Arabic Literature Discussion Group

The Arabic Literature Discussion Group meets at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of most months. Discussions are held in the Boulder Creek Meeting Room, 1st floor of the Main Library, 11th & Arapahoe in downtown Boulder unless otherwise noted. For more information, please contact Kirsten Wood at, or Ghada Kanafani Elturk, Outreach Librarian at 303-441-4941 or

Book summaries are taken from publisher and distributor websites. They are meant to briefly summarize a book to allow readers to select what might interest them most.


January 7, 2013: Modern Syrian Short Stories translated by Michel Azrak 

The Arabs have been masters of the art of storytelling and it is therefore not surprising that in modern days they have produced a rich literary harvest in the field of the short story. Syria has produced some outstanding writers in this field. This collection of eighteen stories, ranging from the comic to the macabre and the ghost story, has been selected to giving the English reader an idea of the range of modern Syrian fiction.


February 4, 2013: Lebanese Blonde by Joseph al-Geha

Lebanese Blonde takes place in 1975-76 at the beginning of Lebanon’s civil war. Set primarily in the Toledo, Ohio, “Little Syria” community. A story of two immigrant cousins: a self-styled entrepreneur, and his young, reluctant accomplice. Together the two concoct a scheme to import Lebanese Blonde, a potent strain of hashish, into the USA, using the family’s mortuary business as a cover. When a newly arrived war refugee, stumbles onto their plans, his clumsy efforts to gain acceptance raise suspicion. The cousins’ problems grow still more serious when a shipment goes awry and their links to the war-ravaged homeland are severed.


March 4, 2013: The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction edited by Denys Johnson-Davies

This anthology features the work of outstanding writers from all over the Arab world, it is diverse in styles and concerns and spans the full history of modern Arabic literature. The group will discuss the following selections:
Ya Khabiir - Mohammed Ahmed Abdul Wali (Yemen/male) 8-12;
Your Uncle Was a Poet - Mohammad al Murr (Yemen-male) 324-327;
The Disconnected - Leila Abouzeid (Morocco/female) 15-19;
Snake Hunting - Mohamed Zefzaf (Morocco/male) 467-473;
The Doctor’s Prescription - Daisy al-Amir (Iraq/female) 23-25;
I’ve Been Here Before - Buthaina al Nasiri (Iraq/female) 327-330;
Apples of Paradise - Brahim Dargouthi (Tunis/male) 89-98.


April 1, 2013: The Star of Algiers by Aziz Chouaki

Moussa Massy’s ambitions extend far beyond the three-room apartment he shares with the other thirteen members of his family in the city of Algiers. A gifted performer of modern Kabyle song, he is as inspired by Prince and Michael Jackson as he is by Arab and Algerian traditional music. His first taste of fame, however, is brief, as conflict grows more violent and the city comes to a standstill amid corruption and scandal. As his music career begins to disintegrate, like the city itself, Massy’s driving passion for music turns to unforgiving rage. Energetic and urgent prose vividly portrays the harsh realities of a country in constant turmoil and brilliantly shows the capacity for despair and hatred of those who have nothing left to lose.


May 6, 2013: Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine by Dr. Ghada Karmi

Two rabbis, visiting Palestine in 1897, observed that the land was like a bride, “beautiful, but married to another man”. By which they meant that, if a place was to be found for Israel in Palestine, where would the people of Palestine go? This is a dilemma that has not been resolved. The implications of the Palestinian Israeli conflict today are more dangerous regionally and globally. This book argues that change will occur when everyone involved accepts the real causes of conflict, and its consequences on the ground. Leading writer Ghada Karmi explains in fascinating detail the difficulties Israel’s existence created for the Arab world and why the search for a solution has been so elusive. Ultimately, she argues that the conflict will end only once the needs of both Arabs and Israelis are accommodated equally. Her startling conclusions overturn conventional thinking - but they are hard to refute.


June 3, 2013: Arabic Short Stories translated by Denys Johnson-Davies with an introduction by Roger Allen

This collection features twenty-four stories each by a different author and rendered into English by one of the finest translators of Arabic fiction. The work of outstanding writers from all over the Arab world, it is diverse in styles and concerns and spans the full history of modern Arabic literature. The group will discuss the following selections:
The Gap in Kaltouma’s Fence - Ibrahim Ishaq Ibrahim (Sudan) 6-12;
The Cypriot Man - Tayeb Salih (Sudan) 75-84;
My Brother - Mohamed el-Bisatie (Saudi Arabia) 13-21;
At a Woman’s House - Mohammed Ahmed Abdul Wali (Yemen) 22-26;
Clocks Like Horses - Mohammed Khudayyir (Iraq) 27-39;
Voices from Near and Far - Abdul Ilah Abdul Razzak (Iraq) 111-115;
Life by Instalments - Mohammed Barrada (Morocco) 128-134;
Flower Crazy - Mohammed Chukri (Morocco) 143-148;
Distant Seas - Habib Selim (Tunisia) 151-153.


July 8, 2013: Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

Nuri was a young boy when his mother died. It seemed that nothing will fill the emptiness until he and his father met Mona. As soon as Nuri sees Mona, the rest of the world vanishes. But it is Nuri’s father with whom she falls in love and whom she eventually marries. Their happiness consumes Nuri to the point where he wishes his father would disappear. However, he soon regrets what he’s wished for. When his father, a dissident in exile from his homeland, is abducted under mysterious circumstances, the world that Nuri and his stepmother share is shattered. And soon they begin to realize how little they knew about the man they both loved.


August 5, 2013:  The Watchers by Tahar Djaout

An elegant and chilling novel, politically and morally resonant fable of malevolent bureaucracy, thoughtless fundamentalism, and the danger of sacrificing liberty in the name of patriotism. It follows the fortunes of two men, a veteran on the winning side of past wars, living out a peaceful life and dreaming of a country home. The other, just down his suburban street, an inventor who developed a loom that he desperately wants to patent, but caught in a tangle of forms, passports, interviews, and clerks bent on thwarting his efforts. His mysterious project and odd hours dredge up old, suspicious instincts in the neighbor and his fellow veterans, drawing them inexorably further into a labyrinth of blame and fear from which there’s only one escape. The novel won France's Prix Mediterranee in 1991.


September 9, 2013: Azazeel by Youssef al-Ziedan     [Note: Meeting is in the North Training Room (near the South entrance to the Canyon Theater)]

Set in the 5th century AD, “Azazeel” is the exquisitely crafted tale of a Coptic monk’s journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of massive upheaval in the early Church. The monk embarks on a journey both physical and spiritual, encountering, the devil, Azazeel, and the hardship of severe temptation. At times able to resist, while at others bending to the strengths of his desire, he learns that physical pleasure and spiritual enlightenment can be two sides of the same coin. In sparse and often sparkling prose that reflects the arid beauty of the Syrian landscape, Azazeel is a novel that forces us to re-think many of our long-held beliefs and invites us to rediscover a lost history. [Winner of the Arab Booker Prize.]


October 7, 2013: Munira’s Bottle by Yousef al-Mohaimeed     [Note: Meeting is in the North Training Room]

In Riyadh, against the events of the second Gulf War and Saddam’s 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.


November 4, 2013: Grandfather’s Tale by Ulfat Idilbi     [Note: Meeting is in the North Training Room]

In Damascus, an old woman tells her grandchildren tales of her own grandfather who had come from Daghestan in the Caucasus many years before. Grandfather’s Tale explores the close links between the Muslim Caucasus and the Arab world against a backdrop of conflict with the Russian empire. It is a story of yearning and return, rooted in the rituals of the Muslim faith and transcending the imperial frontiers of the time.

This is, last updated on 12/12/2012. Link to for a list of all books discussed by the group.