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Today we’re going back in time to read all about historical fiction set in the Middle East. It’s the theme for my book club in June.
I haven’t decided which I’ll try to read yet but I’m sure by the time I finish writing this I’ll have added a few to my TBR, like always. (After writing all of these, I think I want to read Take What You Can Carry.)
I’ll tell you now, if you don’t want to be constantly adding books to your TBR, don’t start a book blog. (Or do because it’s fun.)
Anyway, here are 14 historical fiction books set in the Middle East that aren’t The Kite Runner, plus a few bonus Middle East-inspired fantasy books.
- If you want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free. Get that Audible deal here.
- If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd! You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot. Sign up for Scribd here!
- Shop my collection of bookish goodies on Etsy! These aren’t my shop items, but other shops I’ve curated into a book-themed collection. Shop my Etsy bookish goodies here!
- If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option. It’s $9.99 a month but if you read a lot and like to read more than just new releases, it could be worth it. Get Kindle Unlimited here!
- Get $5 off of $25 from BookOutlet! This is a great place to find new books for pretty cheap. They also have sales quite a bit, so keep an eye out for those. I tend to check here for books I want if they’re more expensive other places. They don’t have everything but they do have a lot. Shop BookOutlet here!
- Thrift Books has become my go-to when I’m looking for a book and want it cheap. It’s great if you like buying used books. With this you can get a free book after spending $30!
- Shop my book lists here! You can find every book list I have on Bookshop.org (except my monthly round-ups) and I add everything I can but they occasionally won’t have some. I do occasionally add extras though. If any lists are empty, they’ll be filled in shortly! Shop my bookshop.org book lists here.
- Shopping internationally? Check out Book Depository!
The Blood of Flowers
A young woman is left to confront a dismal fate in the seventeenth-century Persian city off Isfahan. Her beloved father died and left her with no dowry. She’s now forced to work as a servant at her uncle, a rug designer at the court of Shah’s, home, where she blossoms as a brilliant designer of carpets. As her talent grows, her prospects of marriage dim and she’s faced with the decision of forsaking her own dignity or risking everything to maintain it.
To Keep the Sun Alive
It’s 1979 and the Islamic Revolution and a solar eclipse are both right around the corner. A retired judge, and his wife, Bibi live in the small Iranian town of Naishapur where they grow apples, plums, peaches, and sour cherries. They also manage several generations of their family. Days are marked by elaborate lunches and discussions of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism but life in the orchard continues on.
These are the stories of family members going through the ups and downs of life as the world around them changes dramatically.
A Pigeon and a Boy
In 1948, a gifted young pigeon handler is mortally wounded during the War of Independence but in the moments before his death, he dispatched one last pigeon. A pigeon carrying a gift to the girl he has loved since adolescence.
Yair is a bird-watching tour guide who falls in love again with his childhood girlfriend when he reaches middle age. His love for her and a gift from his mother on her deathbed become the key to a life he no longer thought possible.
This is a tale of lovers and the way we are trained to fly in one direction, only to eventually return, just as pigeons.
Equal of the Sun
This Middle East historical fiction takes us way back to 1576 Iran, a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. The court, however, is thrown when the Shah dies without naming an heir. Princess Pari, his daughter and protege, tries to instill order after his death but it just results in resentment and dissent.
She and Javaher, her closest advisor, possess and incredible web of secrets that results in a power struggle of epic proportions.
Rooftops of Tehran
In the summer of 1973, Pasha hangs out on his roof with his best friend Ahmed, joking around and asking burning questions about life.
He also hides a burning love for his neighbor, Zari, who has been betrothed since birth to another man. The bliss of their stolen time together comes to an end when Pasha unwittingly acts as a beacon for the Shah’s secret police.
The violent consequences wake him up to the reality of living under a powerful despot and force Zari to make a shocking choice.
The Septembers of Shiraz
Isaac Amin, a rare-gem dealer, is arrested and wrongly accused of being a spy after the Iranian revolution.
After his disappearance, his family must reconcile this new, cruel world with the one they’ve always known.
As Isaac navigates the world of prison, his wife frantically searches for him and suspects their housekeeper turned on them and is now an informer.
Finally, his daughter engages in illicit activities and his son struggles to find happiness after he is sent to New York as he realizes his family may soon have to face a journey with incalculable danger.
The Golem and the Jinni
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a rabbi dabbling in Kabbalistic magic. She is destined to be the wife of a man who dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. She is now unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor in 1899.
Ahmad is a jinni, born of fire in the ancient Syrian desert, now trapped in an old copper flask, released but not free, in New York City.
Through a mystical connection, they become unlikely friends and soul mates.
This is the tale of four bold women who came to Masada on a different path. Yael’s father never forgave her for her mother dying during childbirth. Revka watched Roman soldiers brutally murder her daughter. She brings her grandsons to Masada, now mute, after the tragedy they witnessed. Aziza was raised as a boy and is now a fearless rider in love with a fellow soldier. And Shirah has uncanny insight and power in the ancient ways of medicine and magic.
Birds Without Wings
While everyone speaks Turkish, they write in Greek letters in this small village in southwestern Anatolia in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. It’s a place you can find a professional blasphemer, a brokenhearted aga in the arms of a Circassian courtesan who isn’t really Circassian, and where a beautiful Christian girl is engaged to a muslim boy. But all of this changes when Turkey becomes part of the modern world.
The Map of Salt and Stars
Nour lost her father to cancer in 2011 and her mother decided to move them back to Syria to be closer to family. But the country her mother once knew is changing and it isn’t long before protests change their neighborhood. When a shell destroys their home and almost takes her life, they have to decide if they should stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries in search of safety.
More than eight hundred years before, Rawiya knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless, she leaves home to seek her fortune, disguising herself as a boy. She becomes an apprentice of al-Idrisi who has been commissioned to make a map of the world. In his company, she embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and Africa.
The Stationery Shop
Roya is an idealistic teenager living in the upheaval of Tehran in 1953 when she finds a literary oasis: a neighborhood stationery shop.
Mr. Fakhri, the shop owner, introduces her to his other favorite customer, Bahman, who has a burning love for justice and Rumi’s poetry. Their romance blossoms and the stationery shop is their favorite place in Tehran.
On the eve of their marriage a few months later, they are supposed to meet at the town square, but Bahman never shows when a violence erupts as a result of a coup d’etat, changing the country’s future forever.
She tries to contact him for weeks with no luck before reluctantly moving on to college in California and a new life in New England. Sixty years later, fate leads her back to Bahman to finally ask the questions she’s had for more than half a century.
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
Joseph is the son of a Jewish mother and Muslim father. One day he receives a mysterious package that leads him on an adventure to see how the two sides of his family are tangled together.
He learns that for generations, the men of the al-Raqb family served as watchmen of the Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built where infant Moses was taken from the Nile. He learns of Ali, a Muslim orphan who, nearly a thousand years earlier, was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue where he became enchanted with the Ezra Scroll.
The story is entwined with Agnes and Margaret, British twin sisters, on a mission to rescue sacred texts from the synagogue that began to disappear in 1897.
The Secret Book of Kings
Shlom’am has grown up in the shadow of several secrets as a young man of the Ephraim tribe. His father is deathly afraid of the King’s soldiers and his mother has lied about the identities of those closest to him. He sets out on his own to unearth his mysterious past, knowing his parents won’t reveal anything.
He encounters the Crazed Princess Michal, daughter of King Saul and discarded wife of King David, who seems doomed by history. David wiped out her father’s line and left her isolated and plotting. Only she knows the circumstances of Shlom’am’s birth and only she can set in motion his destiny to become Jerobaam, the fourth king of Israel.
Take What You Can Carry
Olivia is a LA newspaper secretary in 1979, determined to make it as a photojournalist. When the opportunity arrives to go with her Kurdish boyfriend, Delan, to northern Iraq for a family wedding, she take it, hoping to land a photo that will land her in the photo department.
This is the chance to, also, understand his childhood but it proves to be less safe than he believed upon arrival and she is faced with the unexpected: a town patrolled by Iraqui military under curfew and constant threat.
Even in this war-torn world, there are small acts of kindness, a loving family, and innocence not yet compromised. Everything is tested when she captures a shattering moment on film that upends all of their lives.
Bonus awesome Middle East reads:
- Rebel of the Sands
- City of Brass
- The Forty Rules of Love
- An Unnecessary Woman
- An Ember in the Ashes
- The Wrath and the Dawn
- We Hunt the Flame
- Alif the Unseen
Have you read any of the Middle East historical fiction books? Which ones? Which do you want to read?