Best of 2021

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Published Dec 9, 2021, 11:52 AM

For our end-of-year book list, we made up our own categories -- from “best poet I hadn’t heard of before” ” to “best book about cannibalism” to “best book that lived up to the hype” -- and added a few more along the way. It’s a journey through 10 books that struck us and stayed with us this year. 

Show Notes

Best literary cookbook for children (MLQ): Arab Fairy Tale Feasts, Karim al-Rawi, ill. Nahid Kazemi. Read the review by Marcia and her 10-year-old.

Best book I’ve been waiting for years to see published (Ursula): Ahmed Bouanani’s La Septieme Porte, a history of Moroccan cinema from 1907 to 1986. Bouanani was a writer, poet and film-maker who was censored and blacklisted; the manuscript of this book was nearly destroyed in a fire, and was painstakingly put back together by his daughter, Touda Bouanani. 

Best collection of poetry by a poet previously unknown to me (MLQ): Except for This Unseen Thread, Ra’ad Abdulqadir, tr. Mona Kareem, published by Ugly Duckling Presse

Best book I’m reading even if I haven’t gotten far (Ursula): Ahmed Naji’s prison memoir حرز مكمكم; read an excerpt in English translation at the University of Michigan website, translated by Khaled Mattawa.

Best book about cannibalism (MLQ):  Physician on the Nile: A Description of Egypt and Journal of the Famine Years, by Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi, ed. & tr. Tim Mackintosh Smith

Best book I’ve ordered someone for Christmas (Ursula): The Annotated Arabian Nights, ed. Paulo Lemos Horta, tr. Yasmine Seale

Best gift book for under $20 (MLQ): Midnight in Cairo, by Raphael Cormack, which reminded Marcia of Zeinab Zaza’s “يتامى الإسكندرية,” a historical police procedural set in 1930s Alexandria that focuses on the precarious lives of women.  

Best book that actually lived up to the hype (Ursula): The Book of Sleep, by Haytham al-Wardani, translated by Robin Moger. 

BONUS CATEGORY: Best Arabic-language list in translation in 2021, Seagull Books

Best introduction to a novel (MLQ): Balqis Sharara's introduction to the re-issue of her late sister Hayat Sharara's When Darkness Falls. You can read it, tr. Hend Saeed, on ArabLit.

Best book about the “Syrian refugee crisis” (Ursula): The Wrong End of the Telescope, by Rabih Alameddine 

We also say goodbye to Humphrey Davies (1947-2021). There is a digital memorial in progress at

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