Five Must-Read Palestinian Adult Fiction Books

Literature is a powerful tool to educate, amplify and support. At a time when Palestinian voices are being suppressed, elevating Palestinian stories is more important than ever.

Five Must-Read Palestinian Adult Fiction Books
These five fiction books for adults were all written by Palestinian authors or those in the diaspora.

Literature is a powerful tool to educate, amplify and support. At a time when Palestinian voices are being suppressed, elevating Palestinian stories is more important than ever.

While nonfiction books and article suggestions are making their rounds on social media, we at Fann would like to put a special emphasis on fiction this week. Fiction allows us to see through a new lens, helping us understand the past and imagine a path forward that we might not see otherwise.

These five fiction books for adults, written by Palestinian and diaspora authors who transcend the barriers of Western publishing, tell stories of resistance, humanity and hope.

Through literature, we educate ourselves. Through literature, we platform and financially support authors within the Palestinian diaspora.

  1. "My First and Only Love" by Sahar Khalifeh

After decades of exile, Nidal returns to her family home in Nablus, where she lived with her grandmother before the 1948 Nakba that scattered her family across the globe. She was just a young girl when the popular resistance began, and amid the bloodshed, she fell in love with freedom fighter Rabie. Her first and only real love was Rabie and all that he represented: Palestine in its youth, the resistance fighters in the hills, the nation as embodied in her family home and in the land.

Years later, Nidal and Rabie reunite, and he encourages her to read her uncle Amin's memoirs. Through these writings, she delves into her family's history and uncovers her mother's hidden past.

Sahar Khalifeh's powerful narrative spans from the British Mandate's final days to the present, offering a blend of emotional depth and political relevance, exploring Nidal's personal journey against the backdrop of Palestine's complex history.

  1. "The Beauty of Your Face" by Sahar Mustafah

In this poignant debut, a Palestinian American woman, Afaf Rahman, grapples with faith, loss and identity. She serves as the principal of Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school in suburban Chicago, and faces a school shooter radicalized by the online alt-right.

As the shooter's terrifying actions unfold, Afaf's memories take us on a journey through her life: the childhood bigotry she endured, her mother's dreams of returning to Palestine, the heart-wrenching disappearance of her older sister that shattered her family. Amidst these trials, there's solace in her father's oud music and the sense of belonging she discovers in Islam.

"The Beauty of Your Face" tells a powerful American story in evocative prose, exploring the life of a woman in a nation increasingly divided and at odds with its own ideals.

  1. "Salt Houses" by Hala Alyan

On the eve of her daughter Alia's wedding, Salma reads a turbulent future for Alia through a cup of coffee dregs. While she decides to keep the results to herself, Salma foresees upheaval, travel and luck. Soon after, the Six-Day War of 1967 forces her family to leave Nablus.

Salma is displaced, Alia's brother is drawn into a politically charged world and Alia and her husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly have children. When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family lose their home again, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston and more. Alia’s children establish their own families, grappling with the challenges of assimilation in foreign cities.

"Salt Houses" is a poignant debut novel that humanizes an age-old conflict, challenging our understanding of it: the heartbreaking truth that sometimes, you can't return home.

  1. "A Woman Is No Man" by Etaf Rum

In 1990 Palestine, Isra, a 17-year-old, is quickly betrothed and married, moving to Brooklyn. There, she struggles with her oppressive mother-in-law and husband, who expects her to bear sons. In 2008 Brooklyn, Isra's daughter, 18-year-old Deya, faces potential suitors chosen by her grandmother despite her dreams of going to college. She ponders what life would have been like if her parents hadn't died in a car crash, as her grandmother insists on her marrying the right man.

As the story unfolds, Deya embarks on an unexpected journey that uncovers shocking family secrets, prompting her to question everything she believed about her parents, her past, and her future.

A New York Times bestseller and a selection of the TODAY SHOW Book Club, this novel revolves around three generations of Palestinian American women. They grapple with expressing their individual desires within Arab culture, particularly in the wake of intimate violence within their community.

  1. "The Book of Ramallah: A City in Short Fiction" edited by Maya Abu Al-Hayat

In a collection of stories set in Ramallah, a coffee seller waits all day for a simple greeting, a teenager faces a demand at a checkpoint to kiss a stranger to continue his journey, and a woman seeks salvation for her land through a pilgrimage to the Cave of the Prophets.

Ramallah, unlike other Palestinian cities, is a newer town that thrived post-Oslo Peace Accords but soon faced constraints due to the Occupation. It's a place of contrasts, blending traditional and aspirational elements, coexisting nightlife and conservative values. Most striking, however, is the quiet dignity, resilience and humor of its people — citizens who take their lives into their hands every time they travel from one place to the next. Even as the people of Ramallah continue to live through countless sieges, they still find the time — and resourcefulness — to create.

The stories are translated by multiple translators, each adding their unique voice to the narrative.

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