 80 books, although most have not been translated into English.
- The Bleeding of the Stone – “The moufflon, a wild sheep prized for its meat, continues to survive in the remote mountain desert of southern Libya. Only Asouf, a lone bedouin who cherishes the desert and identifies with its creatures, knows exactly where it is to be found. Now he and the moufflon together come under threat from hunters who have already slaughtered the once numerous desert gazelles. The novel combines pertinent ecological issues with a moving portrayal of traditional desert life and of the power of the human spirit to resist.”
- Gold Dust – “Rejected by his tribe and hunted by the kin of the man he killed, Ukhayyad and his thoroughbred camel flee across the desolate Tuareg deserts of the Sahara. Between bloody wars against the Italians in the north and famine raging in the south, Ukhayyad rides for the remote rock caves of Jebel Hasawna. There, he says farewell to the mount who has been his companion through thirst, disease, lust, and loneliness. Alone in the desert, haunted by the prophetic cave paintings of ancient hunting scenes and the cries of jinn in the night, Ukhayyad awaits the arrival of his pursuers and their insatiable hunger for blood and gold.”
Hisham Matar. Hisham Matar was born in NYC, where his father was working for the Libyan delegation to the UN. When he was three years old, his family moved back to Tripoli, where he spent his early childhood. Eventually, his family was forced to flee and live in exile in Egypt, later moving to London. His novel, In the Country of Men, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize.
- In the Country of Men – “Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mother’s increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. And then one day Suleiman sees his father across the square of a busy marketplace, his face wrapped in a pair of dark sunglasses. Wasn’t he supposed to be away on business yet again? Why is he going into that strange building with the green shutters? Why did he lie? Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand-where the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his father’s cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friend’s father can disappear overnight, next to be seen publicly interrogated on state television.”
- The Return (the only non-fiction selection on this list) – “From Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Hisham Matar, a memoir of his journey home to his native Libya in search of answers to his father’s disappearance. In 2012, after the overthrow of Qaddafi, the acclaimed novelist Hisham Matar journeys to his native Libya after an absence of thirty years.”
I hope you enjoyed this 3-part series! Please add any other recommendations you might have from any of the seven countries featured.