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Pakistan and I am Malala

Out of one of the most war-torn, unsafe countries on Earth, comes one of this generation’s greatest heroes: Malala Yousafzai.

You have probably heard about Malala as the teenage girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban, and lived to tell the tale. This is true! And what was she shot in the face for, exactly? Why, wanting to go to school, of course! Duh!

(Seriously, that’s all she wanted. The Taliban, who were basically running things in Pakistan at the time, didn’t want girls to go to school, because apparently they like their wives and daughters to be as equally stupid as they are.)

Malala and her family have since lived in England, as it is unsafe for them to return home. Malala makes it clear in her book, however, that she wants nothing more than to return home to her friends and old school, and continue life where she left off.

Here is a short list of Malala’s achievements so far in life:

Oh yes, and she wrote a book, I am Malala. You should go read it!

Iraq and The Iraqi Nights

Hello Iraq! Your poetry is beautiful, fyi. In case you didn’t already know 5d460ed78992a28f0ea9d7a6b7841f91

For Iraq, I read The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail (translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid).

And guys. It was awesome.

This was a very slim volume – only 83 pages – so it was a pretty quick read. Glossing over the fact that the cover is GORGEOUS, Mikhail’s poetry is quietly powerful. There are several poems that are accompanied by her handwritten Arabic version of the poem, like this one:

iraqi-nights

A lot of her poetry centers on the goddess Ishtar, the ancient Sumerian goddess of sex and war – which of course just makes everything more interesting.

interesting

 

I thought I would pick a favorite poem from this book and share it on this post, but I couldn’t decide which one to pick! So I’ll just leave you with Mikhail’s ending lines:

“You open your arms
and I know just how much I love you:
I love you from here to Baghdad;
I love you more than all the words;
I love you higher
than the smoke in the city;
I love you louder than the explosions;
I love you deeper than the wounds,
Iraqi and American,
from an IED,
I love you sweeter than a lily
unfolding in the morning;
I love you warmer than a nest
that lacks only birdsong
and a single piece of straw;
I love you wider than the fear
coming and going
from here to Baghdad
I love you.”

Larsa, The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail

Lebanon and An Unnecessary Woman

OK so I had no idea the Lebanese flag had a tree on it. I looked it up, and it’s supposed to be a cedar tree. UGH. I LOVE IT.

tree hugging

Anyway.

Meet An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine! The Unnecessary Woman in question is Aaliya Saleh, who lives in Beirut following the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

Aaliya is 72 years old, and is self-described as “godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced.” What little family she has left is estranged, and her only friend, Hannah, died years ago. Despite all this, Aaliya does not consider her life boring. Her great passion is translating her favorite books into Arabic – a new book every year. No one has ever read her translations, however. She stores them safely away in closed boxes in her spare room.

This story fluidly fuses past and present Beirut (although the “present” in the book could now easily be seen as the recent past, due to new events in the three years since this book was published). Aaliya explores growing up, her relationship (or lack thereof) with her family, her love of literature, and her fellow tenants in the apartment building she occupies.

This is a really cool book kind of just based on the fact that Aaliya loves books so much. She also loves weird books (she prefers the word obscure, but whatevs), which is awesome and maddening all at once because I didn’t know most of the books that she mentioned, so on the one hand I really really admired her for being so well-read, and on the other hand I kind of felt really really stupid for not knowing at least a few more of the books that he mentioned. The struggle is real!

Alameddine did a really great job at creating a real character – a real likable character. There were times after reading a chapter or two where I really felt like I had just gotten done having a long conversation with a friend, rather than reading about a pretend woman in a country far, far away. Aaliya’s character feels very familiar, and that familiarity is at times welcoming, and at other times a little TOO real, if you get what I mean.

I also really liked her fellow tenants. There’s one woman who sticks out clearly in my mind. During the Siege of Beirut, this woman, wearing her fancy silk bathrobe, bright-red nail polish, and bedhead, this woman managed to single-handedly chase off a couple of unsuspecting looters from the building by standing on her balcony on one of the upper stories and firing her shotgun in the looters’ general direction – not to hit them, but close enough to scare them off. She was like the Lebanese version of a Wild West woman!

Anway. Highly recommended, if you’re into stories that are deeply introspective, and not necessarily high on the excitement scale.

What books have you read from Lebanon?

Iran and The Complete Persepolis

 

I just realized that I have yet to talk about ANY of the books I’ve read from the Middle East!

/crying I’m so sorry Middle East, I love your books just as much as the rest of the world, I swear!

I’ll begin with one of my all-time favorite books period, The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Marjane, if you’re reading this, please know that your book came into my life at a time when I was searching for answers to a lot of different things. And while Persepolis didn’t exactly answer my questions, I felt like it was at least asking some of the same questions I was, which was comforting in and of itself. Thank you.

The Complete Persepolis is a graphic novel, and is the biography of the author, who grew up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Although Satrapi was a young child at the time of the initial revolution, as she grew older and began to rebel against some of the restrictions in Iran – such as women not being allowed to wear makeup in public – her parents began to fear for her safety, and eventually sent her to a boarding school in Austria. Eventually, Satrapi returns to Iran, but finds that she still cannot cope with the restrictions placed on her. Eventually, she leaves Iran again, this time for good.

This was originally two books: Persepolis book 1 and Persepolis book 2. The first book deals with Satrapi’s life in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution, until her parents send her to Austria. The second book deals with her life in Austria, and her eventual return to Iran.

This is often a tough book to read, guys. Satrapi unflinchingly looks at some of the many gruesome, horrifying, and sometimes despairing details that she experienced growing up in Iran at this time. She talks about how a popular movie theater was set on fire, , purposely trapping 400 people inside. She talks about how her uncle was arrested, executed, and buried in a mass grave. And she talks about the obvious fear that her parents had for her safety, when she first started to rebel against her social restrictions as a teenager.

But there are a lot of good moments, too. I personally connected with Satrapi a LOT when she talked about her bond with her grandmother. It’s obvious that the two were very close. And I love her feisty attitude about everything! It makes me think we could be good friends, if we ever met 🙂

FYI, if you know literally nothing about Iran or the Islamic Revolution, this book is an EXCELLENT place to start. I knew nothing about Iran when I picked up this book, but Satrapi explains everything nice and slow, so you don’t feel like you’re being left behind by your lack of knowledge. And if you were like me, and you grew up with people telling you that all Muslims were bad guys, this is also a very good book to start unlearning all that horrible shit. All Muslims are definitely NOT bad guys – that’s just ridiculous, and fear-mongering.

But don’t take my word for it – read this book instead! 🙂

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