Daring to Drive

"A ferociously intimate memoir by a devout woman from a modest family in Saudi Arabia who became the unexpected leader of a courageous movement to support women’s right to drive.

Manal al-Sharif grew up in Mecca the second daughter of a taxi driver, born the year fundamentalism took hold. In her adolescence, she was a religious radical, melting her brother’s boy band cassettes in the oven because music was haram: forbidden by Islamic law. But what a difference an education can make. By her twenties she was a computer security engineer, one of few women working in a desert compound that resembled suburban America. That’s when the Saudi kingdom’s contradictions became too much to bear: she was labeled a slut for chatting with male colleagues, her teenage brother chaperoned her on a business trip, and while she kept a car in her garage, she was forbidden from driving down city streets behind the wheel.

Daring to Drive is the fiercely intimate memoir of an accidental activist, a powerfully vivid story of a young Muslim woman who stood up to a kingdom of men—and won. Writing on the cusp of history, Manal offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia today. Her memoir is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties, absurdities, and joys of making your voice heard."

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1000 Lashes

"'Badawi’s writings are refreshing ...This slim, but fascinating and informative volume clearly brings home the consequences of our benign neglect of the Saudi totalitarian situation.' - Library Journal

'Raif Badawi's is an important voice for all of us to hear.' - Salman Rushdie

Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, shared his thoughts on politics, religion, and liberalism online. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, ten years in prison, and a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyal, over a quarter of a million U.S. dollars. This politically topical polemic gathers together Badawi’s pivotal texts. He expresses his opinions on life in an autocratic-Islamic state under the Sharia and his perception of freedom of expression, human and civil rights, tolerance and the necessary separation of state and religion."

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Girls of Riyadh

"Framed as a series of e-mails sent to the subscribers of an Internet group, the story follows an unnamed narrator who recounts the misadventures of her best friends—all fashionable, educated, wealthy 20-somethings looking for true love. Their world is dominated by prayer, family loyalty and physical modesty, but the voracious consumption of luxury goods and yearnings for female empowerment are also part of the package. 

When Rajaa Alsanea boldly chose to open up the hidden world of Saudi women—their private lives and their conflicts with the traditions of their culture—she caused a sensation across the Arab world. Now in English, Alsanea’s tale of the personal struggles of four young upper-class women offers Westerners an unprecedented glimpse into a society often veiled from view. Living in restrictive Riyadh but traveling all over the globe, these modern Saudi women literally and figuratively shed traditional garb as they search for love, fulfillment, and their place somewhere in between Western society and their Islamic home."

(A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion.)

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HWJN (aka Hawjan)

HWJN or Hawjan as it's sometimes known was the #1 selling Saudi novel in until it was banned for blasphemy. 

The Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue & Prevention of Vice raided bookshops pulling the book from the shelves because it treats jinn as beings that co-exist with humanity, & tells of a romance between a human & a jinn. (In Arabian mythology, a jinn is an intelligent spirit of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human & animal forms & to possess humans.) Translated into other languages, the book has become a favorite around the world & is now again available for purchase in Saudi Arabia.

"People often listen to the legends of spirits and genies (jinn) with awe and horror, but this story is different and redefines our understanding of the jinn world. Hawjan is a young jinni is in his early nineties who lives in a world which exists parallel to ours. As human populations expand, Hawjan and his family find their village invaded by the parallel human dimension forcing them to live in a villa now haunted by humans. Hawjan’s efforts to avoid the human family fail and he finds himself madly in love with Sawsan, a medical student who is gentle and brilliant...but also barely a quarter of his age and human. 

Living in a different dimension, Hawjan is unable to let Sawsan know about his feelings until he learns how to communicate with her through the Ouija board. He then discovers she has brain cancer. As Sawsan's health deteriorates, her father becomes easy prey for a sorcerer who tricks him into believing that Sawsan’s illness is the result of the "devils" who haunt their villa. A deadly battle ensues. Eyad, a colleague of Sawsan agrees to allow Hawjan to posses him in order to help save Sawsan & her family. But who will win?"

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Munira's Bottle

"In Riyadh, against the events of the second Gulf War and Saddams invasion of Kuwait, we learn the story of Munira with the gorgeous eyes and the unspeakable tragedy she suffers as her male nemesis wreaks revenge for an insult to his character and manhood. It is also the tale of many other women of Saudi Arabia who pass through the remand center where Munira works, victims and perpetrators of crimes, characters pained and tormented, trapped in cocoons of silence and fear. Munira records their stories on pieces of paper that she folds up and places in the mysterious bottle given to her long ago by her grandmother, a repository for the stories of the dead, that they might live again.

This controversial novel looks at many of the issues that characterize the lives of women in modern Saudi society, including magic and envy, honor and revenge, and the strict moral code that dictates male/female interaction. Yousef al-Mohaimeed is a rising star in international literature. Munira's Bottle is a rich and skillfully crafted story of a dysfunctional Saudi Arabian family. One of its strengths lies in its edgy characters: Munira, a sultry, self-centered, sexually repressed woman; Ibn al-Dahhal, the bold imposter who deceives and betrays her; and Muhammad, her perpetually angry and righteous brother, a catalyst who forces the events. Western readers will welcome it for its opening door into Arab lives and minds."

(A special thank you to book club member, Neha Mehta for the suggestion.)

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The Ruins of Us

"'An intelligent, complex story of interfaith marriage...That balances nail-biting tension with lyrical intent." - The Guardian

Saudi-born author Keija Parssinen’s stunning debut offers the intricate, emotionally resonant story of an American expatriate named Rosie who discovers that her husband, a Saudi billionaire, has taken a second bride—an emotionally turbulent revelation that blinds them both to their teenaged son’s ominous first steps down the road of radicalization. Readers of The Septembers of Shiraz will be captivated by Parssinen’s story of love and betrayal, fundamentalism, family and country in the Middle East. Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead, hails Parssinen’s characters as “richly conceived, and her evocative petrol universe of wealth, privilege, and intrigue is unforgettable,” characterizing The Ruins of Us as having “powerful storytelling that is refreshing and entertaining."

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The Sound of Things Falling

"National Bestseller and winner of the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Juan Gabriel Vásquez has been hailed not only as one of South America’s greatest literary stars, but also as one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation. In this gorgeously wrought, award-winning novel, Vásquez confronts the history of his home country, Colombia.

In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar’s Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above. Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend’s murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend’s family have been shaped by his country’s recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare."

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The Book of Emma Reyes

"'Startling and astringently poetic.' - The New York Times

Finalist for the PEN Translation Prize

This astonishing memoir was hailed as an instant classic when first published in Colombia in 2012, nearly a decade after the death of its author, who was encouraged in her writing by Gabriel García Márquez. Comprised of letters written over the course of thirty years, and translated by acclaimed writer Daniel Alarcón, it describes in vivid, painterly detail the remarkable courage and limitless imagination of a young girl growing up with nothing.
 
Emma Reyes was an illegitimate child, raised in a windowless room in Bogotá with no water or toilet and only ingenuity to keep her and her sister alive. Abandoned by their mother, she and her sister moved to a Catholic convent housing 150 orphan girls, where they washed pots, ironed and mended laundry, scrubbed floors, cleaned bathrooms, sewed garments and decorative cloths for the nuns—and lived in fear of the Devil. Illiterate and knowing nothing of the outside world, Emma escaped at age nineteen, eventually establishing a career as an artist and befriending the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as well as European artists and intellectuals. The portrait of her childhood that emerges from this clear-eyed account inspires awe at the stunning early life of a gifted writer whose talent remained hidden for far too long."

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold

"A man returns to the town where a baffling murder took place 27 years earlier, determined to get to the bottom of the story. Just hours after marrying the beautiful Angela Vicario, everyone agrees, Bayardo San Roman returned his bride in disgrace to her parents. Her distraught family forced her to name her first lover; and her twin brothers announced their intention to murder Santiago Nasar for dishonoring their sister. 

Yet if everyone knew the murder was going to happen, why did no one intervene to stop it? The more that is learned, the less is understood, and as the story races to its inexplicable conclusion, an entire society--not just a pair of murderers—is put on trial.

Gabriel García Márquez was born in Colombia in 1927. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982."

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Delirium

"In this remarkably nuanced novel, both a gripping detective story and a passionate, devastating tale of eros and insanity in Colombia, internationally acclaimed author Laura Restrepo delves into the minds of four characters.

There's Agustina, a beautiful woman from an upper-class family who is caught in the throes of madness; her husband Aguilar, a man passionately in love with his wife and determined to rescue her from insanity; Agustina's former lover Midas, a drug-trafficker and money-launderer; and Nicolás, Agustina's grandfather. Through the blend of these distinct voices, Restrepo creates a searing portrait of a society battered by war and corruption, as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of people struggling to stay sane in an unstable reality."

(A special thank you to book club member, Markey Jones for the suggestion.)

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Even Silence Has an End

"'Betancourt's riveting memoir...is an unforgettable epic of moral courage and human endurance.' -Los Angeles Times

In the midst of her campaign for the Colombian presidency in 2002, Ingrid Betancourt traveled into a military-controlled region, where she was abducted by the FARC, a brutal terrorist guerrilla organization in conflict with the government. She would spend the next six and a half years captive in the depths of the Colombian jungle. 

Even Silence Has an End is her deeply moving and personal account of that time. The facts of her story are astounding, but it is Betancourt's indomitable spirit that drives this very special narrative—an intensely intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate reflection on what it really means to be human."

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Love in the Time of Cholera

"'A love story of astonishing power.' 
- Newsweek 

Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez tells a tale of an unrequited love. 

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career, he whiles away the years in 622 affairs—yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again."

(A special thank you to book club member, Ester Elbert for the suggestion.)

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Central Station

An international multi-award winner, international bestseller & one of the few Israeli sci fi books in the world. NPR Best Book, Amazon Featured Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Book, Guardian Best SF & Fantasy Book, Longlist - British Science Fiction Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee & World Fantasy Award

"A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.

At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive...and even evolve."

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Suddenly, a Knock on the Door

"Bringing up a child, lying to the boss, placing an order in a fast-food restaurant: in Etgar Keret's new collection, daily life is complicated, dangerous, and full of yearning. In his most playful and most mature work yet, the living and the dead, silent children and talking animals, dreams and waking life coexist in an uneasy world. Overflowing with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, the tales in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door establish Etgar Keret—declared a "genius" by The New York Times—as one of the most original writers of his generation."

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A Tale of Love and Darkness

International bestseller & winner of the National Jewish Book Award

"'[An] ingenious work that circles around the rise of a state, the tragic destiny of a mother, a boy’s creation of a new self.' - The New Yorker

A family saga and a magical self-portrait of a writer who witnessed the birth of a nation and lived through its turbulent history. A Tale of Love and Darkness is the story of a boy who grows up in war-torn Jerusalem, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. The story of an adolescent whose life has been changed forever by his mother’s suicide. The story of a man who leaves the constraints of his family and community to join a kibbutz, change his name, marry, have children. The story of a writer who becomes an active participant in the political life of his nation."

A special thank you to book club member, Kayla Reynolds for the suggestion.

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Tel Aviv Noir

"'This collection escapes the limits of formula fiction. The genre is hot, Tel Aviv is exotic, and this volume is outstanding.' - Library Journal, Starred review

In spite of its outwardly warm and polite exterior, Tel Aviv has quite a bit to hide. At any club, most of the people dancing around you to the sounds of a deep-house hit dedicated to peace and love have undergone extensive automatic-weapons training and a hand-grenade tutorial. The workers washing the dishes in the fluorescent-lit kitchen of that same club are Eritrean refugees who have crossed the Egyptian border illegally, along with a group of Bedouins smuggling some high-quality hash, which the deejay will soon be smoking on his little podium, right by the busy dance floor filled with drunks, coked-up lawyers, and Ukrainian call girls whose pimp keeps their passports in a safe two streets away. Don't get me wrong—Tel Aviv is a lovely, safe city. Most of the time, for most of its inhabitants. But the stories in this collection describe what happens the rest of the time, to the rest of its inhabitants. From one last cup of coffee at a café targeted by a suicide bomber, through repeat visits from a Yiddish-speaking ghost, to an organized tour of mythological crime scenes that goes terribly wrong, the stories of Tel Aviv Noir reveal the concealed, scarred face of this city that we love so much."

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To the End of the Land

"In this stunning, bestselling novel—and an NBCC Award finalist—David Grossman tells the powerful story of a mother’s love for her son. Just before his release from service in the Israeli army, Ora’s son, Ofer is sent back to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, so that no bad news can reach her, Ora sets out on an epic hike in the Galilee. She is joined by an unlikely companion—Avram, a former friend and lover with a troubled past—and as they sleep out in the hills, Ora begins to conjure her son. Ofer’s story, as told by Ora, becomes a surprising balm both for her and for Avram—and a mother’s haunting meditation on war and family.

One of the Best Books of the Year: The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and The Pittsburgh Post Gazette"

A special thank you to book club member, Karen Roberts for the suggestion.

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The World of the End

International bestseller as well as winner of both the Geffen Award & the Kugel Award for Hebrew literature

"As an epilogist, Ben Mendelssohn appreciates an unexpected ending. But when that denouement is the untimely demise of his beloved wife, Ben is incapable of coping. Marian was more than his life partner; she was the fiber that held together all that he is. And Ben is willing to do anything, even enter the unknown beyond, if it means a chance to be with her again.

One bullet to the brain later, Ben is in the Other World, where he discovers a vast and curiously secular existence utterly unlike anything he could have imagined: a realm of sprawling cities where the deceased of every age live an eternal second life, and where forests of family trees are tended by mysterious humans who never lived in the previous world. But Ben cannot find Marian.

Desperate for a reunion, he enlists an unconventional afterlife investigator to track her down, little knowing that his search is entangled in events that continue to unfold in the world of the living. It is a search that confronts Ben with one heart-rending shock after another; with the best and worst of human nature; with the resilience and fragility of love; and with truths that will haunt him through eternity."

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Qissat

"These fascinating and diverse stories reflect the everyday concerns of Palestinians living under occupation. Writers who were children during the first intifada appear alongside those who remember the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war. They offer compassionate, often critical, insight into their society in times of hardship and turmoil, drawing upon the warmth of human relations and the hope that better times will come. Qissat is a rare showcase of Palestinian women writers across generations and places, including Gaza, Ramallah, the United States and the Gulf.

'Raw and honest ... lyrical and beautifully written' - Sunday Times

'Layered, haunting, sensuously rich' - The Times

'In turn lyrical, sensuous, comic and ironic ... it is the quality of subtle, evocative writing here that makes Qissat remarkable.' -Independent"

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The Book of Gaza

"Under the Israeli occupation of the '70s and '80s, writers in Gaza had to go to considerable lengths to ever have a chance of seeing their work in print. Manuscripts were written out longhand, invariably under pseudonyms, and smuggled out of the Strip to Jerusalem, Cairo or Beirut, where they then had to be typed up. Consequently, fiction grew shorter, novels became novellas, and short stories flourished as the city's form of choice. Indeed, to Palestinians elsewhere, Gaza became known as 'the exporter of oranges and short stories'.

This anthology brings together some of the pioneers of the Gazan short story from that era, as well as younger exponents of the form, with ten stories offering glimpses of life in the Strip that go beyond the global media headlines; stories of anxiety, oppression, and violence, but also of resilience and hope, of what it means to be a Palestinian, and how that identity is continually being reforged; stories of ordinary characters struggling to live with dignity in what many have called 'the largest prison in the world'."

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