Reads for National Arab American Heritage Month

April is National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM), which began as a grassroots effort of the Arab America Foundation. Recognized nationally by President Joe Biden in 2021, this month recognizes and celebrates Arab American culture, heritage, and contributions. According to the Arab America Institute, approximately 3.7 million Americans trace their roots to an Arab country, including Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and others.

In honor of NAAHM, here are titles from our collection that highlight Arab American stories.

Fiction

Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband.

Brooklyn, 2008. Eighteen-year-old Deya, Isra’s oldest daughter, must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother Fareeda’s insistence, though her only desire is to go to college. 

The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah

Afaf Rahman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is the principal of Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. One morning, a shooter–radicalized by the online alt-right–attacks the school.As Afaf listens to his terrifying progress, we are swept back through her memories: the bigotry she faced as a child, her mother’s dreams of returning to Palestine, and the devastating disappearance of her older sister that tore her family apart.

Nonfiction

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.

The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

Diana Abu-Jaber weaves the story of her life in upstate New York and in Jordan around vividly remembered meals: everything from Lake Ontario shish kabob cookouts with her Arab-American cousins to goat stew feasts under a Bedouin tent in the desert. These sensuously evoked meals in turn illuminate the two cultures of Diana’s childhood – American and Jordanian – and the richness and difficulty of straddling both.

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami

What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize­­-finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of American rights, liberties, and protections. 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.

For more recommendations, Hoopla has audiobooks, comics, eBooks, music, and videos available here: https://hoopla.app.link/APgxui4Mnyb

Happy reading!

Melinda

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