27 Book Recommendations for Arab American Heritage Month

An estimated 3.7 million Americans have Arab roots, according to the Arab American Institute, with ancestries traced to 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and others. In honor of National Arab American Heritage Month, I have complied a list of fiction and nonfiction books highlighting Arabic culture, history, and authors. In addition to Arab American authors, I also included a few Arab Brits and Arab writers.


Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa

A sweeping and lyrical novel that follows a young Palestinian refugee as she slowly becomes radicalized while searching for a better life for her family throughout the Middle East.

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The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home.

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As Long as the Lemon Tree Grows by Zoulfa Katouh

A love letter to Syria and its people, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is a speculative novel set amid the Syrian Revolution, burning with the fires of hope, love, and possibility. 

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The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

This unforgettable novel puts human faces on the Syrian war with the immigrant story of a beekeeper, his wife, and the triumph of spirit when the world becomes unrecognizable. Moving, intimate, and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a book for our times: a novel that at once reminds us that the most peaceful and ordinary lives can be utterly upended in unimaginable ways and brings a journey in faraway lands close to home, never to be forgotten.

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

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The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai

Pen/Hemingway finalist Jamil Jan Kochai ​breathes life into his contemporary Afghan characters, moving between modern-day Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora in America. In these arresting stories verging on both comedy and tragedy, often starring young characters whose bravado is matched by their tenderness, Kochai once again captures “a singular, resonant voice, an American teenager raised by Old World Afghan storytellers.” The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories is a moving exploration of characters grappling with the ghosts of war and displacement—and one that speaks to the immediate political landscape we reckon with today.

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Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

A deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.

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The Idiot by Elif Batuman

The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. With superlative emotional and intellectual sensitivity, mordant wit, and pitch-perfect style, Batuman dramatizes the uncertainty of life on the cusp of adulthood. The Idiot is a heroic yet self-effacing reckoning with the terror and joy of becoming a person in a world that is as intoxicating as it is disquieting.

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If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

A dark romance exposing the gaps in American identity politics, especially when exported overseas, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English is at once ravishing and wry, scathing and tender. Told in alternating perspectives, Noor Naga’s experimental debut examines the ethics of fetishizing the homeland and punishing the beloved . . . and vice versa.

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The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shakaf

A rich, magical novel on belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal, from the Booker-shortlisted author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World.

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The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

A provocative and seductive debut of desire and doubleness that follows the life of a young Palestinian American woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities as she endeavors to lead an authentic life.

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Mother of Strangers by Suad Amiry

Set in Jaffa in between 1947 and 1951, this fable-like historical novel of young love … darkly humorous and touching is based on a true story during the beginning of the destruction of Palestine and displacement of its people.

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The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters. As the characters – deeply divided by race, religion and class – tell their stories in The Other Americans, Driss’s family is forced to confront its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies and love, in all its messy and unpredictable forms, is born.

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The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany

A glorious, humane novel about the Egyptian revolution, taking us inside the battle raging between those in power and those prepared to lay down their lives in the defense of freedom—this globally-acclaimed narrative from one of the foremost writers in the Arab world is still banned across much of the region.

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The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali

On the even of their marriage, Amid the political upheaval of 1953 Tehran, a stationary shop owner introduces Roya, a dreamy, idealistic teenager, to his other favorite customer—handsome Bahman. A few short months later, on the eve of their marriage, Roya agrees to meet Bahman at the town square when violence erupts. More than 60 years later, an accident of fate leads her back to Bahman and offers her a chance to ask him the questions that have haunted her for more than half a century.

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The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

From the award-winning author of The Map of Salt and Stars, a new novel about three generations of Syrian Americans haunted by a mysterious species of bird and the truths they carry close to their hearts–a “vivid exploration of loss, art, queer and trans communities, and the persistence of history.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, the #1 New York Times bestseller A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.

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An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib

The debut novel from an award-winning short story writer: a multigenerational saga spanning Lebanon, Iraq, India, the United States, and Kuwait that brings to life the triumphs and failures of three generations of Arab women. At once intimate and sweeping, personal and political, it is an unforgettable epic and a spellbinding family saga.

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. But then she meets Ocean James. 

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What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

From the widely acclaimed, bestselling author of American War—a beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic, and profoundly moving novel that looks at the global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child, a nine-year old Syrian boy named Amir.

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A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

The story of three generations of Palestinian-American women struggling to express their individual desires within the confines of their Arab culture in the wake of shocking intimate violence in their community.

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Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami

In this brilliantly argued and deeply personal work, Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using her own story as a starting point for an exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth—such as national origin, race, and gender—that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still cast their shadows today, poignantly illustrating how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation.

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Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H.

A queer hijabi Muslim immigrant survives her coming-of-age by drawing strength and hope from stories in the Quran in this daring, provocative, and radically hopeful memoir.

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How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?:Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi

A study of the Arab- and Muslim-American experience as reflected by the lives of seven young men and women in Brooklyn evaluates their daily encounters with such factors as prejudice, the Christian faith, and their relationships with friends and family members in the Middle East. 

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Love Is an Ex-Country: A Memoir by Randa Jarrar

Queer. Muslim. Arab American. A proudly Fat woman. Randa Jarrar is all of these things. In this provocative memoir of a cross-country road trip, she explores how to claim joy in an unraveling and hostile America.

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The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar

When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Hisham would never see him again, but he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. Twenty-two years later, he returned to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father’s disappearance. The Return is the story of what he found there.

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When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History by Massoud Hayoun

The stunning debut of a brilliant nonfiction writer whose vivid account of his grandparents’ lives in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Los Angeles reclaims his family’s Jewish Arab identity. 

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